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EVA England's first CEO on leading the charge for drivers
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Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a weekly British EV newsletter.
In today’s bumper edition… I speak to the new CEO of England’s EV Association, James Court, about how they plan to be the leading voice for Britain’s growing population of EV drivers.
Further down and elsewhere in EV land… Europe’s most powerful charging hub opens in Oxford, London’s EV sales surge to nearly 50%, and a new quarterly record for rapid charger installations.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or feedback, please do feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply reply to this email.
Interview with EVA England's new CEO
There are nearly half a million fully electric cars on Britain’s roads – some 100,000 were bought since the start of this year. With so many people now jumping into an EV, the charging network expanding widely, and swathes of companies entering the sector, it’s never been more important to have a clear voice advocating for drivers.
This is where the EV Association for England comes in. An organisation started during the pandemic by six enthusiasts inspired by similar advocacy groups in Scotland, Norway and the USA. After two years of being run by volunteers, thanks to funding support from an NGO, three months ago EVA England appointed its first Chief Executive, James Court.
“We want to be a pressure group on behalf of all EV drivers”, James explains to me saying the association, which provides a voice for all current and future EV owners in England, has a clearer and purer remit compared to other organisations, such as SMMT. “We are for drivers and set up by drivers.”
As James points out, EVA England has already achieved much in its first two years, including helping push the government for key consumer reforms announced in the recent EV strategy, thanks in large part to the group’s research.
Going for growth
As an experienced public affairs expert, having previously worked at the Cabinet Office on COP26 and with the Renewable Energy Association, James is already playing a key role in airing the voices of EV drivers directly with decision-makers. “They welcome the voice of drivers,” says James of the government, “and welcome our role in being that conduit from government to drivers and drivers to government.”
Acting as an advocate for EV owners is something that James is no doubt equipped for. However, one of his more testing challenges might be securing EVA England’s future. This will involve increasing the membership numbers, of which James has high ambitions.
“In Norway, they have just over 400,000 cars on the road and over 100,000 members. That's a 25% conversion rate. Obviously, the aim is to be as strong and as influential as Norway. And they are most people's North Star in this arena. So that's the long-term target to get to there.”
Alongside growing its membership, James also envisages EVA England getting involved with some funded projects and research, potentially with businesses, but James is keen not to let this alter its mission. “We'll always be careful,” James says, “I think people can rest assured that we're never going to compromise [our] values and that companies that we may work with in the future, they would have to meet up to the same mission and vision that we have.”
As the government continues to grapple with a cost of living crisis, and the threat of a global recession looming big in the wing mirror, the green agenda faces continued pressure. Only two weeks ago, the Department for Transport ended the plug-in grant for cars. James empathises with the decision saying “I think there was recognition that the grant we were left with wasn't really shifting the dial and wasn't making a huge impact in consumer choices. And there were better places to spend budgets.”
However, James is suspect of the government’s timing, saying “I would question the ambition of Treasury and the wider government that, less than a year after hosting COP, we have removed the grant where other countries have kept in place a healthy and genuinely effective policy.”
Despite this, James believes there are still a lot of good things being done where EVA England can continue to “push at the open doors”, such as “BIK and salary sacrifice, super deduction, the infrastructure spending, national grid spending, all of the catalysts of helping get new EVs on the road.”
Before taking the CEO role at EVA England, James had never owned a car, let alone a new one. So as well as getting his feet under the table he’s also been getting them on the pedals of his Kia e-Niro, which he loves.
To charge up, James sits among the estimated third of people in the UK without a driveway and uses ubitricity lamppost chargers on his street. Out and about, James has completed a few long journeys and has “no horror stories” to report. Though, he’s very conscious of the role charging infrastructure plays and has already been speaking to the government about reliability.
From his conversations, James suggests “league tables” could be on the cards saying, “that's initially what's being discussed and we would certainly support that. I mean, the data would be there and would be an obvious thing that we need to do.” James adds that reliability will definitely be something network operators “will have to start competing on”.
Under the current proposed rules, only rapid charging devices (those with speeds over 50kW) will have to meet a rate of 99% reliability. James believes this is right, and that enforcing regulations on slower chargers could be trickier.
