Evening Standard

Strategies and Trends

eConnect cars came to life as a concept initially back in 2012. Around that time I was at the beginning of what many people may call a mid-life crisis. I wasn’t looking to buy that fast car, renovate a house or move to the West Country but wanted to build something of my own. A new business, something that mattered and had a real reason for being.

I had a number of unconnected ideas that lacked personal relevance and I always managed to shoot enough holes in them to sink them, except one. The more I thought about this one idea, the more I saw its potential, its worth and its alignment with what I believed in personally. I started to get passionate about it and soon enough I could think of little else, forcing me to resign from my well-paid corporate job and dive headlong into the world of risky start-ups.

This idea revolved around electric vehicles and how they have the potential to not only disrupt an established global industry, but also be part of a move towards a more sustainable future. As I considered this further, I realised that for me, the opportunity rested in bringing a number of, challenges, developments and trends together that would provide the launch pad for a commercially successful business.

Alistair Car

The more I thought about this one idea, the more I saw its potential, its worth and its alignment with what I believed in personally.”
Alistair Clarke, eConnect cars

Challenges of a carbon based economy

Before I started out on this adventure, I spent 10 years in the oil and gas industry working in places such as Tunisia, Tanzania, Chile and Wales. This provided an excellent vantage point to see how the carbon based economy upon which we all rely, is facing ever greater challenges.

The Major oil companies are exploring for new reserves and producing hydrocarbons from areas that are increasingly difficult to work in (politically, environmentally and / or socially) to meet our ever rising demand. Unfortunately the extent to which the technological and geographical boundaries are being pushed increases the risk of large scale incidents such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurring again.

At the same time, the pollution caused through the consumption of fossil fuels creates further challenges. This is not the place to debate the extent of climate change or how to tackle it but few continue to deny that something has to be done.

However it is worth noting that local air pollution caused by CO2 and NOx emissions from car exhausts is more recently seen as a major public health risk for urban populations. As a consequence, cities such as London consistently fail the European Union’s air quality guidelines. This has resulted in a number of initiatives including the latest proposal for an ultra low emission zone to work in parallel with the existing congestion charge.

Developments in electric and connected vehicles

Electric vehicles may have had a promising start, over 100 years ago, but since the combustion engine secured pole position, the challenge by electric cars has been largely irrelevant except for niche products such as the good old milk float and golf buggy.

nissan leaf wireframe widthHowever, the increasing challenges of the carbon based economy touched on above, have given the electric vehicle the kick start it needed. Legislation in the State of California forced the car manufacturers to consider what an alternative future of their industry could look like. Some traditional car manufacturers such as Nissan, Renault and BMW took up the challenge whilst new entrants such as Tesla saw an opening to exploit.

As a result, the number and quality of electric vehicles (EVs) now on offer provides a real choice to consumers as an alternative to diesel or petrol. And in order for the car manufactures to get a return on their investment, they are working with governments to roll out the necessary charging infrastructure.

The development of modern EVs could therefore be compared to the roll out of mobile phones. Similarities exist with the hardware being initially expensive and a lack of masts making the required coverage sporadic. However, many believe that, unlike the mobile phone, the EV does not offer enough of a positive difference to the status quo for the uptake to move beyond the early adopter stage.

Rear Wire Car widthWhat this argument ignores is what else electric vehicles are bringing to market in addition to how the energy is stored to propel it down the road. Take the Tesla Model S. This is the car for the iPhone generation. The central control panel looks like an oversized iPad and its software capability allows it to store your diary so that it can drive itself out of your garage, has the heating on and your favourite music playing the moment you step out of your front door. Even the basic electric vehicles come with their own apps so that you can remotely turn on the air conditioning.

These sorts of gadgets are increasingly important and what sells cars to a younger generation who are less interested in number of cylinders and horsepower. For them the Internet of Things and the possibilities of connected houses and cars is what is exciting. And it is electric vehicles that provide the greatest opportunities. For example, smart homes that incorporate electric vehicle batteries and micro-generation through domestic solar panels can reduce energy bills and even be managed to reduce peak electricity demand, improving efficiency of power stations.

Trends in Urban Mobility

The question of urban mobility is constantly debated. Can we prevent more and more traffic on the roads; is a congestion charge helping and can the existing public transport networks cope with the increasing demand?

No one solution will have all the answers. Each mode of transport has its part to play but in each case, the provision of that transport has to get smarter in order to cope with the changes that are happening today.

