Greg Fairbotham, founder of Manchester-based electric vehicle services and sharing start-up Zoom EV, tells Katherine Burden why the business case for electric vehicles (EVs) is about to get even better.
Zoom EV offers a UK-first services bundle for EV owners that includes benefits across public charging, nationwide parking, home charging and home green energy tariffs and an insurance product for EVs (and EV fleets). The company has also developed the UK’s first EV sharing platform and aims to increase the use of EVs in a purpose built community. Zoom have been working closely with Katherine Burden, GC Business Growth Hub’s Green Technologies and Services Lead, to raise its profile across Greater Manchester.
Katherine: What inspired you to set up Zoom EV?
Greg: I used to work in the fossil fuel industry, so my original career was not particularly ‘low emission’ at all! In my last role I found myself helping to build a large gas plant in the Middle East and it gave me a real first-hand perspective on the need for us to re-focus on renewable energy. Electric vehicles quickly became a passion because I was looking specifically at mobility, so Zoom is really all about how we can drive that agenda, do more with EVs and help people transition to them.
How would you describe the state of play with EVs right now in the UK?
When you look at the growth of EVs in terms of how long they’ve actually been around, it’s pretty staggering. We’re still in a stage of maturing the economies of scale that can deliver them to the market fast enough, but we’ve seen huge changes over the last 12 months. At the back end of last year there were about 30-35 EV models available on the market; this year that is expected to double.
In terms of where the UK sits internationally, we’re well positioned to really drive the agenda because of the way we use cars in this country. The key thing is the education piece – there’s still a lack of understanding about how EVs work and how good the business case actually is.
So is the main barrier to EV uptake still a cultural one?
There’s a lot of different things affecting EVs, including regulatory challenges, but the key thing is education. If you consider how much activity and noise there is around climate change at the moment, people and businesses are interested in EVs because it’s a very easy way to have an impact.
Anyone who drives an EV will never go back, because from a performance standpoint it blows an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle off the road, and there are significant cost savings. We’ve provided a variety of people with their first EV experience and they’re unbelievably impressed. But there’s still plenty of myths out there that are making people hesitate, such as worrying about how long the battery will last, that there’s not enough charging points around, or that it takes too long to charge the battery.
You only need to go on Zap Map to see how many charge points are actually in place already across the UK, and rapid chargers are getting faster all the time – some are now able to charge EVs in ten minutes.
The key thing to understand, though, is that 90% if not more of all charging is actually done at home. The average commute in the UK is 30-40 miles a day. All new EVs will do around 200 miles at least on one charge, so most of the time you can simply wait until you get home and charge your car overnight.
Is the business case for EVs going to get better?
Yes. If you’re an individual, you already receive a £3,500 government grant for purchasing a pure electric car, and a grant for a home charging unit. But for businesses in particular, we’re about to see a huge change. From 6 April this year, EVs will be completely exempt from benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax for company cars.
To put it into perspective, we’ve just done some research where we’ve compared the average annual business costs of renting a new BMW 320i (petrol) with a similarly-priced BMW i3 (electric). We estimate the BMW 320i will probably cost the employer around £9,000 in rental, tax and running costs. The cost to the employee will be around £7,000 in BIK. Compare that to the BMW i3, which would cost the employer around £3,000 due to no National Insurance and significantly lower running costs. And the employee would pay absolutely nothing.
That’s a gamechanger. The cost differential if you’re running a fleet of cars on average could be as much as £6,000 to the Company and £7,000 to your employees. That’s per car, per year. Multiply that by how many cars there are in the fleet and the number of years you operate that car. That’s a significant saving.
What impact do you expect the BIK changes to have?
Come April the change to BIK is going to have a huge impact for those businesses who recognise the opportunity. I expect that a lot of organisations will be ‘reactive’ rather than ‘pro-active’; finance directors will run the numbers and all of a sudden their eyes will open.
Awareness is growing, but it isn’t yet where it needs to be. Most businesses are stretched for resources, they don’t have the time to proactively look into it, so the opportunity is passing them by. That’s why we’ve done this work; we can tell businesses how much they can save and help them to understand the benefits and then help them implement solutions.
Looking to the future of EVs, where do you think we’ll be in ten years’ time?
In a very different place, that’s for sure! If you think about how quickly EVs have grown and how the battery capacity has got better, in 2-3 years battery capacity will probably be at 500 miles. Within 3-5 years the EV will just be the ‘car’, we won’t be talking about them as EVs anymore. In 10 years I’m absolutely convinced that in we will have full autonomy. You’ll be able to order a car to you and it will be able to take you where you need to go – that will be normal.
The key thing is that the ownership model of cars is changing. Everything is moving to on-demand services like ride-hailing or the ability to simply book a car to go away for the weekend or travel to a meeting. I think some families will look at switching from two cars to one, and gradually ownership will move to usership – paying for vehicles only when we use them. You’ll still have people buying and owning cars, but a big percentage of people will think: “Why bother? It costs me money to keep it, parking is a nightmare; why on earth would I want to own one?”
So that’s where car sharing comes in. How does your EV sharing platform work?
The intent of our platform is to increase the utilisation of idle vehicles and provide people with easy access to an EV experience, so we’re working with the likes of auto dealers; councils whose vehicles sit idle on weekends; and individuals who want to share their own EV. We’re also in discussion with Housing Associations who are looking at providing a shared EV service to their residents. The whole point is do more with EVs, get people into them and get people using them, reducing vehicles on the roads and obviously having a positive impact on carbon emissions.
We’re through our testing phase, so we’re now in the process of rolling out more engagement and getting people and businesses registering their vehicles on the platform. In the next 12 months you’ll see us really pushing this model, creating a community where you can take and do more with these cars, and building our brand around that. And of course, once we’ve helped people get into an EV, we can provide the services they need to set themselves up and insure their vehicle. The aim is to have an end-to-end process to make that transition as easy as possible.
Last question. What do you drive at the moment, and what would you like to drive next?
I currently drive a Renault Zoe. There’s some exciting cars coming out, but I personally think Tesla stand apart; they build the car, they build the software and their charging is just better than everyone else’s. So for me it’ll be a Tesla, they might get me to Mars quicker too!
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Posted under General Interest on 22 January 2020