“There are lots of issues around what standardisation we do want and don't want in charging points. Does every charger have to have contactless? Actually, there's a very strong argument that for the lamppost chargers that I rely on, a £400 upgrade would then become over £1,000 and would end up slowing down the critical infrastructure that we need,” argues James, saying he wants EVA England to be closely involved with OZEV as the industry irons reliability out.
“I'm a big believer that the market will deliver a vast amount of solutions that we want for the charging infrastructure,” James outlines the role of operators versus authorities, adding, “I think local authorities have to learn what their role is and it may not necessarily be owner-operators of this, but facilitators of this.”
Policies to change
One of the policies often criticised around public charging is the VAT rates. As it stands, if you charge at home using your domestic supply, you pay a reduced rate of 5%. Whereas those who use public infrastructure pay 20%. James doesn’t believe it’s fair. “As someone who doesn't own a driveway, I'm blocked out from owning the cheapest form of charging my car. And anything we can do to remove unnecessary barriers to that and to bring down the costs, I think we would welcome.”
James points out that, the current energy crisis notwithstanding, there are other benefits to charging at home too that those using public chargers don’t get. “This is only going to get more stark in the coming years when we see more dynamic pricing in the energy markets,” says James adding that not being able to utilise cheaper electricity late at night can make it 20 or 30 times cheaper to charge at home. “How we can try and unlock some of those benefits is going to be a challenge for the coming years.”
This policy inequality is at the centre of a campaign by Fair Charge, led by ex-Top Gear and fuel campaigner, Quentin Wilson. “[They] do a fantastic job and I think we can complement each other really well,” says James on the shared cause.
Naturally, one way to get around these policy contentions might be to just not own a car. James believes there “is a role to play” in getting people to break out of “cars being a status symbol”. Though, believes for that to happen, “we need to make sure the alternatives are better” saying that at the moment electric cars are growing so quickly because “they are better cars than what you're used to. They are more convenient, they're nicer to drive.”
One other alternative to buying new EVs could be retrofitting ICE vehicles with batteries. James believes this “could potentially be a really important part of the market.”
“The idea of driving around in an old Ford Escort from the nineties but with a brand new battery, sign me up for that,” enthuses James. However, at the moment UK law does not incentive this. Currently, the practice doesn’t change your vehicle tax status to reflect you having a cleaner car. “We’re contacting [the DVLA] and trying to make them aware of those difficulties because there’s no reason why that has to happen.”
There is plenty on James’ plate and an increasing number of EV drivers to be vocal for. But, what I’ve learnt from speaking to James is the EV Association will never be able to fight driver’s corners without a key ingredient… drivers!
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In the last week
SUPERHUB: This morning Europe’s most powerful EV charging hub opened in Oxford. The new ‘Superhub’ will initially offer fast and ultra-rapid charging for 42 cars at once, though it has the capacity to charge 400 (!) thanks to being connected to National Grid’s high voltage transmission network via four miles worth of underground cabling delivering 10 megawatts. This will mean additional strain won’t be put on the local electricity network. At the superhub are ten 300kW chargers by Fastned (under their iconic yellow canopy), twenty 7-22kW chargers by Wenea, and twelve 250kW Tesla Superchargers – the latter will only be available for Tesla owners.
On the unveiling, Transport Minister Trudy Harrison MP, said she was “pleased to see Europe’s most powerful EV charging hub opening in Oxford.” For Fastned in particular, this new hub marks their 12th station as they continue to expand in the UK. Michiel Langezaal, CEO of Fastned, said the superhub was “another important milestone in our mission to revolutionise the charging experience for British EV drivers.” All power supplied to the site in Oxford will be from renewable energy. I’m looking forward to seeing it in person one day. Read more.
RAPID RECORD: Speaking of rapid chargers, over the weekend Zap-Map refreshed its latest charging statistics up to the end of June. These new stats will be used for the official quarterly government stats out later this month. According to my analysis, I believe the most recent quarter will reveal the largest increase of rapid devices on record. The total number of rapid chargers now stands at 6,018. By my maths, this means 524 rapids have been installed in Q2 of 2022 – as there were only 5,494 by the end of Q1. This is a whole 145 more than the previous quarterly high of 379 in Q1 2021, as the graph below demonstrates. As ever, when the official Q2 report is out I’ll provide a bit more in-depth analysis.
