The UK’s public charging patchwork poses challenges for a car rental business and would-be customers, says Iain Macbeth, European director of strategy – Electric Vehicles at Enterprise
Enterprise has more than 100,000 vehicles in the UK and two million globally. It buys the vast majority of those vehicles outright before moving them on, usually within 6-12 months.
As such, it’s effectively buying and selling around two million vehicles a year and the chances are that most of the nearly new cars on dealer forecourts have come from a rental operation.
Meanwhile, Enterprise also operates the UK’s largest car club, where the majority
of its EV operations currently take place, predominantly using second generation Nissan Leafs. It has around 80 on the books, says Macbeth, and these are one of the few exceptions to its retention rules, with residual values starting to rise. Car clubs are a great way for people to try out EVs, he adds, while grey fleet demand from local authorities and other public sector bodies is also starting to increase.
Beyond that, Macbeth says the firm “Recognises that many of its customers still need educating on both using an EV and how to access public charging infrastructure, given that many will not have home charging options. The current state of public charging infrastructure, in terms of working coverage and interoperability, can cause challenges, particularly for those new to EVs.
“That side of things can cause frustration. It is only quite recently that the latest generation of chargepoints have started to provide contactless payment options,” adds Macbeth. “People renting an EV might not know they need to have a dozen apps and umpteen RFID cards.”
While EV registrations have increased substantially since changes to Benefit in Kind rules, Macbeth hopes business users with off street parking have had the foresight to install chargers at home. Heavy users, for example, “sales reps doing 20-30,000 miles a year”, will find themselves reliant on public infrastructure, he says. “At times it can seem barely adequate for early adopters. We recognise this is a short-term challenge and Government is taking steps to address this, but people remember the bad news stories, not the good ones.”
Macbeth says Enterprise would like datasets such as the National Chargepoint Registry made more transparent and dynamic, so that people can see which charge points are working and how much they will be charged before they arrive. Equally, a public “league table” that ranks chargepoint operators by factors such as reliability would incentivise service improvements, he suggests.
“My remit covers Europe. As we increase our EV presence across the continent,
we will need a platform that is available in multiple languages and currencies and across operators and energy suppliers.” The alternative is to strike relationships with different parties in each country – but that risks becoming unwieldy.
Despite the challenges around charging, Macbeth says retail rental customers that try an electric vehicle tend to quickly become converts.
“At the moment, we’re receiving a lot of enquiries from local authorities and fleets
to provide EVs. Our experience in helping customers to try an EV really helps in
these circumstances – we’ve had instances where drivers have been reluctant to drive an automatic rather than a manual car, so guiding the customer in understanding how EVs work is a valuable asset,” he says. “But attitudes will change – and when people have tried an EV, very few want to go back to conventional vehicles.”
Enterprise is seeing more EV interest within commercial channels, but for shorter-term contracts, fuel and maintenance savings don’t stack up, which can put business customers off, says Macbeth.
For electric vans, uptake post-Covid may depend on what happens with Ultra Low Emission Zones and whether these are now extended, Macbeth suggests. He thinks mass adoption within the van market will be closely linked to emissions policy.
If stringent rules are ultimately introduced, it may be that running costs are stretched to the extent that “electric van clubs” become viable for light users, says Macbeth. “It will be interesting to see whether or not that happens, but it could be a potential opportunity.”
Plan now, or pay later
Macbeth spent more than a decade working for Transport for London. As such, he offers succinct advice for anyone planning to integrate EVs into fleets or rollout charging infrastructure at reasonable scale: Plan now.
“Coming from a local authority background, planning can delay things massively, so plan
the infrastructure in advance. Have the conversations with the DNOs early about where the power is available. The better the coordination and communication, the better the outcome.”
Otherwise, he says, “you might find what you want to do is not possible without an eye watering bill.”
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This article is one of a number of in-depth interviews conducted for The Energyst’s new 2020 EV report. It contains expert insight across a range of sectors, plus a survey of more than 300 firms around EV charging infrastructure plans.
Sponsored by Arup, EDF, Good Energy, New Motion and Total Gas & Power, the report also includes views from: Arval, Cenex, DPD, Dreev, Engenie, ev.energy, Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, Mitie, National Grid, Nottingham City Council, the John Lewis Partnership, TLT, UPS and Western Power Distribution. Download the report here.