Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Dave Newton, Chief Operating Officer, BP Chargemaster
It’s now been more than 15 months since petroleum giant BP acquired Chargemaster to enter the electric vehicle charging sector. UK boss Dave Newton talks us through how he sees the company and the sector developing.
QWhat is BP Chargemaster’s position and priority at the moment?
BP bought the company in July last year, and this year the focus has been on the development of ultra-fast charging for forecourts. We launched the first forecourt site in August at Cranford, Hounslow, which was the first time we have put conventional fuel with EV charging.
We are focused on developing a network of forecourt chargers – a full charging solution that compliments the network already in place with Chargemaster across supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and pubs, plus public parking. We are already in those areas. The bit that BP has brought to the party is the brand and the ability to put charging onto forecourts.
There are some behind-the-scenes areas that are, to some extent, hindering the installation of more EV charging points. BP Chargemaster’s chief operating officer Dave Newton pinpoints in particular the cost of some more difficult installations and the discrepancy between VAT on home electricity and what the company has to pay as two such issues Government could address.
“The thing we would like more support on is the process of getting connections to public charging – getting connection to high-voltage supply,” he told Company Car Today. “Plus the cost of it, we tend to pay the going rate regardless of what we are trying to do to help government agencies.”
“I don’t think we need to pump money into charge points but we need support for where we’ve a challenge to put a point in place – it needs to be simple and fair,” continued Newton.
“And another issue is the VAT rates on electricity; the home VAT rate is 5% and out-of-home it’s 20%. I’m not saying it should be that home goes to 20% but in order for electric vehicles to work as an ecosystem, it needs home and out-of-home charging, and having a disconnect between the two causes a problem.”
“Consumers recognise that and will pay to some degree but you can’t get into the situation where the price is much higher because then consumers won’t pay it and why should they?”
We want to try to create a network solution for customers, from home charging to workplace to destination charging and on-route charging, with increased focus on trying to move towards faster charging as a way of thinking.
Primarily, we’re thinking about the over 40% of the total potential car parc that can’t do home charging because they live in flats, for example; if EV is going to take off, we need to create an infrastructure that will satisfy all sorts of needs.
Getting fast-charge solutions brings those people into play – slow charge doesn’t really work. Ultra-fast charge for those people is essential, and also for people on journeys – the ability to do a top-up charge on a forecourt is key. In 15-20 minutes, get a coffee and check emails and you can get 100-150 miles in on an ultra-fast charge.
QHow do you think you can help build confidence in the reliability of EVs as a solution to a wider pool of users?
We work with manufacturers, fleets, companies to provide solutions to create confidence in buying an EV and that there will be the infrastructure to allow that to happen.
Then there is the workplace solution for fleet owners and company car drivers – very much in scope for us as well – where they want charging equipment for car parks to manage the solutions for back-office systems, including booking for charge points.
Increasingly, employers want a more automated system for the workplace, which is why we’re working on solutions tailored to those needs.
QWhat else can the BP ownership do for Chargemaster and its customers?
The BP link is not just about EVs, it can also be about traditional fuel. We are just launching a fuel and charge card solution, so fleet owners can have the ability to have a dual card on BP fuels and the 7000 charge points in the Polar network. Increasingly, what we see happening is the migration of traditional fleet solutions – a slow migration – with people putting a toe in the water by having a couple of EV cars or vans, but they still want the fleet management solution they have today. Fuel and charge card is an integrated solution as we go forward and help manage some of that transition.
QThere has been criticism about the breadth and reliability of public charging. How do you see the situation?
The industry is starting to regulate itself and there will be a place for contactless and a place for subscription and other services to co-exist. Reliability is improving and the number of charging locations is increasing, but we want to move the conversation.
People think in terms of dots on maps but it’s utilisation and how they are used. A 7kW charger will take six-to-eight hours to do a charge, but a 50kW charger could be 30-40 minutes. Our best charger in some locations is doing 12-14 charges per day and the average is 4-5 per day across the network. Which is almost like having five 7kW chargers.
Then, when you go to 150kW chargers; we’re already seeing 14-15 charges per day on sites where we are trialling.
Increasingly, we’re talking about chargers in the right place, not quantity of chargers but the right chargers with the right speed. So, 150kW means in the worst case you might be waiting 15 minutes for a charger, not 6-8 hours.
Forecourts are a great locality – there were 40,000 forecourts in 1990 and there are now 8000. Why have those 8000 survived? They are great locations where people are travelling. BP forecourts have a Marks and Spencer and a Wild Bean Café to make it as close to the traditional internal combustion engine-type experience as we can make it at this stage.
QDo you think the current number of charge points is sufficient and will that keep up with growth in plug-in vehicle sales volume?
At the moment we are at around one charge point per 10 or 11 vehicles. If you take Norway, they are 20:1 in a mature market, so the space is there as long as faster charge points grow. You don’t have to retain that ratio, the key is to make sure availability is good and that it is the right kind of charging.
There is a place for 50kW and 7kW. For example, 50kW where I will have a meal and be there for a couple of hours, but at a railway station 7kW is ideal; it’s about matching the needs of the customer in those locations. We want to move more charging onto 150kW, because it’s the best and most convenient experience for many customers.
QWhat do you make of the Ionity co-operation between a number of manufacturers to try and speed up the installation of fast chargers?
With Ionity, a lot was initially built out of concern about whether fast-charge points would be available; about manufacturers wanting to make sure there are plenty of places to charge well.
I see Ionity in a service-provider role in that regard – partly competitive threat and part of the development solution of ultra-fast charging. I’m not against what they are doing, because promoting the experience and making it easier to bring on EVs is helpful to our business as well.
Range anxiety is one way of looking at it, but it is how many places are there to do fast-charge – then it’s a different equation. Nobody thinks about fuelling – even if you get down to 15-20 miles left you don’t have that anxiety because we have enough refuelling points around. If you get to a fast-charge network with the same, then anxiety disappears. If you can get 100 miles in 10 minutes, it’s very different to waiting 30-40 minutes to get just 20 miles on a 7kW charger.
QHow will Chargemaster’s business develop in the coming years?
There has been a whole land-grab for locations. A lot of what is taking place at the moment is defining areas where charging points will go but the volume of charging points required will only increase in line with the vehicle parc. There is a 10% ratio for 200,000 vehicles at the moment. Even a 20:1 ratio if you talk about 10 years’ time with 5-6m EVs on the road; by my maths that’s a tenfold increase in the number of charge points needed. Then a lot more comes back to the utilisation question; 8000 filling stations with 6-8 pumps, 50,000 pumps serve 40 million vehicles. We won’t ever get to that point [with charging], but we will have an effective network that’s focused much more on fast-charging and utilisation.
It’s about finding the right locations, then in five years taking those locations and turning two chargers into four, six or eight chargers and creating sufficient capacity of the right kind of chargers.
One of the big things with the whole electric space that people don’t get is that electric cars are fun to drive. They understand the charging and range-anxiety, but the thing that doesn’t come through strongly enough is that EVs are fun. I don’t think you hear enough about that. The softness of ride, the features and equipment you get with it; EVs are enjoyable vehicles to drive.