Good morning and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. My name is Tom Riley.
In today’s edition, I’ve followed up on a report I did a couple of months back on charging point maintenance. Also, news that China is spreading its wings and Hollywood magic is coming to electric cars.
Do drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any feedback, questions or comments.
In the news…
BRING THE NOISE: BMW has hired legendary Hollywood musician Hans Zimmer to inject noise into the carmaker’s future EVs. As electric cars are silent, many manufacturers have been adding fake sounds to the cabin. That way, when you put the foot down, you get more of a sense of acceleration. Zimmer told the Daily Mail: “We have an extraordinary opportunity to turn electric driving in a BMW into a very special experience with the help of great sounds.” The cars with Zimmer’s sounds included should be out from this year, the first being the BMW iX3 SUV. Zimmer has previously used shepard tone in his movie soundtracks, it’s a way of tricking the listener into thinking a noise is rising to an increasingly higher pitch, but it isn’t. Feels like that could come in handy! Read more in the Daily Mail.
CHINA INBOUND: The Chinese EV brand Nio, which often people pit against Tesla, is going to be launching in Europe this year. The first car to be available will be the company’s ES8 SUV which the people of Norway can order from July. The car will probably be priced around £80,000 when it reaches the UK. Compared to electric SUV’s already available, it’s pretty average. Comes with a 70kWh battery, 641 horsepower and will do 0-62 in 4.4 seconds. Most impressive to me, though, is the fact it can brake from 62mph to zero in just 33 meters. That’s pretty quick? Nio’s entrance on the world stage will probably not frighten Tesla or its European rivals yet, but if it gives Chinese firms more confidence to keep pushing cars abroad, then it might be.
SLOW DOWN: Speaking of deacceleration, new figures by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggest EV sales slowed last month. Just 9,152 electric cars were sold in April which is the lowest monthly share - when compared to every other type of car - since last August. The cut is being blamed on the recent chopping down of the EV grant from £3,000 to £2,500.
BATTERY BANK: According to the Daily Telegraph, the government is considering creating a national stockpile of ‘rare Earth metals’ as they are concerned that, otherwise, Britain won’t be able to meet its EV target. The reason for the move is that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in acquiring metals so they can corner the market off. Read more.
WORK IT: New research has shown that 46% of businesses are planning to install EV charging points on their premises over the next year. These will allow people to top up or totally charge while they work. The survey was done by Centrica Business Solutions and it also revealed that companies are planning to invest £15.8 billion in EVs and charging points up to March 2022. This is apparently a 50% increase - from the £10.5 billion - invested by businesses between April 2020 and March 2021. Read more on Current News.
Out of service charging points, part 2
Back in March, I completed a survey of 100 random ‘out of order’ charging points on ZapMap. What I found was the majority had been left unfixed for over one month and 45% were left to fester for more than three.
Given the pace people are buying EV’s in Britain today, I was astounded that the public charging network, which is going to be critical for a third of households, was so poor to maintain itself.
And it’s no small issue. Recent research by EVA England revealed 86% of EV drivers have had to choose a different charging point than the one they originally intended to use due to reliability issues.
As London has been a large driving force behind the rise of on-street charging and EV adoption - given the new ULEZ zone this year - I started looking into how councils were maintaining the networks in their authority.
What I discovered was, back in 2019, Transport for London published a framework for councils to use when making arrangements with charging network operators. In it, they naturally advise councils to have a maintenance agreement but also they suggested:
“Contracts could include penalties or fines to ensure charge points are fixed within an acceptable timeframe.”
Obviously, this is just a suggestion. But given how important the charging network is, you’d assume a necessary one.
I started pinging out information requests to work out which London councils have enforcement measures in place.
The result? Out of the six London councils I’ve heard back from so far, none have a contract that includes penalties or fines if charging points are not fixed quickly.
The only councils who revealed any potential teeth were Richmond and Wandsworth - who are run by the same team. They explained that in their contracts there are financial penalties for operators that can be “triggered due to early termination of the Agreement if the electric vehicle charge points are not fixed within a certain time period.”
I guess that might keep operators on their toes but, just down the road, they can get away with anything it seems.
Hammersmith and Fulham told me:
“There are no clauses pertaining to penalties or fines associated to faulty charge points not being attended to in fixed timeframes.”
Kensington and Chelsea were not much better saying:
“The Council's agreements with Electric Vehicle Charging Network Operators does not include a clause that they will receive penalties or fines if they do not ensure charge points are fixed within an acceptable time frame.”
And, again, over in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington, their council said:
“The contracts do not impose penalties or fines upon the charge point operators if they do not fix the charge points within certain timeframes.”
Naturally, all these councils have agreements in place for maintenance. As Richmond indicated, I would not be surprised if every council has some sort of clause where they can pull out or won’t renew contracts if needed.
However, is it enough to ensure points are maintained quickly?
A quick search on ZapMap shows there are about 13 ‘out of service’ points in Richmond - some apparently being broken for over a month. In Hammersmith, there are three alone on one street which are kaput.
The numbers may only be small, but losing even just one charging point in an EV neighbourhood for a few weeks could really mess with people’s ability to charge up as more cars get on the road.
Westminster Council, the group which claims to have now installed over 1,000 charging points, does not issue any penalties to operators for performance issues. However, the Council will “issue defaults to correct any faults and the Charging Point Operators are contractually obliged to rectify these faults upon receiving notification.”
Westminster also believes the fact operators can charge a fee gives them a commercial interest to maintain them. “The contracts are managed through these financial incentives to ensure that charge points are operational,” they explained.
But, after installation - which can cost between £1,000 to £4,000 for on-street chargers - and every other cost, like revenue sharing with councils, a commercial charging point might not be profitable for years. And in that time, even if it only broke down twice, how much would those call-outs push an operator deeper into the red?
What does the future look like
For the time being, there are still not many EV’s on the roads compared to other vehicles. The demand for public charging is still probably in its infancy. However, as we race towards 2030 and a potential mass switchover - like what happened in Norway - the need for fast fixes will be critical.
Not to mention that 2-3 years down the line, some of these charging points will be over 5 years old. Many will have outdated tech, worn out from repeated use in British weather, and will probably be very fragile.
We’ve already seen what happens when a company falls behind on maintenance with Ecotricity’s highway chargers. That led to an overhaul with them selling a stake to Gridserve. Their poor management also was a factor in a review by the Competition and Markets Authority into the charging sector.
Perhaps we’ll see stronger regulation from Department for Transport in future.
By Tom Riley