Expert panel: the future of electric vehicles
Following the launch of the Department of Transport’s consultation into making charge points more accessible, GreenFleet’s expert panelists give their views on the key factors that will shape the electric vehicle market’s development in the near future.
The government appears to have reaffirmed its commitment to a zero emission future with the Department for Transport (DfT) launching a consultation on a series of measures that will make electric vehicle (EV) charge points more accessible.
The measures, due to be included in the Modern Transport Bill, aim to make it easier for drivers to recharge as demand for EVs increases and include ensuring drivers can easily access charge points without the need for multiple memberships from individual providers, which was a key barrier identified by our panelists in GreenFleet 97.
They also call for more powers to set common standards for all public charge points to ensure electric car owners can recharge anywhere, anytime, as well as making consumer pricing information for electricity and hydrogen fuels consistent and transparent.
Additionally, the consultation sought views on how to make information about the location of public charging stations more accessible to the public, which could potentially be achieved via an online database and through mobile phone apps.
We asked our panelists what they thought the outcome of the consultation will be, and if they saw charge point accessibility as a major factor in the uptake of EVs.
Chargemaster’s Ross Harris doesn’t necessarily think that the issue of charge point accessibility is a major factor in someone’s decision to make the transition to an EV, claiming research suggests it is a “relatively minor element of a prospective EV purchaser’s decision making.”
However, Ross does believe it can be a factor in determining driver’s subsequent user experience. He said: “A recent survey by ZapMap showed that the vast majority of EV users (93 per cent) already use public charge points in the UK, with 25 per cent of those surveyed using the public network more than once a week. I’m convinced that this is because unlike mainland Europe the UK benefits from only having a small number of major network operators. From my time at Transport Scotland working on the Charge Place Scotland network I witnessed first-hand the benefits large networks bring EV drivers in improved and simplified accessibility.
“I would therefore expect the DfT’s consultation to encourage interoperability between networks – such as the arrangements we have already introduced between the Chargemaster Polar Plus and CYC networks, which account for around 55 per cent of the public charging infrastructure in the UK.”
Everwarm’s Gary Stirling shares Ross’s view that increased interoperability will play a factor in user experience, as it “makes the EV drivers’ journey easier.”
Gary believes that the decision is “long overdue” in the UK, especially when compared to places like Norway and Holland where this service has been offered for years.
While Ross didn’t think charge point accessibility was essential in influencing someone to buy an EV, Gary firmly believes that the “growth of the EV market is dependent on the growth of the charging infrastructure,” and he thinks that the measures being considered by the DfT will go “a long way” to help that growth.
While more than 90 per cent of charging currently takes place at home, Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, suggests that consumers and businesses need confidence that public charge points are accessible “when and wherever they might need them.”
According to Poppy, perceptions about charging still act as one of the biggest barriers when it comes to EV uptake. She takes a positive view on the DfT’s consultation: “Everyone wants charge points that are easy to find and easy to use. The government’s consultation is an important opportunity to hear views on how best it can support this. As the number of EVs on our roads increases, so too does the importance of ensuring consumers can rely on a publicly accessible and affordable network that is convenient and easy to access.”
In the mind of Sander van der Veen from The New Motion, charge point accessibility “is closely tied to range anxiety” and it is therefore “very important to make all public charge points as accessible as possible.”
Sander describes a open shared network across competitors as the “ideal goal”, but he does expect “pushback from some networks.” Nevertheless, Sander is still confident that “common sense will prevail over competitiveness” in the end, leading to networks that are open to roaming across the UK.
While charge point accessibility is often raised as a common concern for prospective EV drivers, a potential benefit that is often overlooked is whole-life costs.
Another clear benefit of EVs is the fact they have less moving parts, which can lead to a great deal of potential savings.
As Sander explains: “There are not that many parts in an electric car motor that can wear out and, when they do, they are relatively simple to replace.”
Sander highlights that there are for key areas where drivers can look to make potential savings: oil changes; brake systems; spark plugs and wiring; and engine and transmission repairs.
While oil changes are the most common form of maintenance necessary with internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, Sander notes that Pure EVs ‘do not need to take into account oil changes as a maintenance cost’. Additionally, while brake system maintenance can be costly in any car, Sander points out that the regenerative braking found in electric cars “makes these repairs far fewer than what they are in gas cars.”
Also, cost association with spark plugs and wiring start at zero for any EVs in operation, as they are simply not found in the vehicles.
