Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Poppy Welch, Head of Go Ultra Low
Go Ultra Low is funded by a combination of the Department for Transport and car manufacturers through the plug-in car grant, and its role is to encourage the adoption of plug-in vehicles across fleets and private buyers. Poppy Welch has headed the campaign for the past five years, and it becomes even more important now we’re counting down to the petrol and diesel new car sales ban at the end of the decade.
QThe best place to start is the 2030 new petrol and diesel sales ban. What’s your reaction and how realistic you think it is?
As Go Ultra Low and personally I think it’s certainly positive thing. We know there is the target beyond that of zero by 2050 and there are big changes across all sectors that need to be made.
So when it comes to automotive, I think that this is a really positive thing. Obviously as Go Ultra Low we’ve been trying to encourage people to switch to electric for six or seven years now so for us I guess this is a good acceleration of that.
I think it’s good that plug-in hybrids have been given a bit longer, because I think they are an important stepping stone technology. We very much recognise that for many people switching to electric is quite a daunting prospect; the habit of driving petrol and diesel is so ingrained that it can seem quite scary and difficult and not as convenient. So I think that move to keep plug-in hybrid until 2035 is a really good thing. They can be something that can people can try before you go fully electric.
Going back to the date I suppose the other thing is, if you look at where we’ve come in the last 10 years, I think a lot of people say oh my gosh, 2030 that’s only nine years away, how on earth are we going to get there? And don’t get me wrong, there is an awful lot to be done to make that transition. But if you look at where we’ve come from nine years ago, the chasm is vast; in 2011, there was one electric vehicle on sale – the Nissan Leaf – and there were barely any chargers. In 2011 there were 34 rapid charging points, we’re on 3,000 now. If we look at how far we’ve come, I think getting to 2030 is achievable, with lots of work from the manufacturers, from government, and from the rest of the people within the industry.
The rise of the EV marketing argument
Companies are increasingly finding that the traditional economic and environmental arguments for switching to electric vehicles are being joined by a third benefit – marketing.
“We know that consumers are increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability matters, so businesses that show they’re doing their bit by switching to electric vehicles can use that as a marketing tool,” head of Go Ultra Low Poppy Welch tells Company Car Today. “I was talking to the CEO of DPD on a panel we were on together, and they’re introducing quite a lot of electric vans to their fleet. He was saying that they do find that there is a good marketing tool; both their business clients and their individual customers see it as a really good thing and they say that particular individual customers show a lot of interest if their parcel is delivered with an electric van.
“Although it’s quite a big deal for them to change to electric, they are finding that amongst the other benefits actually it can be a marketing and PR tool as well.”
QWhat is Go Ultra Low’s role and where can you help?
Go Ultra Low was set up about six or seven years ago with the main objectives of initially raising awareness of electric vehicles, and then encouraging uptake. Our objectives haven’t changed a huge amount, although I’d say we don’t generally say that we’re raising awareness because I think the awareness is there. We’re trying to now capitalise on that, and build people’s excitement and interest in electric vehicles, whether it’s consumers or businesses or fleets. And then also, we believe we have a role in giving advice to people on what’s the best option for them and answering their questions, but also clearing up some of the confusion that there is out there; there are still quite a lot of myths and, if you don’t know huge amount about electric vehicles, genuine concerns about charging. So, we also see our role as clearing up some of the confusion there, ensuring we’re giving good advice. Our role is varied but we want to build people’s interest and willingness to consider electric next time they’re buying a new car.
QWhat are going to be the key issues around increasing the adoption rate of electric vehicles?
We say there are four main potential barriers, and those are range, as in how far the car goes on a single charge, charging, range, as in the number of vehicles available, and cost. And there are good things happening in all of those areas, but they’re not all perfect yet.
There needs to be movement across all of those areas. Whenever we do research into the things that top people’s concerns, to date cost has always come out first, and then how far the car will go on a single charge. But actually, I think people are starting to understand some of the cost benefits like the cheaper running costs, and some of the other tax advantages and things like access to cleaner air zones that are coming up.
