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Educating on the business benefits of EVs

What needs to be done to encourage more businesses to include electric vehicles in their fleets? As Jonathan Woodthorpe, head of e-mobility at npower discusses, a recent industry roundtable highlighted the need for education of both the public and businesses to secure the widespread adoption of electric vehicle (EV) fleets in UK organisations.

Driven by the need for cost savings and with a sustainability agenda in mind, many organisations would benefit significantly from the implementation of an EV fleet. But, with both businesses and consumers often having limited, if any, knowledge about EVs, they are prevented from making an informed decision. There is also a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding EVs, which needs to be clarified and corrected.

So, what needs to be done to help overcome this significant barrier to increasing take-up of EVs across UK businesses?

Addressing negative perceptions
The roundtable discussion we hosted featured industry stakeholders from fleet companies, vehicle manufacturers, UK businesses and the media. One key area discussed was the need to eliminate negative perceptions around ‘range anxiety’ and the speed of EVs. For example, many consumers and fleet managers may not realise that numerous new EV models can reach the same speeds as traditional petrol powered cars and can travel up to 100 miles before recharging, covering 90 per cent of journeys.

Jonathan Woodthorpe, head of
e-mobility, npower

It is therefore clear that educating both the public and those responsible for fleets on the reality of today’s EVs could make a significant difference to take up of the vehicles. But to do this stakeholders including manufacturers, infrastructure providers and the Government would need to work together to deliver these messages effectively.

Highlighting total cost of ownership and incentives available
The discussion also highlighted how many people are put off by the initial cost of an EV. It is always going to be case that any new technology entering an industry carries a premium but, in the case of EVs, it is crucial that the savings delivered by the investment are clearly communicated.

For the public, available Government incentives such as the plug-in car and van grants – potentially up to £8,000 for a van – are certainly a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to educate all potential users on the long-term cost-saving benefits of an EV and the helpful incentives available.

Businesses should consider the potential benefits to their employees from the ‘Benefit-in-Kind’ rate for electric company cars. This is currently at a tax rate of 0 per cent which is applied until April 2015, when it rises to a five per cent rate for this type of vehicle – still considerably lower than most others and a significant benefit for employees with company cars.

Clearly conveying the total cost of ownership and running cost benefits of an EV compared with traditional vehicles is also important. If this happens effectively, it is much easier for potential users to see the advantages of opting for electric power over a traditional petrol or diesel engine. A prime example is our own trial of a Mercedes Vito E-Cell van, which resulted in significant savings, across a number of journeys when compared with a diesel equivalent.

The on-going rise in the cost of fuel may well be the kick-start needed for the EV industry to really take-off. In fact, petrol prices have risen by more than 80 per cent from 2002 to approximately 135p per litre, while diesel is even higher. It is interesting to consider what may be the ‘optimum’ price fuel needed for people to seriously take notice of the compelling savings achievable through an EV. Particularly when a £200 spend a month on diesel is comparable to just £10 for an EV, going by current estimates.

Close collaboration
The participants at the roundtable also agreed that all parties in the EV world need to work together and only through close collaboration will behavioural change be achieved. It is always going to be a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario in terms of what should come first, the charging infrastructure or the vehicles, but both elements of the EV puzzle are required to ensure the increased take-up of EVs.

Thanks to the recent release of Government funding for charging points across hospitals, train stations and streets and with more bids for funding welcomed until October 2013, the implementation of a charging infrastructure seems to be getting the boost it needs.

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