With increasing choice and ease of use through multiple modes of transport I expect the increasing urban population to move from being car owners to car users. This I suspect is a core reason why car manufactures such as BMW are launching car clubs so that they can instil the BMW brand into young urban drivers. These drivers will grow to love their cars whilst using them in car clubs so that when they do move to the suburbs, and look to purchase their own car for the first time, their first port of call will be a BMW dealership.

Choice is both essential and demanded by the citizens of modern cities. For example, an individual may chose a train to commute from the suburbs, a tube to get across town and a bike to travel the last mile. However, whilst this may be appropriate getting to and from work, it is more effective for that individual to be chauffeur-driven to a meeting so that they arrive feeling ready to negotiate that important deal which is the core reason for them being paid a high salary.

I am certainly in the camp of those who believe a corporate that looks after the well-being of its staff will get the most return on that investment. And that extends to providing them with chauffeur-driven transport when it is appropriate. So that they can arrive feeling better than when they left; relaxed, re-charged and ready to perform.

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Bringing together these challenges, developments and trends

The interplay of these challenges, developments and trends, led to my belief that we have to use our resources more carefully and wisely. But at the same time we have the tools to be smarter and that the change necessary does not have to mean compromise but could mean improvement.

eConnect cars looks to address some of the challenges and take advantage of the developments and trends apparent today. An all electric fleet of cars, chauffeur-driven so that passengers can travel in luxury, shielded from the noisy city within a comfortable climate controlled atmosphere, which allows our passengers to arrive at their destination calm and refreshed.

There should not be any compromise in quality. If all electric vehicles are going to work as a replacement for traditional transport then they need to be better than the original. There must be a benefit.

All eConnect cars run on GoldPower, an initiative set up to provide a source of power from renewable sources throughout the world with a positive social impact in developing nations providing clean renewable power while creating lasting jobs.

windfarmturkey

Part of the Mustang Wind Farm in Çataltepe Turkey that eConnect cars supports through GoldPower

My Background

When I was 17, I spent 3 months as an Operation Raleigh Venturer in Zimbabwe. We built schools, medical clinics and improved game reserves. We went trekking and spent 7 days rafting down the Zambezi. These are still vivid memories however, it was the time spent with local people in the remote villages that had the biggest impression. Seeing how happy and proud these people were as they sang whilst fetching water, or laughing whilst playing with a football made of plastic bags tied together with string. These memories really help me when I am having a bad day. I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am and have no right to feel sorry for myself given all the luxuries and opportunities we have at our disposal.

Such was the impression left on me by these 3 months that after University I looked for work with the overseas development organisations. Quite rightly, the general response was that I needed a qualification and experience first before I could be of any real use to them (apparently a Geography degree was not enough!) So I became a Chartered Accountant and began a career in the corporate world. After 3 years in Australia, I joined an oil and gas company as I wanted to continue to work internationally and in an industry that was in its golden years.

So when I hit my mid-life crisis, I looked back to my early desires of wanting to make a difference following my time with Operation Raleigh. But now I was armed with a qualification in accountancy, commercial operations experience and exposure to the challenges faced by the carbon based economy. Founding eConnect cars has focused my energy into building a business I believe does matter and can make a difference.

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Looking to the future

Whilst part of this article has focused on the problems we face, it is the developments and trends identified that excites me, in conjunction with the options we have that has led me to set up eConnect cars as a positive step towards a better path than the inevitable one faced if we do nothing different.

By identifying the small changes we can all make, progress will follow. By offering a service without compromise, eConnect cars believes it makes the change an easier sell. And whilst Electric Vehicles may not be the end solution, I passionately believe it is a step in the right direction. It is an enabling technology which I look forward to exploring in these articles in the coming weeks and months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first instalment of what will be many insights into our company and beliefs.

And I do hope you continue to enjoy travelling with eConnect cars!

Notes for Editors:

  • Alistair Clarke is the owner and Managing Director of eConnect cars
  • The company has been trading since January 2014
  • eConnect cars are one of the first London chauffeur-driven car service using all electric vehicles
  • The company has already been recognised for its excellent service and values at the Fleet Hero Awards, the QSi Awards and the GreenFleet Awards
  • The eConnect cars fleet is comprised entirely of the top of the range Nissan Leaf Tekna so our passengers always travel in luxury
  • eConnect cars is the first fleet to run on GoldPower, the global renewable energy provider that reinvests in renewable energy sources worldwide
  • Further details on eConnect cars can be found on our website eConnect cars

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