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Electroheads Insights case study: Regular law breakers

At Electroheads, we believe in progress. And we believe that progress is often the direct result of rebellion.

That’s why, despite it being illegal to ride privately owned electric scooters in the UK, you’ll see members of the Electroheads team on scooters from time to time.

The law should accurately reflect the society it seeks to protect, and our research shows that 90% of people in the UK want scooters to be legal.

Now, we didn’t just ask electric scooter riders for their opinion, we asked everybody. In fact, most people who responded to our survey had never even ridden a scooter before – but they still saw that they made sense.

It’s time for progress:

When cars were first brought to market back in the early 20th century, they were marketed as freedom machines – allowing us to go anywhere, any time.

But as our big cities have become more crowded, and our roads have become busier and busier, driving to work is… well, a pain in the ass.

And anyone who’s commuted to work in London on the Central Line in the Summer, or caught a crowded bus home on a hot and humid day, will tell you that public transport isn’t much fun as an alternative to driving.

Enter electric scooters. Everybody is familiar with them, everybody has an opinion on them, and in many of the world’s major cities – almost everybody is commuting on them.

But not in London, Manchester, Liverpool or any other city in the UK, where it remains illegal to ride a privately owned electric scooter.
Cards on the table – we think that’s stupid. So we set out to prove it.

Our survey says:

Using our insights panel, we asked over 1,000 adults in the UK for their opinions on electric scooters.

  • Over 50% of respondents said they have never ridden an electric scooter, showing that even non-riders are in favour of legalisation.
  • 30% of respondents admitted to having broken the law by riding a privately owned electric scooter in the UK
  • But 87% people surveyed called for the immediate legalisation of electric scooters in the UK to allow for safer, post-lockdown commuting.

Now is the time:

As the world recovers from a pandemic, people will want to avoid being crammed on busy train carriages or on busy buses with strangers.

Scooters allow a level of personal freedom that rivals that of a car, but in a package that has a tiny footprint, allowing scooters to take up less space in crowded cities.

And speaking of footprints – with zero emissions, and with half of the UK’s electricity coming from renewable sources, they’re a cleaner way to get from A to B.

And for those of us who don’t own cars, and don’t live in areas with great public transport options, they represent a travel lifeline, opening up job opportunities further afield.

So to Boris Johnson, and to transport secretary Grant Shapps. Pull your fingers out, lads. Let the UK catch up with the rest of the world.

The best Electric Scooters in 2021

We’ve made it to 2021 which calls for a fresh look at the best electric scooters available on the market. Whether you’re looking for a ride that’s light and portable, fast and furious or built to go the distance, I’ve scoured the internet to bring to you my top picks for the year. 

Check out the video below to discover my favourite e-rides and in the meantime, here’s a few things you should know before buying an e scooter.

Do make sure to check the rules and regulations in your country as they differ wherever you go. Here in the UK, privately owned e-scooters are only allowed to be ridden on private land with permission from the owner. Riding on public roads is illegal and if the police catch you, you could be faced with a fine, your ride confiscated and 6 points on your licence.

Here at Electroheads we are all about the suspension. Not only does it make you safer as it soaks up unexpected potholes and bumps, but it also means you’re going to have a much more enjoyable ride. Although the addition of shock absorbers can bring your scooter into the upper three figure price range, if you can afford it, it really is worth the extra cost.

The wheel size also plays a big part into your overall ride experience. Smaller wheels give a rougher ride and are more prone to catching in potholes – something you really don’t want to do when riding on a busy road around cars and larger vehicles. Aim for at least a size of 8 inch diameter wheels. 

When looking at types of wheel you’ll usually see two options: solid and air-filled. Both have their perks and downfalls, so let’s take a look at what each of these are.

Solid tyres are puncture resistant and incredibly low maintenance. Changing wheels are much tricker on an e-scooter than, say a bike, so if you’re looking for reassurance when going over rougher terrain, this could be your winner.

Air-filled tyres are better all-round for ride quality and improved grip. It’s strongly recommended to use puncture protection fluid to help avoid having to change tyres, which as I mentioned is more of a faff. 

The key thing to remember is that everyone’s got their own wants and needs and it’s important you get the right machine for the task at hand. So really ask yourself what you’ll be using your scooter for, visualise how you’ll be using it and you’re already halfway there. 

If you haven’t already, check out my video to discover the e-scooter of your dreams.

Why illegal electric scooters are here to stay in the UK

Electric scooters – they’re a hot topic. You either love them or hate them. Once a niche techboy toy now a global sensation that happened almost overnight. Cities across the world responded to the will of the people introducing legislation to integrate e scooters into the very fabric of their streets.

