E-Car Makes Carsharing Personal

E-Car is the UK’s first entirely electric pay-per-use car club. Launched in October 2012, they are currently running three Nissan Leafs ('Leaves'?) and are planning a massive expansion over the next year. We caught up with E-Car's Development Associate, Charlie Quigley, to find out more about the scheme.

Car ownership is a very personal thing, all of which becomes absent when a car becomes shared. Think ‘car club’, and what most likely springs to mind is an impersonal system one step removed from taking a taxi. The emotional side of motoring is removed. E-Car is entirely different. It's a company set up by passionate individuals for the right reasons. With interests in all matters green, mobility and community, they are committed to improving mobility at a local level and reducing carbon footprint by providing a new and innovative service. It complements public transport and could remove a second (or even first) car from many households while offering members the confidence that a car will be available whenever it’s needed. As Quigley candidly puts it, “people are ignorant of electric cars; I think they expect you to either turn up in a milk float or a spaceship. Once you get someone into the car and driving it, the car does the rest”.

Launching E-Car onto the streets was a complex process. From an initial 100 communities, eight were chosen and in-depth consultations were held with businesses, residents and the local council to assess potential customers' requirements, expectations and current modes of operation as well as the diversity of needs across different towns. From these eight, Wolverton, near Milton Keynes, was finally selected. The scheme is incredibly simple to use. After registering on the website (quick and painless), the membership pack and smart card are posted out. The car can then be booked out either online or by phone for as long as it’s required. At the allotted time, the member swipes their card on the windscreen, unlocking the doors. After unplugging the charging cable and entering their secure pin code the car is ready to go. The car can be booked and collected in as little as two minutes, and joining costs a one-off fee of £50 before around £6 per hour for car usage.

The pilot scheme running in Wolverton is mainly focussed on residential usage, however further schemes this year will see a larger uptake of business members that are keen reduce their carbon footprint and save money. This will complement residential usage with peak business usage being during the working day and peak residential hours during evenings and weekends. The Renault Zoe (launching this spring) will be a game-changer thanks to a lower spec model having a greater range than the Leaf yet costing just over half the price. E-Car are also considering a Twizy for the Bournemouth fleet, although it may function better as an attention grabber to create awareness of the company rather than a practical vehicle. When questioned about a Tesla, Quigley smiles and agrees that while it would incentivise a lot of new members to join, it’s not an immediate consideration.

E-Car collect an enormous amount of data relevant to the operation of the club and the future of electric vehicles. They feed back to suppliers and future partners information on car usage, journey data and charging times, whilst also using it to make the scheme as efficient as possible. A remote monitoring system runs an algorithm which calculates when someone takes a car out and how much charge time there needs to be at the end of their booking. The normal minimum at the beginning of a trip is 80% charge but if it is lower, the system will alert the user during booking so they're aware. E-Car deal with a varied membership ranging from those who have never considered an electric car to ones who might be looking to buy an electric car but wish to try one out for a decent length of time to establish whether it fits into their lifestyle. However, technology is moving on quickly and the Car club removes any risk of being stranded with old technology, as well as the difficulties faced in selling a second hand electric car. E-Car have calculated that after all the running costs of car ownership (depreciation, tax, petrol, maintenance, insurance and parking) it makes sense to join if annual mileage is anything less than 10,000.

Most other car clubs have shied away from electric so far because of the down-time due to charging. This would have been a problem 18 months ago, but so far the careful planning of E-Car’s scheme has ensured this is all working well. E-Car foresee the landscape being different again in another two years’ time when there will be charging stations capable of an 80-100% charge in 30 minutes. Additionally we will see increasing range, a far better network of charging stations and also linked provision: currently one would need around 10 different charge cards to make use of every charging point in the country.

The community aspect of the club is also incredibly strongly. The operation of each regional club will be tailored around the unique local requirements, and this attention towards the members has created enormous loyalty and pride in both the cars and the club. The enthusiasm of the members has been remarkable: many of them are keen to know other members, and they feel a sense of ownership of ‘their’ car. Some members have even offered help to others when they’ve been in a tight spot, and they also keep an eye out for the cars from a security aspect. The members have ownership of the club and are extremely keen for it to succeed in Wolverton. This involvement makes them the club’s biggest marketing tool and E-Car offer free hours for demonstrating a car to potential new customers. Even the cleaning and maintenance of the cars is undertaken by local companies. Furthermore, due to the relatively small size of the company, all customers are able to receive an extremely personal service, often speaking to the chairman when they call E-Car. And even when the company expands, there will never be a call-centre. Community engagement is key to progress and growth, and regular events and feedback sessions are held with the members, which can help with the generation of new ideas, particularly for better tailoring the scheme to the community’s needs.

Over the next year they are planning to roll out schemes in Oxford, Luton, Bournemouth and London, giving a total of at least 30 cars, and are assessing the viability of the scheme in many further communities. The car club model is relatively new and there is a huge amount of room for growth. We'll be keeping in touch with E-Car and will give an update later this year.

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