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If you want more EVs, don't ditch diesel (yet)

Date: 13 December 2018   |   Author: Guy Bird

Chargemaster's head of strategy Tom Callow has a candid and exclusive chat with Guy Bird on EV investment, charging point expansion plans and why ditching diesels today won't bring an EV revolution tomorrow.

The debate around greater vehicle electrification is often a highly-charged and politicised, rather than practical and pragmatic, one. So it's refreshing to hear someone clearly on the side of the electric advance argue the case for the continued use of clean, modern internal combustion engines as well, and for many years to come. Tom Callow, director of strategy at Chargemaster - the business behind the Polar charging network - of course wants EVs to proliferate, but also understands the financial brass tacks of those making them and those considering buying them too. 

"Ideologically, if certain people want to see EVs absolutely everywhere, that's fine," he tells BusinessCar. "But we need to recognise the economic reality that this is a gradual transition rather than a switch. We know some carmakers' current EV production is not profitable today, but that they are expecting it to be in a few years. Meanwhile, if we want manufacturers to stop being profitable [by not selling ICE cars] they will not be able to invest in new technology." 

Naysayers might point to Chargemaster being bought by BP earlier in 2018 as a reason for Callow to keep touting diesel and petrol fuel too, but in person his reasoning genuinely seems more practical, rather than political.

Meanwhile, Callow is looking to reduce barriers to EV uptake, from charger availability to charging time and accessibility. One such fleet-related initiative is already in place. 

"LeasePlan has an agreement with us where the business pays a monthly amount, which includes the vehicle's hire but also an installed home-charge 7kW unit at the employee's house," he says. "The staff member can perhaps pay that back through their monthly salary over time and also access our network on a subscription basis."  

But what about those drivers without off-street parking, which according to various surveys, equates to about a third of all UK vehicle users? 

"If you don't have charging at home the most likely scenario is that you will either charge at a regular place you go, like a workplace car park, or at a forecourt once a week, but in the future the charging will be much quicker, say 15 minutes," Callow suggests. "A lot of investment has gone into the forecourt shop, as 60% of their revenue comes from that, not fuel. Maybe you'll do an M&S shop for dinner at a BP forecourt while you charge? There will be [more] on-street charging as well."

Accessing that electricity at the point of charge has recently got easier too, partly courtesy of a new standard - the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations 2017 - which stipulates, among other things, that points should be usable on an ad hoc basis rather than require a pre-existing contract. The legislation applied to all new points installed after November 2017 and to existing ones since November 2018. Callow says Chargemaster currently offers circa 6,500 charging points across its UK network out of about 19,000 across all public networks. Of those 6500, 400 are rapid 50kW DC chargers and he says the firm will be deploying 150kW rapid chargers on BP forecourts from 2019, suitable to charge an Audi e-Tron to 80% in 30 minutes and also the Jaguar I-Pace, but still "backward compatible, so you can use a 150kW charger if you have a 50kW-capable BMW i3, for example". 

By 2023, he expects total UK public charging points to rise to 40,000-50,000 and wants Chargemaster to keep a 40% share of that number. He also predicts UK rapid-charging points will by then number in the thousands. It's all part of the firm's goal to offer an anxiety-free charging experience. 

"We want to get to the point where you drive along and see a forecourt with an EV charge sign and won't even have to plan it," Callow enthuses. "That's got to be the aim."  

And what about considering non-EV options from more efficient petrols, PHEVs, cleaner diesels and even diesel hybrids meantime, especially if the EV shape or range you want hasn't yet been designed, or is still out of your price bracket? 

"We know a lot of fleets acquired plug-in hybrids for high-mileage drivers, which I think they're now realising was probably not a very good solution, but pure electric cars aren't right for everyone either," Callow says calmly. "It's about making sure people drive the right cars in the right context. Any vehicle that reduces emissions is good. I'm personally interested in the EV space, but the car world is a broad church."



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