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Miscellaneous

Lessons from My 4 Years of Car (EV) Ownership

My first car. Renault Zoe

I feel like I’ve waited forever to get rid of my car and get out of my finance deal a year early. I decided I wanted to go car free about a year ago and have been counting down the months ever since. And on Tuesday it finally happened.

As you might expect with the car industry, there were a few final hurdles to jump through though. The collection agent was sent to pick the car up with no information whatsoever. He didn’t know it was an EV. He didn’t know what the range was. It was even worse than what I experienced two years prior when my first EV was collected. They did drive it back to base, even if they did break the wing mirror backing it out of the driveway. This time, the guy refused to drive it back to base because it was too far at highway speed, and he had no idea how to charge an EV. Just as in 2016, he told me that his employer provided him with a fuel card, but no charge network card or any training on EVs whatsoever. I suggested he call a flatbed but he said they can’t do that at short notice. Funny how when I had the slightest problem with my Renault Zoe, they sent a flatbed immediately. When I’m handing a car back and I’ve paid it off, it’s impossible.

So once I had waited another whole week with the car just sitting on the driveway, it was finally done. Luckily, I was able to do the whole thing contact free. Leaving everything in the car and communicating from the landing window. I was expecting one guy to come in a truck and take the car after inspecting it, but of course not. That would be too logical. I had a guy inspect it, then had to wait 3 or 4 hours for the flatbed driver to arrive. And then he inspected it again. To check if anything had happened in the last 3 hours of it sitting still presumably.

My second car. Smart EQ ForTwo

He drove it across the road where he parked the truck, loaded it up and secured it in place. And that was it. My 4 years of car ownership done. Well, not quite. Just after he left I got an email telling me I was going to be charged over £50 because the car was dirty. It’s a pandemic! Normally I would have taken it to the car wash at the local garden centre the day before, but obviously I can’t right now. I’ve been staying away from people since March. Mercedes themselves are exempting people if they miss their scheduled services until the end of the year I think because of Covid. Why are the collection company not doing the same thing with stuff like this?

But at least that’s the final hurdle to jump over as a car owner, and now I can relax. Sort of. I don’t feel that huge weight lifting off my shoulders like I was expecting, but perhaps I will do soon. I think I’m more struck by the reality of an empty driveway in a suburban area with neither good public transport nor quality bike infrastructure than I am with relief to be rid of the car. This is how I lived until I was 27, but back then, after my college years I was riddled with crippling anxiety that left me mostly housebound for years. I did very occasionally use the odd train or bus to get around the local area, but in general I cycled anywhere I needed to go in the town.

It was only in 2014 when I got a full-time job that I came to the conclusion that I had to get some other kind of vehicle, in order to make the daily 5 mile commute at 6:30 every morning. In hindsight part of me wishes I had just kept cycling back then, and believed in myself that I could do that distance. It was only years later that I realised I could.

I decided that a scooter would be the cheapest and easiest way to commute, and so I went to my local Yamaha dealer and saw a bike I liked. I actually ordered it before I took my CBT. I can’t remember why. It seems weird considering my lack of confidence at the time. I rode the scooter for two years in all conditions. I’m quite proud of that especially because I never crashed, even though it was close a couple of times when it was particularly icy.

Yamaha Majesty S

I really loved riding my Yamaha Majesty S, but over those couple of years I grew more and more frustrated about the climate and the lack of electric innovation in the motorcycle industry at the time (and still am in 2020), so I decided that I wanted to challenge myself and learn to drive in order to buy an electric car. It also gave me the ability to go on longer trips. Doing an EV road trip to Scotland really appealed to me. So it felt like the right choice at the time to get my licence.

With hindsight, the best thing about driving by far was doing those long road trips. The daily trips for commuting and running errands, while fun with the nimble Smart especially, weren’t really memorable. Often times, they were not remotely enjoyable. In general, the scooter was more fun for daily riding and the car was only really good for longer trips. I think the fact that both cars were sub 100 mile range EVs with slower than average charging speeds made it even more fun to me. Especially back in 2016 when the charging infrastructure was far more sparse than it is now. Now it’s so easy that it’s not challenging any more. Which I guess is another reason to stop owning a car.

