Watch out, Tesla! British car firms’ advanced green tech to rival US giant

Watch out, Tesla! British car firms’ advanced green tech to rival US giant

The popularity of electric vehicles has grown enormously with latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) finding the Tesla Model 3 became the second best selling car in 2021. “I think you’ve seen a public shift in purchasing electric vehicles” explained Avinash Rugoobur, President of electric vehicle manufacturer Arrival. Speaking to Express.co.uk Mr Rugoobur said the UK would “play an incredible role leading that transition. The UK has been really at the forefront… we can really play a role in showing how public and private can come together to change what’s fundamentally important for every citizen. Fundamentally now we’ve hit a point where the vehicles are just better vehicles You get to a point in the commercial sector where you say ‘why buy a fossil fuel vehicle’, it just doesn’t make sense as a new purchase.”

Unlike manufacturers such as Tesla, Arrival focuses on commercial sector vehicles such as vans and buses as well as taxis with a tie up with Uber announced last year.

Mr Rugoobur predicts the transition here may actually end up proving faster than for private vehicles.

He explained many companies were now looking to refresh their fleets with many of the electric alternatives on the market such as Arrival’s van offering better payloads and lower transport costs per kilo per kilometre.

“We’re getting inundated with opportunities where fleets are looking to shift to full electric vehicles.”

Another key difference for Arrival is its approach to manufacturing which utilises micro-factories which can be targeted at making vehicles to particular specifications, rather than one large production plant.

Mr Rugoobur suggested this even sets it apart from Tesla, whose production system he described as “pretty traditional.”

“(Tesla) had to buy the factory and then they got started, for us we said no, no, no if you’re going to design the facility today what would it look like and that’s why I fundamentally believe the conveyor line is extremely limited.”

Taking new approaches to manufacturing is a key theme amongst Britain’s electric vehicle manufacturers.

Watt Electric Vehicle Company has pioneered its own chassis- the Passenger and Commercial EV Skateboard- which is used on both its own coupes and third party vehicles of a range of shapes and sizes.

The company is now working with over 40 other manufacturers with its design, including new startups and larger incumbents.

Founder Neil Yates first began trying to market an electric vehicle chassis in 2011 however he found little interest in the market.

Now though he explained EVs have gained considerable momentum with the global political agenda focused strongly on zero-emissions vehicles.

A factor difficult to escape though has been the impact of Tesla and Elon Musk.

“(Mr Musk) almost singlehandedly switched public perception of what EVs could be” explained Mr Yates.

Like Tesla, Watt have opted for a highly stylised design for their coupe, in this case inspired by a classic Porsche.

The company does not just limit itself to this though, with plans on commercial vehicles and bespoke vans.

In total it aims to be producing 5,000 vehicles a year by 2026.

Although pursuing an electric model, Mr Yates was clear the zero-emissions landscape would require a range of technologies, including hydrogen.

“Unlike Betamax vs VHS there is no clear winner” he explained.

One pioneer of hydrogen cars in the UK is Welsh-based firm Riversimple.

Its founder Hugo Spowers explained while European manufacturers had been “sitting on their hands” companies such as Hyundai and Toyota had had the foresight to pursue investment in hydrogen.

Mr Spowers, a former racing driver who left the sport over environmental concerns, has been developing hydrogen-fuelled cars on a subscription basis.

Customers are able to either pay and receive a car for three years or use cars ad hoc on a car club type model with the fee including all running costs.

Mr Spowers argued hydrogen was “not getting enough attention” despite having potential cost and environmental benefits over battery-electric which requires considerable quantities of raw materials such as lithium and copper.

He explained many now believed the price of batteries had plateaued with raw materials now 80 percent of the cost.

Hydrogen also has the consumer benefit of providing rapid refuelling from a pump in the same way as petrol or diesel rather than waiting for an electric battery to charge up.

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Despite these advantages, Riversimple also see a role for both hydrogen and battery electric vehicles, with electricity able to play a key role in regular short distance journeys while hydrogen could be ideal for longer and more regular use.

Hydrogen is currently already widely used in forklift trucks for example which require frequent use with little time for charging.

Riversimple’s business model has so far involved concentrating on delivering vehicles for a local market, the logic being building up numbers of hydrogen vehicles in one region will incentivise more hydrogen infrastructure to locate there compared to spreading vehicles out across the country.

Mr Spowers explained fuel retailers were keen to tap into the hydrogen market due to concerns electricity on forecourts would not provide enough revenue.

Hydrogen pumps are currently far less widespread than electric charging points, however, Mr Spowers pointed out more scale could quickly be achieved as one hydrogen pump could refuel far more vehicles than a single electric charging point.

The rollout of charging points has been cited as a major sticking point for take-up of electric vehicles with the SMMT pointing to a failure to keep up.

Mr Rugoobur said there would have to be “a lot of work with the Government on how we move that even faster”, adding that the commercial sector would probably cope better as it could rely on central charging hubs.

Mr Yates remained confident supply would eventually have to improve though saying with the 2030 target it “has to be accelerated.”

Published at Sat, 15 Jan 2022 18:00:00 +0000