Gary shares Sander’s viewpoint, explaining that EVs have fewer moving parts which are “a lot simpler to replace” and can lead to reduced engineer costs.
He says: “There is no need for fluids or fluid disposal systems because there is no oil or power steering fluid, brake pads require less attention as the vehicles require less friction on the brakes to stop, there is also no clutch.”
Gary goes on to argue that more needs to be done to stress these facts to potential EV drivers, as many do not consider factors such as reduced running costs, no road tax, and saving money on servicing.
Ross also feels that both private and fleet buyers “often fail to consider” the whole-life costs of EV ownership. He believes “more could and should be done to make the public aware of the holistic cost savings presented by EV ownership,” as the slightly higher purchase price of an EV is “more than mitigated” by not just fuel savings, but also the reliability and subsequent reduced need for servicing and maintenance.
Poppy offers up the Renault Zoe as a great example of how much can be saved, as the service costs for an electric Zoe are typically 30 per cent lower than a petrol Clio. This means that over a two‑year period, a Clio would cost £234 to service, compared to £158 for a Zoe.
A relative unknown as we move into the future is the residual value and how the secondhand EV market will take shape.
Nissan has recently launched a used car campaign for the Leaf, offering customers a used Nissan LEAF 24kWh Acenta on a 3-year PCP finance deal for just £175 customer deposit, £1000 dealer deposit contribution and monthly payments of just £175 with 3.9 per cent representative APR.
Mitsubishi has taken similar steps to make its Outlander PHEV an attractive used-car option, offering the plug-in hybrid as part of its new approved used car programme, with a pre-owned 2015 model starting from £199 a month and a used 2016 model starting from £299.
For Poppy, the future looks bright for the secondhand EV market. She says: “Residual values for electric vehicles are improving all the time, and continue to the close the gap, or even surpass, their conventionally-fuelled counterparts – the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid is the perfect example.
Future residual value success depends on the second and third owners of an EV and we know that our vehicle manufacturer partners in Go Ultra Low are dedicated to developing used car remarketing offerings that highlight the value of used EVs. From a technology perspective, we understand that the reliability of the Nissan Leaf and its long-term battery performance has allayed fears of battery life issues for the industry as a whole.”
Gary put forward the Tesla Model S as a good example of an EV that retains its value. It currently has a value retention of 83 per cent, 71 per cent and 57 per cent after one, two and three years respectively, which, according to Gary, is ‘much higher’ than any petroleum fuelled car in its category.
Gary does acknowledge there are concerns around the secondhand EV market, citing long term battery performance as the main problem, however he believes this can be somewhat mitigated by battery leasing schemes currently offered.
Sander thinks that eventually EVs will ‘be a large share of the market’ and believes that secondhand dealers need to start being educated on what this means for the cars they are selling.
He also believes that batteries will be a key consideration for secondhand buyers: “It’s realistic to say that one day in the near future dealers will need to provide guarantees on the battery to address concerns from the prospective owners. Another option would be to offer a completely new battery and sell the used battery to stationary storage company. That would soften the impact on the price of the new battery for the secondhand car.”
According to Ross, early evidence suggests that EVs are holding their value “relatively well,” although he admits that residual values and the secondhand market are still “something of an unknown.”
Looking towards the future, Ross believes that concerns such as battery lifecycle should “lessen over time” as car manufacturers improve their capacity and durability. He added: “Even now, the level of degradation a battery would suffer over the lifecycle of a vehicle is actually so low that once we move on to battery ranges of 200+ miles, this concern should all but evaporate.”
Ross also believes that another potential benefit of the resale market for EVs growing is that many more prospective drivers in lower income brackets will be able to take their first steps into the EV ownership.
It appears that developments in electric vehicles are becoming increasingly linked with autonomous technologies, with most new electric vehicle concepts featuring some kind of driverless capability and a large proportion manufacturers aligning their future mobility plans along the lines of both e-mobility and increasingly connected cars.
This was on full display at the Paris Motor Show, which saw Volkswagen unveil its I.D. all-electric concept. Billed as ‘an electric car for a new era’, the I.D. features a host of automated driving focus, with the German manufacturer confirmed that a fully autonomous ‘I.D. Pilot’ mode will be available from 2025.
It was a similar story for Mercedes-Benz, which unveiled the Generation EQ. The Generation EQ was presented as the first of a ‘new generation’ of EVs from Mercedes-Benz, which will based on an architecture developed specifically for battery-electric models.