BAD STATS: Elsewhere in stats land, the latest SMMT figures on car registrations are out this morning and, as in the months before it, show again a highly reduced buying market – sales last month were down 24% compared to the same period last year across the board. However, with the economy all over the place, and a continued supply chain crisis, is it any surprise. Albeit, EVs continue to rise. Read more.
PARTS WARNING: Elsewhere, last week SMMT have warned that up to 22,000 UK automotive jobs could be at risk as there is less need for car parts in the switch to EVs. This isn’t the first time these warnings have been made, Bosch, the parts manufacturer, often repeats these warnings as well. Hopefully, if we can secure battery plants in the UK, these jobs could be saved, but only time will tell if that actually happens as the government thus far is struggling on this front. Read more.
CAPITAL NUMBERS: Almost one in two cars bought in London last month was an EV, according to analysis by New Automotive, a non-profit aiming to accelerate the move to electric cars. Apparently, some 6,000 either fully electric or plug-in hybrids were registered in June, outselling petrol cars by 200 vehicles. This is a cheery number as, before people complain of the North vs. South, London has some of the worst air quality in Britain, and ultimately EVs equate to cleaner air. Read more.
GOING OFFLINE: Speaking of the capital, in North London it seems charging networks have identified a problem with the local lighting infrastructure, this has meant a large number of chargepoints are now offline – showing as ‘out of service’ on Zap-Map. Ubitricity, who operates in the area, told me that “as a precaution, some lighting columns will have their hardware exchanged, and some will be relocated within the local area.” I’m reassured that this is a problem unique to Camden’s infrastructure, so it’s not expected to pop up elsewhere.
TASER MOBILE: The Chief Constable of the British Transport police, Lucy D’Orsi tweeted yesterday images of their new EV patrol cars – a Kia EV6 in full police uniform. As we’ve seen previously, other forces have been trying out the Tesla Model 3. As pointed out by ElectricFelix, the EV6 can be technically recharged quicker than a Tesla, is cheaper and has a slightly longer range.
NO FUZZ: It’s not all great news though for the police. Over in Gloucestershire the local Police Commissioner, Chris Nelson, has revealed its EV fleet – which is one of the largest making up about 21% of their 435 vehicles – are running out of range while responding to emergencies in rural areas. This is because of the lack of places to charge. Mr Nelson has said he supports EVs but that their “operational uses are not perhaps as advanced as I would like them to be.” Read more.
HATCHED BACK: MG is set to launch a new electric hatchback later this year called… the MG 4. An inspired name. Though to be honest I think the car looks really good – almost like the very popular Kia EV6 at the front. No prices are available but, if it’s anything like the other EV models MG produce, it will be quite affordable. The range will be around 280 miles, so around the ballpark of similar smaller EVs like the ID.3. Read more.
NORWAY KNOWS: Over the weekend, The Sunday Times shared a feature about how Norway had led the way with EVs. As readers may recall, only recently I too was in Oslo and spoke to the Norwegian EV Association about their seven lessons for the UK. In the Sunday Times story it was great to see such a prominent message strong incentives and reinvestment. I also had no idea that the lead singer of A-ha was so instrumental in getting the transition going in the country. Read the story here.
SENIOR MOVES: The Norwegian charging company, Easee, has made two senior hires to its UK team as it looks to expand operations. Csilla Heim, who formerly led operations for Plugsurfing, one of the largest networks of charging networks in Europe, has been appointed as the UK director. Meanwhile, Carissa Winters, has been appointed as Head of Marketing.
UNINSTALLED: It’s not good news in Essex. Due to ‘teething problems’ the local area has had several rapid chargers uninstalled. The organisation named Rapid Charging Devon, which has been managing the project, will meet the costs. Read more.
SLOW SCOOTER: According to Zag Daily, a micromobility publication in the UK, the government is going to be extending its shared e-scooter trials until May 2024. The existing trials will run until November this year and then local authorities will be able to decide to withdraw or continue. Some in the industry see this as a blow as the trial is dragged out – where other countries are far ahead with legalisation. Read more.
By Tom Riley