It’s Not Just About The Cars

Which of these statements is true? Electric vehicles represent only a small fraction of the U.K.’s car market at a time when much more needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions. Sales of electric vehicles in the U.K. market are extremely encouraging.   

Well, of course, it’s just possible that both of the above assertions reflect current reality. Let’s start with the positives. According to industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and traders, 37,850 battery-powered vehicles came onto Britain’s roads last year, compared with just 15,510 in 2018. Clearly this is a corner of the automotive market where momentum is gathering.  Indeed, in December 2019 alone, demand for electric cars rose 144 percent.  

But on the glass half empty side of the equation, sales of electric vehicles are rising from a low base. Battery-driven cars account for just 1.6 percent of the industry total. Truth to tell, the majority of us still depend on the internal combustion engine to get around. 

Blockages In The Road

So why aren’t we going green in greater numbers? Well, it costs more to buy an electric car, but perhaps more fundamentally, outside the community of early adopters, it seems likely that motorists aren’t yet totally confident that battery power can replace petrol. In particular, there are concerns about the range of electric vehicles (although this improving) and the availability of charging points.  

At this stage, bringing technologies on stream to improve the distance that an electric vehicle can travel is, more or less, in the gift of “big auto.” Yes, there may be an army of researchers and greentech entrepreneurs beavering away to develop new battery technologies, but ultimately it is the major car manufacturers and their suppliers who will choose and fit the power units.   

But reducing concerns about the day-to-day practicalities of driving an electric vehicle may well be an area where entrepreneurs can play an important role.  

Witness Zap Map. Founded by Melanie Shufflebotham and Ben Lane, the venture provides a means for drivers to plan their electric car journeys in terms of available (and working) charging points.

A Different Way Of Doing Things

And that might not be as straightforward as it sounds. Set out on long journey in a conventional vehicle and you can be reasonably sure that it won’t be long before you pass a filling station. Thus, unless you’ve run the tank right into the red zone,  there is very little likelihood of running out of petrol. Arguably many potential electric car owners are put off by concerns that they will be unable to find a charging point a battery begins to run down.  

“Owning an electric car is not just about the car,” Shufflebotham acknowledges. “It involves a different way of doing things.”  

Most charging is done at home, but on long journeys, top-ups will be required. “When you go on a journey you need to plan a route,” she adds. 

So Zap Map seeks to provide a real time view of availability location, coupled with a route planning facility. And in addition, it tells drivers when particular points are on or offline and breaks them down in terms of charging speed. Users can also use the app to access news, share information and pay for the necessary electricity.  

Making Choices 

So where does all this fit into the green car ecosystem? Well, perhaps the first thing that has to be said is that the venture grew out of Next Green Car, a business started by Ben Lane in 2007, with Shufflebotham joining in 2010. Essentially, the company was set up to enable buyers to compare the green credentials of a wide range of vehicles – from petrol driven cars, through hybrids and on to all-electric, in terms of their overall lifetime carbon footprint.   

If you could characterize Next Green Car as a buyers guide, then Zap Map steps into at the next stage of the motorist’s journey.  Once an electric car has been bought, the service intends to make life easier for the user.    

To achieve this, partnerships are essential – primarily with the the charge point networks that provide the data in return for visibility and driver feedback from drivers.  In addition, Zap Map licenses data to parties such as insurance companies and OEMs. Revenues are also generated from advertising to users and commission from the Zap Pay payment system.

The company is not the only game in town when it comes to charger visibility. For instance, Parking Eagle, a business based at London’s Plexal innovation center also provides a route planner with details of charging points and maps are available from Openchargemap and Go UltraLow.    

So it seems that entrepreneurs and small organisations can indeed play their part in driving the electric vehicle revolution, but there are of course factors other than charging, not least price. “Prices for EVs need to come down below £20,000,” says Shufflebotham who adds that there also needs to be more education on the range of battery cars (now over 200 miles)  and their benefits. “But we are,” she says. “At a tipping point.”  




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