As with the Volkswagen I.D.,the Generation Q features the latest driver assistance features. At the Show, Dr Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said: “The mobility of the future at Mercedes-Benz will stand on four pillars: Connected, Autonomous, Shared und Electric. ‘Generation EQ’ is the logical fusion of all four pillars. The emission‑free automobile is the future. And our new EQ brand goes far beyond electric vehicles. EQ stands for a comprehensive electric ecosystem of services, technologies and innovations.”
Zetsche seemingly confirms that the future development of Mercedes‑Benz electric vehicles will go hand in hand with developments in connected and autonomous technologies.
This is a trend that can also be seen from Tesla. which recently announced that all new vehicles produced in its factory will now have the hardware needed for fully autonomous driving, as it believes that self-driving vehicles will play a ‘crucial role’ in improving transportation safety and accelerating the world’s transition to a sustainable future.
Letting go of the wheel
Sander describes it as a “remarkable achievement” that Tesla has “succeeded to link autonomous driving to electric vehicles in the minds of the general public,” but he believes there is “no real connection” between the two, as driverless capabilities can be applied to any type of vehicle. Despite this lack if connection, Sander does expect autonomous driving to become more prevalent “in the next five years” as “one of the integral links for the future of mobility.”
Ross is a little more sceptical of the speed at which we will start to see a greater roll out of driverless vehicles, as he thinks “we are still some way off them being a major part of the personal transportation solution.”
Based on his experience in the world of EVs, Ross knows that people can be resistant to change. He believes that overcoming the public’s reliance on traditional fuels will come “a long time before” they are ready to “give up their steering wheel,” but he does believe that in the future EVs will indeed be at the forefront of new vehicle technologies.
He explains: “I think in the short to medium term what we are likely to see are more driver assist functions. In recent years we have seen functions such as cruise control and park assist become standard features in most new cars. I think further evolution in this vein is likely to play a major part in the future of EVs, as the very nature of the industry dictates the need to be at the forefront of new vehicle technologies.”
Gary considers himself a “huge fan of the concept of driverless capability in new electric vehicles,” but agrees with Ross that there “is still some work to do in order for it to become common place in the industry.”
Referencing the bad press Tesla has had to deal with following issues with its ‘autopilot’ function, Gary suggests that manufacturers “need to spend more time in development to ensure these kind of incident do not occur.”
Poppy believes that the increase in advanced driver assistance systems currently being deployed “will make the driving experience safer, easier, and more enjoyable” and expects to see “some cars” capable of driving themselves on motorways by as early as 2020.
On the connection between EVs ad autonomous technologies, she explains: “As the future of mobility will certainly be electric, it’s likely that we will see a convergence of trends in vehicle automation and connectivity – to the point that many assume that the ‘fully driverless car’ will be zero emissions, with smart technology to monitor range, communicate with surrounding infrastructure and improve driving efficiency.”
Expert final thoughts
"The concept of driverless vehicles is an interesting one but I think we are still some way off them being a major part of the personal transportation solution. From my experience in the world of EVs I know how resistant people can be to change. I think we will overcome the public’s reliance on traditional fuels a long time before they are ready to give up their steering wheel. I think in the short to medium term what we are likely to see are more driver assist functions. I think further evolution in this vein is likely to play a major part in the future of EVs, as the very nature of the industry dictates the need to be at the forefront of new vehicle technologies."
"I am a huge fan of the concept of driverless capability in new electric vehicles, however there is still some work to do in order for it to become common place in the industry. When you see a Tesla driving without any influence from the driver it looks fantastic however there is the elephant in the room, where there has been two fatalities which are claimed to be due to the ‘autopilot’ feature which Tesla boasts. Manufacturers need to spend more time in development to ensure these kind of incidents do not occur."
"We are already seeing automated vehicle technology – in the form of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems – being deployed. We expect that in the early 2020s some cars will be able to drive themselves on motorways for example. As the future of mobility will certainly be electric, it’s likely that we will see a convergence of trends in vehicle automation and connectivity – to the point that many assume that the ‘fully driverless car’ will be zero emissions, with smart technology to monitor range, communicate with surrounding infrastructure and improve driving efficiency."
Sander van der Veen
"It’s a remarkable achievement of Tesla that they have succeeded to link autonomous driving to electric vehicles in the minds of the general public. In reality there is no real connection here, as driverless capabilities can be applied to any type of vehicle, petrol, hybrid or electric. I do think in the next five years autonomous driving will become more prevalent in every vehicle as one of the integral links for the future of mobility."