I think there is beginning to be understanding of that and also that if you pay for your car monthly, which the majority of people do, you can actually just work out what you can afford. And that’s the same, whether it’s electrical or petrol or diesel. Plus as the costs are gradually coming down, actually it’s worries over infrastructure that had become number one in people’s concerns. But that said, even there we are seeing huge increases in terms of public charging for example, each month there’s probably between 400-500 new charges going in, and the government are obviously still providing grants for installation of chargers, whether that’s at home, on the street or at work. So there’s all sorts of good things happening in the infrastructure space.
So although people do talk about it as a concern I think over the next nine years to 2030, so much will happen in that space and there’s so many good things happening in terms of innovation in types of charging, there’s all sorts of good stuff happening to help people without access to off-street parking, pop up charges, lamppost charges and things like that. Oxford, which is one of our Go Ultra Low Cities, trialed all sorts of quite innovative new ways to charge on streets.
QHow important are fleets to the adoption of electric vehicles?
We think very. And I think particularly when it comes to SMEs. Where large businesses often will have a dedicated fleet manager, whose job is to be knowledgeable about the best options available, I don’t think Go Ultra Low necessarily has a huge role to play with them. But I think probably in small and medium sized businesses that don’t have a dedicated fleet manager, but someone in HR or finance is probably looking after this, we hope that we can help those businesses understand. To first of all, get them interested in electric cars, but then also help them understand what the benefits are in switching.
QWhat do you offer fleets from a resource perspective? You launched the Go Ultra Low Companies scheme a couple of years back but do you have any resources or any other plans specifically around fleet?
It’s slightly tricky for Go Ultra Low at the moment, whilst we await some more funding, but we expect to get our full usual funding early next year. One of the things we have done is the Go Ultra Low Companies scheme, which was about showcasing companies that either had already or were planning to introduce EVs onto their fleets. And we do have a new version of that in the pipeline. We realised that as time has moved on, the criteria that we’ve set was increasingly easy to meet. We plan to toughen it a little bit, but also do a bit more with the scheme. We would want to use companies we engage with a lot more for case studies because I think, particularly when it comes to SMEs, one of the things that people want to see are other companies that have done it and examples of how to do it, so we would want to work with companies that would be come Go Ultra Low companies to help us almost spread those messages and give really good advice to others who are potentially further back in that process. As well as that, we have other plans in the pipeline and we know we need to do more.
QDo you think we’re now at the point with electric vehicles where it’s more about the practicalities of how to adopt them than telling people that they exist?
Yes I do, and I think businesses are further along than individuals. I mean, yes, most people are aware, but to get them actually interested and excited it’s about the prospects of buying one, I think businesses probably are a bit further along because the economic argument for changing to EV is pretty strong.
QHow important and influential are the various grants and tax savings?
I think they’re all important to be honest, and then together I think it shows to the general public that the government is serious about this. If they’re investing all these billions of pounds to help consumers and businesses move to electric vehicles, then they must be pretty serious about it. Overall, the point is that, yes, electric vehicles are still a little bit more expensive than their petrol and diesel counterparts from a pure cost point of view, so all of these things do help people to make that decision. Whether it’s the £3,000 pounds off the car or £8,000 off a van, or the 500 pounds towards the charging point, when you’re doing the sums all of those things add up and then, when you look at the further detail around clean air zones coming in in your town or city, knowing that you wouldn’t have to pay those charges.
And of course the fueling costs is a good message, because it’s so much cheaper to fuel. Plus, for businesses, they’re only having to reimburse 4p as opposed to 12, 14, 18 pence a mile for petrol or diesel. That is a big advantage. But in terms of the incentives I think the whole package is important to show that the government is serious about making the change.
The increase in electric vehicle choice
The thing that will encourage uptake over the next few years is all the new models that are coming out. That will probably be one of the key drivers, when people feel they don’t have to stray far from the type of car they want.