Q&A

Leading the charge

David Martell must be a patient man. He founded electric vehicle charging company Chargemaster back in 2008, when the idea of an electric car you plugged in still seemed an oddity.

David Martell

After tentative progress for a number of years, suddenly Britain is switching on to the electric car –sales of EVs are up 51% in the year-to-date. Despite this growth, Martell tells Company Car Tomorrow that business drivers and fleet managers still don’t fully appreciate the advantage of EVs.

Q You’ve predicted that there will be a million electric cars on UK roads by 2022. Chargemaster’s Polar charging network gives access to more than 5000 charging points. How big will the network need to be when there are a million potential customers?

A There are about 110,000 cars on the road now that have been eligible for the plug-in car grant. That number will grow rapidly with more and more cars coming to market. We’ve put forward this figure of a million cars by 2022, which nobody seems to be arguing with. It’s a fairly cautious estimate. The majority of car manufacturers across most of their range will have a plug-in version by that point.
So, in somewhere between three and five years we’re going to see a tenfold increase in the number of plug-in hybrids and EVs on the road – we’re looking at a tenfold increase in charging points over the same period. And I don’t think the penny has really dropped with either Joe Public in general or with the major fleet operators.

Q Do you think company car drivers and fleets understand electric vehicles, their benefits and disadvantages? Or is there still a lot of education needed?

A There are still three big myths. People think EVs are expensive, the range is 50 miles, and they’re slow. Well, these days most people lease a car, and if you look at the leasing cost and include the energy cost they are very competitive with any petrol or diesel car. On range, the vast majority of EVs coming to market have a range of 200 miles or close to it, and people aren’t aware of that. The third one, performance, is easily knocked on the head. Anyone who has driven an EV recognises the instant response from the electric drivetrain is greater than the majority of combustion-engine cars.

Q You mention the perceived expense of EVs, and there’s also the cost of installing charging points to consider. Through the Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), funding is available to reduce the cost of installing a charge point at home, and OLEV also runs the Workplace Charging Scheme to help certain businesses with installation costs. However, there’s no government funding to grow the network of public charge points. Is that something you’d like to see change?

A We’re assuming that all public charging points will be financed by the private sector. The government finds it difficult to support subsidies unless it’s done through local authorities, and they aren’t interested in owning infrastructure.
But there’s not going to be a shortage of charging points. By 2022, we expect there to be 100,000 public charging points, with 50% market share for us – that’s our strategic objective.

Q Polar launched as a subscription service, but also offers pay-as-you-go access to its network. What’s the thinking behind the two services, and which is best suited to business users?

A It’s similar to mobile phones. Regular users are better off on the subscription model, Polar Plus. We charge £7.85 a month – or less to a company – and the majority of charging points are free to use. For someone who is out on the road regularly that’s a very attractive model. We’ve recently launched corporate membership of Polar Plus, so that a company with many vehicles can have one bill with full analysis so they can see who is using what. It’s like a company fuel card.
For the casual user, we offer Polar Instant which works through an app, but the cost of charging up varies and it isn’t free.

Q As technology continues to develop, will induction charging through the road surface be an ever-more important part of the mix?

A One of our shareholders is Qualcomm, a developer of wireless charging. We have a static wireless charging unit outside our office. You park up and charge without having to plug in, much like wireless charging for mobile phones. But to put that in the road surface and to have what’s called dynamic wireless charging is some way away. It’s not so much the technology as the economics of it. Realistically, it’s at least 15 years away to my mind. The task of putting this technology into a significant number of roads and then maintaining it is pretty huge.

Q Looking further ahead to 2040 when the government intends the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to end, is there a risk the National Grid won’t have the capacity to cope with the extra demand?

A You have to keep in mind that it will be at least another 10 to 15 years before the whole car park is electric. That’s a long way away. We don’t see an issue with the National Grid. More people charging at off-peak times when there’s plenty of capacity – it would be very easy to incentivise this. We’re working with energy providers towards that goal.

I drive...

Tesla

TESLA MODEL S
You’ve been driving electric cars for years. What do you drive now, and what have been the biggest advances since you got an EV?

“I used to have a Mercedes and put £100 of fuel in it every three or four days, but I haven’t been to a petrol station for two years now. I drive a Tesla Model S. It’s a great car, I can’t really think of anything I would want to change about it.

“Compared with early EVs there have been big improvements in range, quality and style. All the EVs coming out now look like proper cars. You can improve air quality and save money. I really don’t see a downside to them.”

NETWORK 2022: THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN

Chargemaster public charge point

The UK’s EV charging network is growing, and growing fast. Martell predicts a public network of around 100,000 charge points in five years. But where will those charging points be, and how will the business driver of 2022 use them?

“It may be worth stepping back a bit and saying, ‘Okay, what kind of charging network is needed?’,” says Martell. “There are really two types of public charging out there. One is ‘destination’ charging at places such as hotels, sports facilities, station car parks – places where people are going to leave their car for at least an hour or two. These are 7kW charging points so they are relatively slow, although ironically they are called fast chargers. They’re relatively low cost to put in.

“The other type is 50kW rapid chargers. They’ll charge your car up to about 80% in half an hour.

“The rapid chargers are there to extend your range if you’re travelling a long distance. You stop for half an hour or 40 minutes and have a coffee while your car is charging. But these don’t need to account for more than around 10% of the mix, because the majority of charging will be done at home or at work.

“We’ve got to get away from thinking of charging as being like stopping at a petrol station. It’s more like using a mobile phone – you top up whenever you can.”