Electric vehicles: the early years

  18 April 2011

Several lessons (or ‘learning points’ as we now have to call them) to be taken away from the Auto Retail Network Used Car Profit Clinic held on Friday. As always, the level of participation varied from group to group but I particularly enjoyed the debate stirred by Alan Bishop’s presentation on the prospects for selling electric vehicles.

Alan’s job is industrial relations director for HPI and he made it clear he was no advocate of EVs; but his core message was ‘don’t think you can ignore them’. There is a political head of steam building, he pointed out, and between, the politicians, the media and the eco-lobby, these people are going to make EVs happen. Even mainstream utility companies, such as EDF and British Gas, are now involved.

The auto retailers in the room were less convinced. Despite manufacturer claims of consumer interest, the retailers see no demand on the forecourts and certainly no ‘need or desire’ for EVs. When current small diesel cars costing £8,000 can offer 60-plus miles per gallon and a range of over 600 miles, why would anybody want to spend £25,000 on an EV that can barely get to the station? It’s a question that’s hard to answer.

Alan’s view is that EVs will always be a niche market and, as such, best served by specialist retailers. Whether any of the major groups want to get involved remains to be seen but I could envisage HR Owen creating an EV boutique – it would fill the space left by Alfa Romeo in trendy Fulham quite nicely.

Alan’s presentation also introduced us to another hazard: ‘battery clocking’. Yes, that’s right – apparently, it’s possible to alter the recorded charging history of a battery so that they appear less hard used (and therefore more valuable) than they actually are!

As I said, we have a lot to learn.

If you’ve managed to book holiday, enjoy the next two weeks. If you’re on a forecourt, good luck! We’ll be here if you want to share any gossip: rupert@auto-retail.com

Rupert Saunders

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