E-Mobility for Car Clubs in Great Britain

Car clubs are becoming increasingly common with their development being driven by a range of diverse stakeholders such as local authorities and organisations with major grey fleet costs. Recognising that they are now in
the business of selling mobility, even vehicle manufacturers are starting to develop car club offerings which will ultimately reduce the ratio of vehicles per head. Emerging mixed mobility offerings include the sharing of personal vehicles and driveways, the ability to swap a personal vehicle for another that might better meet the user’s requirements on a particular day, and joined up mobility options where users can span entire journeys with personal vehicles, public transport and hired bicycles or cars at the journey destination.

But as with so many ‘game changing’ business models, it soon becomes apparent that success depends on flexibility in the model and the ability to provide benefits carefully tuned to the requirements of specific customer groups or locations. The development of this flexibility means that e-vehicles are increasingly being included in the fleet mix albeit utility needs to be relatively high to compensate for in initially high capital costs.

Within the ENEVATE project Future Transport Systems has worked with car clubs and customer groups to understand their requirements and also what business development approach is required to increase the uptake of user groups and e-vehicles.

Clearly car clubs can only be successful if the vehicles have sufficient use to generate an underpinning revenue stream. E-vehicles have higher initial capital costs but lower running costs. They also have more limited ranges than traditional vehicles and require drivers to know how to drive them to best effect and how to use the charging infrastructure. However, Future Transport Systems has run several e-vehicle trials over the course of the last five years these have included more than 100 vehicles of various types and 300+ users. The trials have repeatedly demonstrated that people enjoy driving e-vehicles and that consequently many purchase or lease an e-vehicle after the trial. Also, usage statistics from car clubs demonstrate that once people have tried an e-vehicle they go back to use it again and again.

In terms of developing sustainable business models two approaches have been researched by Future Transport Systems in partnership with car clubs, these are:

  • Working closely with a range of stakeholders in the immediate proximity of a car club bay/vehicle to maximize utilization
  • Linking the car club with other activities, specifically leisure, to make it part of a wider value added experience

In relation to developing greater use in specific areas, Future Transport Systems worked with the car club – Co-wheels to  explore the potential to deploy car clubs and specifically e-vehicles within Team Valley, a very large industrial estate in Gateshead in the North East of England. The growth of Team Valley is constrained by traffic congestion so the owner, UK Land Estates has an interest in mobility solutions that reduce the flow of vehicles in and out of the location, particularly at busy time of the day. To assist with improved mobility UK Land Estates has created an organisation called Valley Links specifically to promote sustainable transport.

The travel data for Team Valley suggests that a large number of people travel to work there in single occupancy cars so they have the flexibility to use the car for shopping trips (sometimes just to buy a sandwich) at lunch time or after work, or undertake short work related trips during the day. But in reality these trips occur very infrequently and often hardly leave Team Valley itself.

The vast majority of the usage identified could be undertaken using a car club and also a car club largely made up of e-vehicles. However, in order for the car club to be viable people from several organisationsb ased on Team
Valley would need to use the vehicles on a regular basis.

Future Transport Systems has spent time working within Team Valley, talking to businesses and identifying their individual travel requirements and mapping how these needs could be provided with car club vehicles, including e-vehicles. By combining the findings of several businesses located around central points, it has been possible to identify how frequently vehicles could be expected to be used, for what purposes and typically at what times of the day.  Undertaking this analysis has enabled the viability of e-vehicles and the overall business model to be evaluated by car clubs. Future Transport Systems has worked closely with the car club – Co-wheels on this project.

Following on from the evaluation Co-wheels and Valley links will undertake further promotional activity to engender awareness and interest in car club vehicles on the site prior to vehicles being introduced at some point in the future.
Exploring opportunities for the use of car clubs in the leisure sector Future Transport Systems entered into dialogue with two of the UKs national park authorities, Northumberland National Park and the Lake District National Park. The Lake District is already running a small fleet of Renault Twizzy e-vehicles for the use of visitors and Northumberland National Park has trialled several e-vehicles for the use of its staff.

Both National Parks have explored the potential of linking e-vehicle car clubs up with the travel patterns and requirements of tourists and visitors to the parks. The Lake District has developed an e-vehicle car club operating in several of the larger towns across the Lake District, from which visitors can hire a Twizzy and take it out on a trip with all necessary infrastructure installed along the route. This model is working but has been set up with support from the Parks Authority and with tourist locations and hotels, and has not yet established a level of use that would make it sustainable for a commercial car club.

In Northumberland National Park, Hadrian’s Wall, which is a main attraction, runs from East to West in parallel with the River Tyne and the railway. Northumberland National Park had an interest in making it possible for visitors to leave the train and collect an e-car or pedelec to make the trip up to Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. E-vehicles would be ideal in this role, given the expected range of the journeys and the desire of the park authority to keep carbon, particulate and noise emissions to a minimum. In order for this to be successful car clubs would need to be sustainable in their own right within the villages along Hadrian’s Wall during the winter months when visitors would be fewer.

In the first instance Northumberland National park and Northumberland County Council has been supportive of a car club scheme set up by Transition Tynedale and Co-wheels in Hexham, one of the main tourist destinations along Hadrian’s wall. To provide maximum flexibility the car club has a Toyota Prius plugin hybrid vehicle and a traditional Toyota Yaris. The car club has been operational since December 2013 and is publicised by Transition Tynedale. Users are gradually increasing in number albeit take up has not been as rapid as was hoped.

Moving forward both the Northumberland and Lake District National Parks are working to encourage the use of e- vehicles and car clubs within their areas. They are both involved in the expansion of e-vehicle infrastructure and given that