Having said that, I definitely want to rent an EV at some point when the pandemic eventually ends (hopefully) and go back to Scotland. And this time go all the way to John O’Groats rather than Inverness, which is where I stopped on both my prior trips. It will be really interesting to see the difference in trip time and charging. It will be a monumental difference compared to what I’m used to. Going from 60-80 miles of range and 45 min stops to 300 miles of range and 30 min stops. It’s a whole different world.

Unfortunately, it’s still way too difficult to rent an EV. All of the large rental companies like Enterprise don’t offer much choice, if anything at all. Places like Turo are better but even there, it’s hard to find EVs if you live outside of a major city. I hope this changes soon. Perhaps it will improve in a big way next year in response to the pandemic.

But really rental and sharing are just a first taste of what’s going to happen with MaaS and RoboTaxis. We know that cycling is amazing for travelling locally and touring, especially when quality infrastructure is provided. But in order to travel around in any other way, you need transport solutions that are convenient and connected together seamlessly. The solutions exist to make it work, so we need to get on with it as a top priority.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be done all in one app, but it does have to be convenient. For example, there shouldn’t be a single train station without docked bike or scooter rentals (preferably both). And then when you combine that with autonomous cars it becomes undeniably more convenient than car ownership itself. Even in awkward, rural locations. But we can’t just assume autonomous cars will come along and fix everything in a year or two. We have to offer other compelling options in the meantime. Both because we can’t afford to wait, and because people will still want choice even when RoboTaxis take over.

When I got my drivers licence as an automatic only version to save myself time and hassle, my colleagues didn’t get it. They probably still don’t but I haven’t talked to them in 6 months to check. There was a young girl doing her driving lessons in order to drive a manual car, and I was baffled that the driving test industry had progressed so little. They are totally unprepared for the changes that are about to happen. That aspect in itself will be fascinating to follow.

As for my own experience; despite all the wasted money, unnecessary stress and the eventual realisation that I never needed a car or scooter, I wouldn’t change anything if I could do it all again. I gained a lot of valuable knowledge and skills that I never thought I could. I became a better cyclist for having the experience of operating those different vehicles. It also gives me more points of reference to compare transport options to in the future. 4 years of car ownership and 6 years of total motor vehicle ownership is an interesting experiment in the grand scheme of things, and it feels like the right time to move on. I’ve talked to people my age who have been driving continuously since they were 17. That’s 16 years already at 33. I can only barely comprehend that. Lifetime car owner was definitely never going to be me.

The next couple of years will be a pain in the ass for sure. Having to go out of my way to avoid diesel buses, coaches, taxis, Ubers, trains etc. But soon enough it should start to be more like plain sailing. It really has to.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Electric Cars are Getting More Expensive, Not Less

If you want to talk about an industry completely tone-deaf to the world, take a look at the car industry. Not only does it not want to change, but it doesn’t even understand its audience or the market.

What customers are crying out for now is affordable electric vehicles. We know that most people don’t travel that far each day, and we also know that the charging network is practically unrecognisable compared to when I started driving an EV in late 2016. So when I saw that both the new Smart lineup (which is almost unchanged) and the e-Up! triplets (inc Seat and Skoda) are closer to £20k than £15k, it took the wind out of my sails.

The only car company that appears to get it right now is Uniti. The car starts at a relatively affordable £15k, and then there are options from there. But the key thing is offering a car for around that £15,000 mark. All these other companies are not offering smaller (more sustainable), cheaper battery size options, despite the fact that shorter range EVs are so much more liveable now compared to just a few years ago. There’s no logic being applied here.

Seeing those prices really made me feel great about my decision to get out of my current contract next year and go car free. I think the rise of micromobility options (and genuine affordability) will take the automotive industry by surprise and put them into difficulty. And that would be great. We want them to be scrambling and having to divert huge resources into EV car-sharing and micromobility.

