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David Brennan's blog: Cracking EVs

Date: 13 October 2017

David Brennan, CEO at Nexus Vehicle Rental, discusses the make or break deadline for carmakers to crack the electric vehicle solution...

In my last blog for BusinessCar, I focused on the penalties for using mobiles behind the wheel and what technology can help keep drivers focused on the road. Since then, it's encouraging to see tech companies such as Apple taking road safety seriously by including a 'Do Not Disturb While Driving' feature in its latest software update (iOS11), which blocks notifications from popping up while on the move.   

Technology is moving rapidly and it's important drivers and fleet managers are aware of the latest advancements to keep pace with change. This leads me on to the Government's outright ban on new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. It's clearly a good idea and will happen with time, but is the plan overambitious?

The proposed solution - electric vehicles (EVs) - have been around for a while now. In fact, the first EV was developed in 1832! But there are several obvious reasons why we're not all driving them right now.

EVs are great in theory but at the moment the technology isn't up-to-scratch - the range isn't good enough and a reliable and efficient charging infrastructure isn't in place. Sensible phasing in is needed and drivers need to be incentivised to take older petrol and diesel cars off the road.

The cost of an EV is also enough to put anyone off let alone businesses which require entire fleets of vehicles. A Nissan Leaf currently retails at around £17,000 without the battery but the main issue is the proficiency of the tech itself. What Car? claims mileage on EVs is frighteningly inaccurate with the Nissan Leaf only delivering 60 per cent of its range when tested in real life conditions.

As a rental provider, we also are yet to see a surge in demand for EVs and although the latest SMMT figures show a 62 per cent increase in EV sales this August compared to last year, there is still a long way to go before EVs become a key part of the rental mix.   

The future mobility landscape will be made up of EVs and autonomous vehicles but we need clearer Government direction to ease the transition. The fact that on the day the 2040 ban was announced, the statement was quickly amended to declare that hybrids were exempt which shows a lack of clarity on the issue. Most reading this will operate businesses that move goods and people to benefit the UK economy and a realistic EV strategy needs to be established within a practical context.

The definition of EVs also needs to be considered. EVs are entering the consumer and corporate market but these are largely hybrids with conventional engines alongside electric motors, without the need to plug-in. Despite many manufacturers pledging to develop new models with electric engines, these type of hybrids will continue to dominate, particularly for business customers who need reliable modes of transport and demand constant access to mobility. Just last month, Energy UK warned the national grid would collapse unless energy providers decide when EVs can and cannot be charged and business drivers in particular won't be willing to wait around.     

Although technology is moving rapidly, there is no guarantee EVs will be affordable by 2040 and we can't be sure batteries and power supply will be good enough. The deadline to ditch traditional combustion engines will only be met if the replacement is readymade and we are currently a long way off achieving this.