WREV: Warwickshire Rural Electric Vehicles Evaluation

WREV: Warwickshire Rural Electric Vehicles Evaluation

Project Overview

EVs are a significant and fast-developing part of the automotive sector.  Too little research has considered their likely adoption from the consumer’s perspective, especially not in a rural setting.  Funded by DEFRA and supported by policy-makers in Warwickshire, this study assessed the views of SME users part of an embedded and extensive trial in rural Warwickshire.

Dr Andrew Jonesand Dr Jason Begley successfully completed the evaluation of the WREV trial in late 2016, moving to a set of dissemination activities in 2017. This project was also supported by Richard Brooks, Prof Nigel BerkeleyDr Elizabeth Bos and Dr David Jarvis.

The Centre for Business in Society (CBiS), on behalf of Greenwatt Technologies, led the evaluation of the WREV trial between May 2014 and June 2016. The project, which was funded by DEFRA through the Rural Growth Network, provided SMEs operating in rural Warwickshire grant funding to lease an electric vehicle (EV) for up to a two-year period. An overview of the trial is available. 

WREV was particularly important due to the focus on rural businesses. Many demonstrator trials have been predisposed towards urban users meaning that the concerns and habits of rural drivers are often overlooked. The commercial element of the trial, and the addition of an EV to a business fleet provided another distinction from other schemes which have largely focused on consumers. A total of seventeen businesses adopted an EV as part of this extensive trial, with these organisations representing a diverse range of economic sectors. Traditional rural businesses, such as those operating in farming, were joined by SMEs from newer economic sectors such as renewable technologies and IT.

As project evaluators, the research team for CBiS performed two key roles. Firstly, the research team was responsible for the production of monthly reports which were sent to users in order to provide an assessment of usage and estimated savings. These data were collected from loggers fitted to the vehicles which recorded aspects such as mileage, travel time, energy used, and number of trips. On the basis of these data, estimations surrounding savings, in terms of fuel costs and emissions, were calculated. Secondly, alongside producing these reports, the research team was responsible for evaluating the outcomes of the trial and assessing user feedback. First-hand insights were secured from the trial participants in order to understand aspects such as usage patterns and to ascertain whether using an EV had benefitted their organisation.

In terms of the key findings of the evaluation, the evidence collected from WREV indicated that businesses generally used their vehicles for localised trips. Although this was shaped by business demand, there were instances where users expressed concerns surrounding the driving range of the EVs. This ‘range anxiety’ reflects a common argument emerging from most studies of EVs, but for rural motorists this is somewhat more challenging due to the larger travel distances they often face and the lack of a rural charging infrastructure.

For several businesses, the trial EV enabled them to extend their activities through operating a delivery service, a provision which was unaffordable with a conventionally fuelled vehicle. Other SMEs used their vehicle to as a form of ‘shuttle’ using it to move staff or visit clients or different sites. Alternatively, some businesses also found that there were unexpected benefits in terms of marketing and PR. The trial found evidence to suggest, for those rural SMEs with defined usage patterns, the EV was an effective tool to support business activities.

The evaluation of WREV also found some challenges for EV users in rural areas. Many participants considered the availability of public charging in these areas to be inadequate. For some users this impacted on their use of the vehicle as they wanted to complete longer trips but could not due to concerns over this infrastructure. Although the majority of participants expressed a desire to continue with EV technology in their business, some users stated that choices surrounding their vehicle fleet would be influenced by cost. Without the on-going support from WREV, the vehicle was considered to be unaffordable or unattractive due to the range constraints. This suggests that there are limits to the desire to continue with EVs despite the largely positive feedback from users.

Recommendations

  1. Increase the level of public charging infrastructure in rural locations
  2. Consider EV car share schemes as an ownership model
  3. Improve information availability on EVs and ensure technical support is offered to users
  4. Ensure that any future trial comes with charge point installation
  5. Target EVs at rural businesses/motorists with consistent usage patterns

The research findings were disseminated at an event in Stoneleigh in November 2016. The event, was part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science week and was attended by the triallists, funders, EV providers, analysts and the media.

Electric Vehicles: Solving the rural mobility challenge?

View a full report on the WREV trial.

Further Details

Further details are available from Dr Andrew Jones or Dr Jason Begley in the Centre for Business in Society.