Will micro EVs ever catch on in Britain?

The latest news from the world of electric motoring

Good morning and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. My name is Tom Riley.

A huge edition today. Lots of news, such as Polestar struggling with demand, and in my longer feature, I’ve written about microcars and whether they will ever be loved here.

I hope you are enjoying The Fast Charge! Please do drop me an email at tomrileylondon@gmail.com if you have any feedback, questions or comments.

In the news…

EVERY LITTLE HELPS: Anyone who shops at Tesco - like yours truly - may have noticed that many have now installed free EV chargers in their car parks. The points are installed by Tesco in partnership with Pod Point and Volkswagen. Tesco has just revealed that they have given out over 500,000 free top-up charges. A mighty achievement and shows the power (and usefulness) of destination charging. Transport Secretary and EV owner, Grant Shapps, commented: "As we accelerate towards a cleaner and greener transport future, it's great to see one of Britain's most iconic household names leading the way with electric vehicle charge points.” 

DON’T PUKE: Well, I guess it was only a matter of time. Nissan are due to release an electric version of its Juke in the near future. And it looks just as perverted as its fossil-fueled counterpart. Why does it have a moustache on its grill? Read more and see pictures on AutoExpress.

POLESTAR STRUGGLING: I see that Volvo’s premium EV brand, Polestar, are starting to struggle under the weight of demand. They have stopped accepting any orders on their affordable Polestar 2 models. When you go to buy it on their website now it says: “Due to the high demand for Polestar 2, we’re currently unable to process new orders.”

ELECTRIC SACRIFICE: Octopus Electric Vehicles has this week revealed a new 100% electric car leasing service for businesses. Octopus is already very popular in the EV community for their off-peak rates - which can be as little as 5p per kWh. Their salary sacrifice scheme, named Electric Dreams, will allow companies to offer their employees any EV with a range over 100 miles. Employees will then pay monthly for the car from their salary. Electric Dreams was launched by Octopus on Tuesday alongside Robert Llewellyn, Presenter of Fully Charged, and David Watson, CEO of Ohme. Sadly, for those watching the launch, we had to sacrifice our eardrums first - the sound was all over the place. A good explainer of the scheme in This Is Money.

IN TREND: Nissan has revealed some research that is pretty definitive concluding EVs are no longer a fringe interest. In a poll of 7,000 people across Europe (including the UK), when asked if they would consider buying an electric vehicle as their next car, 70% of drivers say they would. Their expansive research also found that 97% of EV drivers found the transition from ICE to EV "as expected" or "easier". See more on Nissan’s website.

CLEVER INVESTMENT: Remember the name Mina. They are currently the UK’s only EV charging platform that credits payment for a drivers’ energy used while charging at home for business purposes to their energy provider, eliminating difficult expense reimbursement processes for those operating or using fleet cars. Fleetcor, a payments provider, has just taken a minor stake in the company valuing it at £6m. Given the rush by businesses to get EVs, it would be unsurprising if this company vaults into the big leagues soon. 

ANDY’S VIEW: Former Aston Martin CEO, Andy Palmer, has suggested in an Auto Express article that EV’s might not be the only solution to our climate issues. In a long piece, Palmer says the recent grant cuts were too early and that the UK “should not legislate to make electric vehicles the only solution to reaching net zero.” Palmer believes hydrogen and synthetic fuels may allow a wider variety of cars, such as sporty models and long-range HGVs, to co-exist with EVs. Read more

DOUBLE UP: According to the latest figures by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, sales of battery electric vehicles were 22,003 in March 2021. That’s an 81% increase from 11,694 in March last year. Read more.

GLASGOW KISS: Bad news for EV drivers in Glasgow. Councillors are due to back plans to introduce charges on the public network. At the moment the cities 218 chargers are subsidised but the bill for running them – including staff costs and annual maintenance – hit more than £215,000 over the past 12 months. The new rate won’t be too dear, though, is no doubt annoying when EV drivers already have to pay for parking at those spots on top of the new charging costs. Read more.

Will micro EVs ever catch on in Britain?

