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How Carnaby Street is sparking the electric car trend

Each morning, I take a half-mile stroll from Bond Street tube station through Mayfair and Soho, past the former haunts of Handel and Hendrix, to BusinessGreen’s central London bunker. Despite our interminable winter, it is a very pleasant walk and over the past few years it has provided a daily snapshot of an under-reported revolution in the green economy – a revolution that promises to slash carbon emissions, improve UK energy security and boost the profitability of millions of firms, although you’d be forgiven for having missed it.

If you walk through central London at about eight in the morning, you will see surprisingly little traffic (the Congestion Charge is still working; one of the many travesties of Mayor Boris’ reign is the failure to build on its early success), but you will see a lot of delivery vans. And if you are interested in such things, which I have to admit I am, you will notice that a significant and growing number of them are green. In the space of a 10-minute walk you will typically see between five and 10 vans or trucks proudly displaying their green credentials, declaring to the world that they are using hybrid, gas or increasingly electric technology. They are invariably complemented by the growing numbers of electric cars taking advantage of Mayfair and Soho’s relatively numerous electric car charging points. Yes, these vans and cars are still very much in the minority, but they are there, and their numbers are growing.

Obviously you have to be careful about drawing wider conclusions from a sample as arbitrary as “things I see on my walk to work”, but the figures confirm that interest in these clean vans and cars is climbing at a rapid clip. The most recent numbers from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirm sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles – including electric, natural gas and biofuel powered cars and vans – rose nearly 10 per cent last year to almost 28,000 units. Yes, they still make up just 1.4 per cent of the automotive market, but demand for these vehicles is growing at twice the rate as it is for petrol vehicles. Meanwhile, those petrol and diesel cars and vans are getting significantly more efficient, as evidenced by hugely encouraging new research from the AA that confirms forecourt fuel sales have fallen by nearly 10 per cent since 2007.

All this means that on the ground it is visually apparent that more and more businesses realise it makes sense to operate delivery fleets that are dominated by alternative fuelled vehicles. They understand that they offer a lower total cost of ownership and improved reliability, as well as lower environmental impacts. Switching your fleet overtime to electric, gas or even fuel cells is starting to become a no-brainer for a wide range of companies.

There are also several important lessons for business leaders and policymakers contained in my daily walk to work – lessons that should be heeded if we are to make the transition towards greener vehicles as painless as possible.


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