The boss of Britain’s largest vehicle leasing company, Lex Autolease, has labelled the country’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure “not fit-for-purpose”.
Richard Jones, managing director of Lex Autolease and Black Horse, says parts of the country are poorly served, limiting the wider adoption of EVs.
He explained: “I have people in my business that work all over the UK and we’ve had some real horror stories about charging availability.
“The infrastructure is just not there, particularly once you get outside major urban environments.”
As a plug-in driver himself, Jones says that charging infrastructure lacks any “consistency” and the further north you go, unless you are in a city, the “worse it gets”.
Lex Autolease made a pledge earlier this year to achieve net zero emissions across its customer fleet by 2030 and switch the entire Lloyds Banking Group fleet to EVs by the same date.
The leasing company has a risk fleet of more than 350,000 vehicles and, when it made the pledge, it funded some 28,000 ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs).
Khaled Shahbo, managing director for Enterprise Rent-a-Car UK and Ireland, joined Jones in a panel debate at the ‘Fleets in Charge’ virtual conference organised by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA). He was also critical of the UK’s EV charging infrastructure.
Shahbo said: “We’re still seeing confidence issues, range anxiety issues, and, quite frankly, practical and pragmatic logistical issues.
“We’ve recently moved our entire company car fleet to either electric or plug-in hybrid options and even with dozens and dozens of charge points (at our offices) we can’t keep up with the hundreds of vehicles we need to charge on a daily basis; we’re simply a microcosm of corporate Britain and any residential community. That concern over range anxiety hasn’t gone away.”
Concerns around charging infrastructure were the biggest perceived disadvantage to EVs cited in a recent Department for Transport (DfT) survey.
The results, from the Transport and Technology Public Attitudes Tracker report, hinted that there is still more work to do in order to educate drivers about how often they need to charge their vehicles compared with their daily mileage, as well as how EVs are mostly charged at home or work, for those that have access to those facilities.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps told delegates at the Fleets in Charge event that the Government had published an “ambitious vision” for rapid charging infrastructure along the strategic road network in England over the next decade.
“As an EV driver myself,” said Shapps, “I know that it’s vital that EV drivers have confidence in the public charging network. That’s why we’re going to consult on regulating to improve the driver experience of electric vehicle charge points; to make it as easy and as hassle-free as possible.”
Jones welcomed the Government’s ambitions, but said: “We have to get the charging infrastructure into a much stronger position across the UK if we’re going to continue to see the step changes we’re starting to experience.”
Fellow panel member, Tom Callow, head of external affairs at BP Chargemaster, explained that the current infrastructure had been deployed to address where demand for charging is greatest.
However, he acknowledged there needed to be a greater “geographical balance” to where charge points are located.
Nevertheless, he insisted there were “enough nationally”, because 25% of the nationwide charging infrastructure was only being utilised at any one time.
“I think a lot of perceptions of public charging are about three years’ out of date,” he said.
But Shahbo responded: “The fact that 75% (of the charging network) is unused at any one moment doesn’t relate to the accessibility and availability of the network.”
Jones concluded: “The charging infrastructure is not fit-for-purpose today and it has to get much better. We have to overplay the charging infrastructure, even if the utilisation stays low.”
A version of this article was first published in the October edition of Fleet News.