I was speaking to my local barista yesterday. We were discussing commuting. You see, she currently gets to work by bus but wants to take matters into her own hands. ‘A bike?’ I ask. ‘No, too dangerous’, she says. ‘An electric bike?’, I counter. ‘No, too expensive.’ ‘What about an e-scooter?’, I suggest. ‘Same as a bike, if you have to go on the road, it’s too dangerous.’

One of the great barriers to better urban mobility is road safety for non-car users. The government in the UK is well aware of this, which is why it’s made efforts to build infrastructure for small personal vehicles, like bikes, over the last few years. The efforts have been increased ten-fold during the pandemic, last Summer councils across the UK installed pop-up cycle lanes and, meanwhile, the Department for Transport published ‘Gear Change’ outlining their vision to improve cycling and walking, especially in cities. 

However, you can split every single road in Britain in half, but you still wouldn’t address the real problem: our love of big cars.

Earlier this week, a BBC article placed a spotlight on the use of SUVs in cities. In a report they covered by the New Weather Institute, it was said that three-quarters of all SUVs sold in the UK are registered to people living in towns and cities. The largest SUVs are most popular in three London boroughs - Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Westminster. 

Often it’s popular to call big cars in the urban areas ‘Chelsea tractors’. And while perhaps when the trend first began that label was funny, now it increasingly seems like an aspiration for many urban families - made accessible by easy finance.

The result is cities, like London, are now congested by bigger vehicles than it ever has before. Not to mention, 95% of the time these vehicles are left parked on the streets. All this makes it a treacherous place for single road users.

However, is there a possible solution… As new requirements, such as the expanded ULEZ in London, get introduced and many motorists switch to electric or hybrid power, is now the time for a microcar resurgence?

It would surely make sense for our towns and cities to start working towards having smaller more practical cars within their walls. Why would we swap out large fossil power cars for big electric powered ones? Big cars don’t get rid of congestion, make roads safer and, even if they’re EVs, they can continue to pollute the air - as they kick up dirt particles.

And there’s reason to believe the tide could change, never before has there been so much choice and hope in microcar manufacturing.

From the trapezoid looking Citroen AMI, which in France can cost just $20 euros per month. Or the new brands, ME, which boasts a range of 150km and is already in the UK, and also the gorgeous-looking bubble-shaped Microlino concept, which can apparently do 90km per hour.

As battery capacity improves, there’ll certainly growing options for anyone that fancies their pick of easy to park, cheap to own electric runabouts.

However, microcars aren’t new, they have been around for decades. If they didn’t catch on before, why would they now?

Arguably, the needs of cities and people have changed significantly since we first heard of ‘Smart Car’ or the ‘G-Whiz’. And a defining example of this is the irresistible rise of China’s microcar, the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, which is now their country’s best selling vehicle.

While I believe there will be many people who do buy micro electric cars over the next few years, larger vehicles are here to stay in the UK unless the government steps in. And there’s a simple explanation: choice.

In cities nowadays there are so many ways to move around. A bus, train, moped, underground, taxi, bike, electric bike, skateboard, rollerblade and scooters.

And, even if you don’t have a car, it can only take about 5 mins to get access to a shared fleet.

So why would anyone buy or need a micro EV? What function would it serve?

Yes, you could say the same about the huge Chelsea combine harvesters outside people’s flats. But, at least they are more functional. 

People also forget that cars are a statement. Nobody is buying a Tesla because they believe it’s the best performance car going. They get one because it’s cool, has an auto-pilot and more gadgets than the USS Enterprise.

If you are doing well at work, got a few quid in the bank, perhaps climbing the property ladder, taking a greater interest in paint shades and wine; then you will never buy a microcar enthusiastically. If you do, nobody will sit next to you at dinner parties, girls won’t fancy you and your mates will laugh.

Why? Because size still matters. And vehicles, like our clothes, homes and furniture, are an extension of our personalities. Anyone who desires to drive around in a Tikes car over the age of 5 is out of kilter with the human need to impress our peers.

By Tom Riley