Electric vehicles (EVs) are being hailed as the future of transport – but what benefits could they bring to your business? To kick off this special 28-page report, we spoke to Willie Fairhurst, Managing Director of SELECT Member firm Essential Cloud Solutions (ECS), who have been successfully using EVs in their fleet for eight years
Hello Willie. How many EVs do you have at ECS?
Out of our fleet of seven vehicles, three are currently full EVs – two Nissan e-NV200 vans plus my own Tesla. The vans are charged overnight here at our office, so they’re ready to go for staff every morning.
How long have you been using them?
We’ve had the vans since 2015, but before that we had a Renault Kangoo ZE in 2012, which was really back in the early days of EVs. We’ve also had a few hybrids along the way, which have helped staff understand the possibilities of EVs and how to drive on a charge etc.
And what made you choose EVs?
Because we’re a technology company, it had a bit to do with being early adopters, but it was also because of concerns about the environment. We spend a lot of time driving through town in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a lot of the time we’re just sitting there with the engine chugging away, spewing fumes and burning expensive fuel. Also, if you go back to 2012, we were seeing really big spikes in diesel prices, so we saw it as a possible way to reduce costs.
Did you receive any grants or funding?
We used an interest-free loan from the Energy Saving Trust (EST), with whom we also enjoyed extremely good engagement about business charging.
How easy was it to apply for funding?
Very easy – it was only slightly more involved than going into a garage and signing a normal vehicle lease. The EST were really helpful with the process and helped us understand how to get from A to B and how long everything would take. As well as helping with EVs, they also came out and did a business assessment, which led to us replacing our air conditioning with a more efficient system that helped us reduce costs.
How do you find EVs perform compared to traditional fuel?
At the start there was a lot of talk about range anxiety, but after driving them some pretty hefty distances, our staff started to understand how charging works. The problem is, you have your traditional driver who’s used to going to the garage once a week, so doesn’t understand overnight charging, particularly if they take the vehicle home and don’t have a domestic charge point. So there’s still some pushback in the business about distance, but we’re hoping the next round of vehicles will have even bigger batteries so that won’t be an issue.
I’m confident we’ll soon get to a point where EVs only have to be charged once every so often, plus we’ll see more public charge points, which will be a big help.
So has there been a change in attitude among your staff towards EVs?
Oh yes, they’ve bought into the ethos behind it.
Like everything, some people were sceptical at the start, but then they drove an EV to Glasgow, did the job while it was charging and drove home again, and realised how simple it was. Getting people to actually use them is the biggest challenge, but once they do, they understand the advantages. In fact, one member of staff has now bought their own EV.
And where does your business usually take you?
We’re mainly Central Belt, so the EVs cover Glasgow and Edinburgh no problem. Our EV vans are in and out of Edinburgh all the time, with the diesel fleet usually covering any trips north.
What’s the range on the EV vans?
Winter does impact on range, so currently they’re doing 65-70 miles on a full charge, going up to 80-85 miles during the summer. Both are ideal for what we need in and around town. The Renault Kangoo ZE only did 40 miles, so wasn’t really suitable in the long run.
What about weight?
Like anyone in the industry, we do tend to carry a lot of kit, but we find it doesn’t affect the overall range at all. I think that’s a bit of a misconception. The other misconception is you’re burning the battery when you’re stationary in town but you’re not – you only use energy when you’re moving. People say, ‘Oh, I’ll drain the battery in a traffic jam on the motorway,’ but nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you have to drive any differently?
The interesting thing is that with EVs, you do change your driving style – I think it makes you calmer. From personal experience, there’s a difference in attitude from driving a diesel van. It’s notable that our EVs haven’t had any accidents compared to the diesels, which have had one each over the last three or four years. It would certainly be interesting to look at the national statistics for EV accidents.
What about running costs?
They’re definitely cheaper. I look at our fuel card bill and we’re spending £600 a month on diesel, yet the Tesla costs me around £7 to charge, which gives me 220-odd miles. The Nissans are £4 to £5 each for around 80 miles. I filled up one of our diesel vans the other day and thought, ‘Oh, so that’s how much diesel costs.’ It’s a real eye-opener after electric. The vehicle tax and servicing costs are a lot less too – we’re not replacing loads of things like brake pads etc.
And the cost of the vans themselves?
The Nissans cost £14,000 each, and a regular equivalent would be £11,000, but over the five years we’ve had them we’ve made up the difference in cost savings.
At the moment, it’s really just range anxiety. But do people really need to do 300 miles a day? We find that, at most, our staff only do an average of 40 miles a day. And in fact, one of our diesel vans only does six or seven miles a day, so why not replace that with an EV?
What about the infrastructure, such as charge points?
Edinburgh isn’t great, but Dundee is terrific, Glasgow’s not bad and East Lothian is doing quite well. The infrastructure is getting there and with a little bit of planning you can go long distances. For example, we had someone who went up to Aberdeen and back in the EV, which took three charges in each direction, so it’s not impossible. In fact, if you’re driving long distances, you’re advised to take regular breaks anyway, so using them to charge your EV is exactly the same.
Are you looking to invest in more?
I’d like to get some bigger battery vans and eventually have 70% of fleet as EVs, so we’d have one or two diesels and five or six EVs.
And from a personal point of view, do you enjoy an EV?
Absolutely. I’ve always had traditional diesel beasts, such as Mitsubishis and Volkswagens and so on, but it’s just a calmer drive now. I would much rather do a long-distance drive in the Tesla than a diesel, put it that way.
So EVs are the future then?
I do think that in the electrical industry, we should all be driving change. And this change is going to start with the smaller contractors who don’t have huge fleets. I would challenge everyone to start recording their daily mileage and ask themselves, ‘How far do I actually go?’ Times are changing – people just need to be brave and do it.