It may sound simplistic but it’s something that we firmly believe in: the best way to get people interested in electric vehicles is to get them behind the wheel. And that’s what the SwitchEV trial set out to do in early 2010.
Over the last three years, North East England has been one of the most advanced regions for the demonstration of electric vehicles. The Switch EV trial placed 44 vehicles with individuals and businesses for six month periods to monitor their journeys, perceptions and experiences. What was unique about the trial in the North East was that it was running hand in hand with the EV charging infrastructure project, Charge your Car. This allowed the drivers to continue with their day to day journeys as they would with an ICE vehicle, safe in the knowledge that charge points were widespread.
Data loggers were installed into the vehicles which allowed accurate tracking to take place capturing everything from distance travelled, energy used as well as recharging statistics including where the vehicle charged. Figures collected during a two year period – up until January 2013 – recorded a total journey mileage of 591,000 km from the 44 vehicles. The wealth of data produced has been phenomenal but what has been really important is the way that perceptions had changed amongst the drivers themselves. Attitudinal data was also collected throughout the trial which has given us a real insight into the drivers themselves.
When drivers were asked at the beginning of the trial what they believed the barriers to electric driving were, they identified three main areas – the cost of the vehicle, the limited driving range and recharging. During the six months of using the vehicles, many trial candidates had changed their perceptions on how much of an issue these actually were.
Interestingly what the trial showed us was that drivers think they drive much further than they actually do. Data loggers showed that participants were driving an average journey of 9.7km per journey with the time between charges around 25.5km. However the driver’s perception of how much they drove when asked at the start of the trial was actually double that. The reality gave drivers the reassurance that the majority of their driving was viable in an electric car.
The data also showed us that drivers did make good use of the public charging infrastructure with the vehicles being charged over 17,000 times. 30% of charging took place at public infrastructure with 20% of participants using the public infrastructure as their primary means of charging. By the end of the project it was calculated that drivers were never further than 15km of an EV charge point for over 99% of the driving time.
Finally comes down to cost. Whilst little can be done about the cost of the vehicle, many realised how much they were able to save through fuel by driving electric and for some this was significant. So much so that when it came to the final question at the end of the trial: would they consider buying an electric vehicle 62% of people said that they would consider an EV as their primary or second car.
We have since found that many of those did go onto buy – taking electric vehicles into their homes or into their businesses. Since the project began, the number of cars on the roads of the North East has risen from the 44 trial vehicles to now 450 cars. This is a figure that can’t be wholly attributed to the project itself but with the word of mouth that the trials have created backed up by the regional public awareness campaigns running alongside it, the trial has been of enormous value in changing perceptions of electric vehicles.
The project brought together the expertise of three organisations – Switch EV, TORG at Newcastle University and infrastructure partner Charge Your Car.
Zero Carbon Futures is an electric vehicle consultancy which manages and delivers projects which help towns and cities increase EV uptake.