Capture Chats with an Electric Vehicle Expert
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Last week, Capture's intern Rachel had the pleasure of interviewing Tristan Dodson, the walking dictionary for everything you would need to know about Electric Vehicles (EVs)... Tristan currently works in a low-carbon consultancy where EVs were his main focus for the last 5 years. He has built his very own EV simulation algorithm named Breadcrumb, and is now integrating it with EV consultancy, Diode. Have your reservations about the future of EVs? Read on to gain insights from an expert!
Tell us more about Breadcrumb, how it originated and how it came to integrate with Diode!
I noticed a strong disconnect between what consumers believe EVs are and what EVs can actually provide. Many don’t realise that EV costs are very low, and it might even make their lives more convenient because they can literally have a fully charged EV waiting for them everyday.
Part of the reason, I believe, is that car ownership is a very emotive topic, and people (“petrolheads”, if you like) really don't like the idea of an aspirational product being taken away from them, or being pushed into something they don’t want to buy. So I came up with a tool called Breadcrumb, which basically allows people to experience exactly how an EV would slot into their lifestyle with minimum effort, by providing them with very easy to digest but also detailed data.
Breadcrumb is pretty much a full simulation of what it’s like to drive that particular model of EV. It feeds data easily acquired from people’s smartphones through an algorithm, which replays all of those trips with a particular model of EV and then figures out where exactly that person would need to charge in order to complete all of those trips.
All the data we use is publicly available; I think that’s the beauty of the age that we’re in now. There is so much information available; if you cut it the right way, you can give people powerful results. With Diode, the idea is to provide an end-to-end solution for businesses that are looking to transition their fleets to electric, and therefore Breadcrumb integrates very well with that. All in all an EV can not only save you money, it can also save you time. What we do is focus on giving people that data in black and white.
Do you think electric vehicles are for everyone? Why or why not?
I think today, the answer is no, because you have to be careful not to force this technology onto people too early. There are legitimately some that drive hundreds of miles a day, and they need the convenience of very long range and quick refuelling.
I think what is important to recognize, however, is that EVs are suitable for far more people today than we might realize. At the moment, the EV market share is about 1-3%, but a standard EV today can maybe do 200 miles. Most people only drive 30-40 km a day, so can actually quite easily get by with an EV. Right now it’s about getting the easy wins. Many higher income earners can buy new cars and afford to foot the higher upfront costs of an EV. These people should be encouraged at every opportunity because they can and it will be good for them.
How sustainable and effective are grants and guidance in making the switch to EVs in the long run...
The way government incentives are applied today makes sense in the early market, where you’re just trying to get EVs on the market and make them more mainstream and give manufacturers confidence that there are consumers out there willing to go electric. I think as the market matures it is important to let these incentives become smarter, because eventually you’ll reach a point where you have people who would have purchased EVs regardless of whether there is a subsidy or not. That’s the economically inefficient point where governments would need to perhaps try to identify an inefficiency somewhere else in the market.
Example: Denmark, where incentives were retracted prematurely and the EV market collapsed?
It’s absolutely a confidence thing, and if it happens again and again, then the wider public might think that people are only buying electric vehicles because its government money, not organic demand. Manufacturers are going to think it is risky to put electric vehicles on the road because they are so dependent on government support. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’ve reached the tipping point where the world is only going one way.
Also, I think from a consumer perspective, you reach a point where EVs become “cool”. It’s important for larger brands (like Tesla) to make EVs an aspirational product. We have a generation of people growing up today who have seen tech entrepreneurs become celebrities and they really look up to them, and the idea of having a car as a computer is very natural to them. It’s probably less natural for people in their 50s who probably went through a stage where increasing complexities in a car maybe didn’t go so well during their time - their parents might have complained about automatic gearboxes being terrible and always breaking down and expensive to fix. The culture in the way people look at EVs has changed.
From your experience, what has been the most common concern on the consumers’ end so far, and why?
I think the one that always sticks out for me is range; this idea that “I need the same range as what I currently get with my petrol/diesel car”. But the range that they currently get on their car is not actually what they need.
People may think about range as “How often do I have to refuel?”, but really there is a threshold beyond which you need no additional range in your car, and the example I like to use is called the “bladder range”. It essentially is how far you can drive before you need to stop and go for a wee. As soon as you get beyond that, you are wasting your range, because you can stop at a service station and go to the toilet, and you’ll probably be there for about 20 minutes. And if you can charge your car enough during that time to reach your destination/the next service station, then you don’t need any more range.
If you want to put a number on it: if you’re driving 70miles/hr on the motorway and you drive for 3 hours, it’s just over 200 miles. If you think about it like that, you’d be like, “oh actually yeah, it’s so rare that I would ever have to drive 800 miles in one go without stopping”. And if you are doing that, then you shouldn’t, because that’s dangerous!
Do you think that the bulk responsibility lies on governments, businesses or individuals to electrify our transport system?
This is a really difficult question. My short answer is: everyone. I think it needs to be led by governments and businesses. Things like decarbonisation, climate change, and transport are very complicated to understand and need to be led by experts in the field. You have very intelligent people who know everything about rocket science or brain surgery, and why should you expect them to be experts in climate change as well? It’s just not fair; people know what they know.
So I think it requires companies and governments to give people correct and enough information that they can make an informed decision about buying an EV. More often than not, it’s because they haven’t been given the right information. So i think it has to come from the top, and it has to be done in a responsible manner.
Also, business can make much more rational decisions. There is much less emotion attached to the car and it is mostly about cost. So if you can present to them a business case on why they should go electric, they are much more likely to take you up on that case (what Diode does).
Is there any danger that EVs could decrease the usage of public transport and cycling?
There is definitely a need to transition people to zero emission transportation, and EVs are one solution to that, but they are not the perfect solution and they are not the only solution. I think we’ll also have to encourage people to use their car less and use public transport/cycle/walk where they can.
To be honest this idea of private car ownership is maybe something that will disappear as time goes by. As you have more people living in urban settings, the idea of shared car ownership works much better. In places like Berlin, shared cars are used all the time and many no longer have the desire to own a car. I think it’s important to look beyond what we currently know, and to think, “right, this is just one solution to the problem of transport emissions, but what else do we need to put in place to transition for everyone's transport needs?”
People historically aren’t very good at sharing things, but maybe this would change. Maybe this idea of owning a car as an aspirational target; if that can go away and you just treat a car as just a small bus that just gets you where you need to be, then it could work. It really is viewing a car as merely a component of a wider system, more functional than a luxury item. We won’t convince everyone, but we can try.
Whilst you're here...
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