The motoring services company has introduced a rescue van that should help to ease the stress for electric vehicle operators, James Dallas reports
There has been a lot of noise surrounding electric vehicles in the last few years but, so far at least, sales volumes have not matched the level of publicity the emission-free technology has attracted.
One of the main reasons operators get cold feet before taking the plunge into the world of plug-ins is the perceived lack of a charging infrastructure, which leads to ‘range anxiety’ - the fear of getting stranded if the battery runs out of juice and you’re miles from a power point.
The RAC has moved to ease these anxieties and was Highly Commended in the Innovation category of the 2015 What Van? Awards for launching the first mobile electric charging system to cater for EVs.
The firm has equipped one of its patrol vehicles with an EV rescue portable fast-charge unit (about the size of a small fridge), which can deliver around 15 miles of range to a stricken vehicle in less than half an hour.
Equivalent to "a gallon of electricity", the RAC believes this should be sufficient to get the driver home or to the nearest charging point. The 5kW unit, which is capable of completely recharging an electric vehicle's battery in under four hours, is in service in Birmingham, which the RAC pinpointed due to its well established charging infrastructure.
A spokesman for the RAC admits that most people who choose to drive EVs are “very tuned in to the range of their cars”.
But if the worst happens he adds: “We are ready and the technology we have developed works well.”
Jenny Powley, the RAC’s sales director corporate partnerships, says that although the number of EVs in the UK is currently below 20,000, this figure could potentially swell to a million by 2020, driven by Government policies and the environmental lobby.
“We don’t wait for things to become a problem,” she says, “we look at trends and prepare accordingly.”
Powley explains that because the RAC has the capacity to support all other types of vehicles, it was important to add EVs to the fold. While it was always possible to pick up and move an EV, it could now get it back on the road.
She claims the fast-charge unit can deliver close to “a mile a minute” and reckons that because most vehicles will be close to home when they run out of juice – it offers the ideal quick fix.
Powley says the RAC’s initiative has received the support of Birmingham City Council, which is keen to promote electric vehicle usage.
“This is a proving ground for us,” she explains and predicts that going forward: “We will scale up to meet demand.”
Powley adheres to the common view that plug-in van use is likely to focus on cities for as long as range restriction remains an issue.
“There is definitely a requirement for electric vans in conurbations,” she says, “[for] florists and plumbers working within a restricted radius.”
A potential source of employment for the EV rescue van is through the RAC’s contract to provide breakdown services to British Gas, which runs a fleet of 50 Nissan E-NV200s and has announced its intention to take on 50 more.
Powley reckons contract hire and leasing companies that have installed charging points at their headquarters will encourage the use of EVs and predicts a mixture of both private customers and businesses adopting plug-in vehicles at a growing rate.
While large fleets might take up EVs to flaunt their green credentials, she acknowledges that cost is the crucial consideration for SMEs. But she argues EVs can make sense in the long-term because the whole life costs are attractive.
A combination of, sometimes contradictory, factors will determine the take-up rate of EVs.
If the Government withdraws its plug-in van grants (a reprieve, at least temporary, was granted in March) then companies will have to look purely at the business case for running EVs but on the other hand, any growth in the number of congestion charge zones will drive up growth with delivery firms such as DHL, which run vans on short routes.
“People need to see changes to have the confidence to buy an EV,” Powley says.
“Once the technology is there the market will grow, it’s about enablers.”
A charging infrastructure is one and the RAC’s EV Rescue Van is another.