And of course, we need more companies in the auto sector like Tesla and Uniti, who really get what the car should be in 2019 and beyond.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Will a Non-Leaf EV Be Announced This Year?

I wrote earlier in the year about whether there would be any new EV models announced this year. It wasn’t looking good back then and it’s still not looking any better now. The new Leaf is announced tomorrow, which is very exciting. I’m hoping we see Bolt type range and 80kw charging possibility. Maybe up to current Supercharger speed of 120kw.

I hope it does come out this year because we can’t have a year with absolutely no other new EVs at all. The Model 3 is obviously in production now but we’ve known about it for so long, and I’m talking more about announcements.

The real test will come at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Generally though, we tend to find out about a lot of announcements beforehand these days, and we haven’t seen anything about a new EV from any manufacturers. But I really hope that we see something. Another motor show without a new manufacturer announcing its first EV would be a massive disappointment.

As far as EV launches in 2017. The Leaf should make it out before the end of the year around the world. It seems like they have the car ready to go as soon as it’s announced. The Model 3 is the other big new car this year and I’m excited about it, but personally, the most exciting thing for me is the affordable end of the market. Cars that are about half the cost of a Model 3. I want everyone to be able to afford an EV. I want to get rid of ICE cars as soon as possible.

So with that said, has 2017 been a good year when it comes to affordable EV annoucnements? No, it hasn’t. The last major update was the Renault Zoe with massively improved battery pack. The updated Zoe with 200 mile range came out at the tail end of 2016 and there isn’t a similarly sized and priced car to challenge it. The Zoe has been the only EV in the B Segment since it was launched in 2013. That to me is totally unacceptable. This is the segment that can bring EVs to everyone, and the manufacturers can’t be bothered to compete. They are simply more interested in bringing out petrol / diesel powered crossovers based on their existing B and C segment hatchbacks.

You could argue that manufacturers should at the very least be bringing out EV versions of small crossovers because those are the popular segments right now. But the thing is that EV drivers are generally pretty knowledgeable. They know that hatchbacks make more sense than SUVs in almost all driving scenarios. They know that aerodynamics play a role in range and that SUVs are never going to be as efficient as similarly sized saloons and hatchbacks.

But if you’re going to expand the market, you have to offer EVs in other segments. And if you’ve got the platforms already developed, why not make a crossover version for the more mainstream future EV buyers?

There are two issues here. EV manufacturers need to make different types of EVs. And non-EV manufacturers just need to make EVs! Someone make a Renault Zoe competitor so I have a decision to make when it comes time for me to give back my Zoe.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Why EV Charging Standards Must Converge Now

One of the several reasons EVs have not taken off yet is that there are several standards for fast charging. This makes it appear as though there are more chargers available to you than there actually are in reality.

Chademo, CCS, Type 2, Supercharging, AC and DC systems. This is not good for EV mass adoption. Manufacturers need to come up with one standard to move forward with as soon as possible. My preference would be type 2, since that can connect to all residential wall chargers that I’m aware of, as well as being the same size as the Tesla connector. This would help to bring in charger sharing if Tesla eventually decide to open up their system by charging non-tesla drivers to charge up. Type 2 is also the most elegant and simple design in my opinion. Some Chademo connectors look pretty complicated to plug in properly. Even small things like that will be off-putting to some.

We don’t have a situation where BP petrol nozzles are one shape and Shell nozzles another, meaning we’d have to go to a specific station in order to fill up. That would be ridiculous, and this situation we have with EV charging is just as ridiculous in my view. The EV world needs to present a united front in this area, and drivers of EVs also have to put pressure on manufacturers to prevent this madness from continuing for years and years to come.

Having one charging standard wouldn’t immediately increase EV sales 10 fold. It will take several more years to fully solve the range anxiety and elevated purchase price elements to EV ownership. But having one single connector would be a huge step in the right direction.

Because right now, EV manufacturers don’t need to be shooting themselves in the foot like this.