Posh points, posh people, posh places

The latest news from the world of electric motoring.

Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the newsletter that will plug you into the latest in electric motoring. My name is Tom Riley and I’ll be your host.

In today’s edition, I seem to have found myself on the subject of community divides quite a lot. Particularly around wealth which is currently a huge force behind early adoption of EV’s. In my long-read, I’ve pondered how that might be overcome so that people like flat-owners don’t get excluded.

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In the news…

POSH POINTS: the top-tier estate agent Savills has revealed that the most popular places for EV ownership in the UK are in fact posh neighbourhoods. This is hardly surprising given the cost of EVs still. However, The Times newspaper, who got the exclusive on Monday, revealed that EVs are most prevalent in Westminster, the Square Mile and Camden. Outside the city, Surrey, the Cotswolds, and the cities of St Albans, Cambridge and Winchester are the most popular. *Yawn*. So unsurprising was this story that by 10 o clock The Times seemed to drop it from their online edition.

NO POINTS: elsewhere in the British press on Monday, the Daily Telegraph published an online story about how 126 councils have no plans to install any new electric car chargers by 2025. The research was carried out by electric services firm Centrica. Southern councils are planning to install 2.5 times more electric car chargers than Northern councils, the research also found. This will not help heal the divide Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying to plaster between North and South. The top comment on the story says ‘Can't think of anything worse than queuing up with a 1000 other cars on a bank holiday weekend waiting for a charge at one of the 5 chargers not out of order at an M1 service station.’ I can’t work out if that’s peak Daily Telegraph pessimism or a sad reality.

ONE DOES CHARGE: as it seems only wealthy people can afford new EVs right now, I guess it makes sense for the champions of elegance to follow suit. Enter, Rolls-Royce. The brand associated as being for the elite is rumoured to be developing a whole line of electric vehicles. Plans are thought to be unveiled later this year. Recently, it was discovered BMW filed a trademark with the German patent office for the name ‘Silent Shadow’. For the love of all things holy let’s hope that’s not the real name.

STAY IN YOUR LANE: following in the footsteps of Norway, the UK county of Cambridgeshire started a traffic regulation trial that let electric vehicle drivers use bus lanes, which are typically reserved for buses, taxis, motorcycles, and cyclists. The move has greatly annoyed cyclists who have complained it breaches their safe space. Many have commented that the lane is just used by ‘commuters in electric beamers’. On the flip side, at least it’s an incentive to switch. And you won’t get fumes in the face when you cycle behind a Tesla.

CHINA STALLS: we keep hearing news stories of how China is dominating the world of EVs - I’ve written a few myself - but perhaps it’s not always rosy. One company called Evergrande tried capitalising in 2019 on its EV surge - they had been in huge debt worth up to $120bn - by building a car factory. Despite an initial bump they have struggled to get off the ground. Apparently, when a member of the Financial Times visited the site in December, there was just a single metal skeleton of a car and little else.

JUST FOR SHOW: the consumer review website Which? has found that the British manufacturer MG has misled buyers on its new MG5 EV. The model has been on sale since last year and looks to be very popular with a charge time to 80% of just 50 minutes. However, its the roof rack that has caused headaches. In the original guide material, MG produced they said the roof could carry up to 50kg. But, they since removed all mention and photographs of the rack in use from their guides. They’ve acknowledged that they are in fact just decorative and to put anything on them could be dangerous. What’s concerning is some dealers have been told the opposite, though, and that the rack can carry up to 35kg. Which? has asked for MG to recall the model but MG insist that won’t happen.

How do we overcome the EV divide?

In the part of West London I live in, electric cars are very popular. We increasingly see Tesla Model X’s zooming around, often closely followed by a Renault Zoe.

So, why are electrics popular here in the middle of London? Well, largely because most of the families who live here, before buying an EV, had already extended their kitchen three times.

And also probably as they couldn’t get to the villa in Tuscany last Summer, so it made sense to spend the savings elsewhere. From an accounting perspective alone it was likely a no-brainer with leasing options and grants being so good right now too.

There’s also another critical reason it makes sense here: it’s quiet and most homeowners have accessible parking spots. This means charging your EV is as simple as plugging in the Christmas lights.

Parking divide

The ability to keep your car outside or at your house - on a driveway etc. - is fast slamming a wedge between would-be electric buyers. Often it is those who are older and home-owning who have such a luxury, leaving the ‘millennial’ types - who are actually more supportive of EVs - stuck with few options to charge them.

Some 43% of Londoners live in a flat and only around 30% of 25-35-year-olds own their property.

I’m one of these people, renting away their income, and there is no convenient way I can see to full-time ownership of an electric. I can’t hang a cable out our window. And even if I could, as I’m on a busy road, I’d spend a thousand pounds a week on parking tickets.

That means, to run an EV, I’d have to either park it miles away at a public charging point overnight - probably paying a slightly premium rate for electricity - at my place of work - which is stupid because nobody in London drives to work - or constantly top up at the local Tesco.

Quite rightly, this problem is something preventing many people from picking an EV. So, what do you do if you have no off-street parking?

The good news

A number of companies have started working on solutions to these barriers, making EVs more accessible.

One such business leading the way is Ubitricity. They are working with councils turning streetlights into charging points. And as street lights are in abundance in London, this could allow EV flat owners to park a lot nearer to them. Perhaps even where they’d park them normally.

However, when mass adoption of EVs does ramp up, this idea will not meet the demand.

Point sharing

Some people believe, like with every other industry, that the sharing economy will provide the solution to this problem. One such idealist is Joel Teague, he is the CEO of Co Charger, a sort of Airbnb for electric chargers.

It launched at the end of 2020 and is a nice idea. However, whether it works is another matter. Prices being charged by users vary widely and you still have to find ones available. Judging by the map, they could be miles away too - there are only 10 hosts in London so far.

My solution

Like the early adopters of electric vehicles in London - the upper-middle classes - I believe a solution could lie in that Tuscan Villa they use during the Summer.

What do I mean by that? In essence, to treat charging points like property, which in many ways they are. You certainly need a property to have and install one.

Therefore, my suggestion is to create a timeshare platform where flat owners like me could be matched to homeowners and together we could share a charging point. That’s good for me because I know there’s definitely a place near home I can charge, owned by people I know, and at an agreed price and times.

Perhaps that’s still inconvenient, but we certainly need to start pushing the boundaries in this specific area, otherwise, it will just be Chelsea mums and James May on the roads while the rest of us look on with envy.

By Tom Riley