In the UK we too have witnessed a takeover likened to that of the Vespas in the 60s, yet personally owned electric scooters are still illegal to ride on public roads. 

In this video I took to the streets of East London, where e scooters have boomed in popularity, to understand why people are choosing to buy them and what the future holds.

Thanks to the pandemic, 2020 was an unprecedented year causing many to rethink how they moved about the city. East London borough Newham was particularly hard hit, recording some of the highest death rates in the UK during the first wave. 

Personal Electric Transport, a local e-scooter retailer in the area, recorded a significant boom in sales, noting that people were looking for viable solutions for independent travel. Buses and trains weren’t safe, but there were people that still had to travel to work and the electric scooter was their answer to that. 

To date, electric scooters can only be legally used on public roads if hired through a rental company set up through a local trial. The government fast-tracked legislation in June 2020 in response to the pandemic to allow e scooter companies to roll out fleets under strict surveillance of local councils. However, privately owned scooters were not included. Instead, they must only be ridden on private property with permission from the owner. But that didn’t stop the rise in e scooter sales jumping up by an astonishing 450% at Halfords in October 2020 alone. 

Talking to a mix of individuals at PET (Personal Electric Transport) and on the streets of Stratford it’s clear that everybody has witnessed a huge shift to micro mobility in recent times and there’s mixed feelings about it. I cover the concerns over safety, how they’re being policed and where we think the future of electric scooters are headed. 

Spoiler alert – they aren’t going anywhere!

How Have E-bikes Become So Popular?

This review comes courtesy of electricbikereport.com contributor Richard Peace. 

electrbikereport.com features hundreds of e-bike reviews, guides and a weekly news post to keep you abreast of all things e-bike 

I first got into e-bikes at the end of the last century – I was cycling thousands of miles a year compiling cycling guidebooks for my own company and cycling maps for local authorities; these were the days before digital mapping was widely available on smartphones. 

I saw a review in ‘alternative’ transport magazine A to B for something called a Powabyke. This weighed around 37kg and its three large lead acid batteries had a range of around 20-30 miles.

You may well laugh at the bulk and modest range, but I was often thankful to have it when work meant venturing into the steepest parts of the South Pennines on a windy winter’s day.  

I soon realised all the obvious benefits that you read about in e-bike introduction type articles were there, even using my 1999 e-bike; it was one of the fastest ways to get about in congested town traffic, hills and headwinds were no longer a problem, I got no sweat exercise and was even able to save bags of petrol cash by going car-free some of the time.

The only real limitations were weight and especially limited range. In practice neither proved a huge headache and both issues have since been largely overcome and haven’t been an issue on e-bikes for several years now.

Despite all this it’s only really in the last two or three years that that e-bikes have really taken off in the UK. What lies behind this rather confusing mismatch of timescales? 

Technological Milestones

Fast forward to today and this particular week I find myself reviewing the FLIT-16, a state-of-the-art folding e-bike. This weighs 15kg – not that much more than the weight of that original Powabyke’s battery alone. 

The steady advance of e-bike technology clearly demonstrated by this example has clearly been a major factor in their growing popularity (with more flops than successes in the early days). That advance has been marked by several vital milestones that have proven to be the bedrock of e-bikes’ current success:

1994: Yamaha’s PAS system is the first crank or mid drive machine rolled out nationally (in Japan). Similar technology is in use on the most efficient and powerful mid-drive machines today.

2000: Several notably relatively lightweight e-bikes launch – for example the Honda Step Combo weighs 18.7kg and is imported in limited numbers form Japan into Europe and the UK. 

Giant, probably the largest manufacturer of quality bikes in the world, launch a redesigned LaFree e-bike with a Panasonic mid-drive and Nickel-Metal hydride batteries. Again it helps the idea of e-bikes gain a toehold as practical effective machines in Europe and the UK. 

2002: Japan’s Panasonic introduce the world’s first commercially available lithium ion powered e-bike which is taken up by European e-bike companies in 2003 and also claim the world’s lightest e-bike at 16.9kg.

2011: Bosch launches its crank drive motor system that sets a new standard for power and efficiency. Other highly efficient and powerful mid-drive systems follow from Kalkhoff (2012) and Shimano (2013).   

More Options

If the last major technological advance in e-bikes was around nine years ago then clearly the steady progress of that technology doesn’t explain everything.

UK sales show a pretty fantastical acceleration of e-bikes in 2019 and 2020; after years of steady and usually single digit % growth the last two years have seen sales unit numbers increase by around 25% each year according to UK government import stats.

2020 stats showed around 120,000 e-bikes imported into the country (very few are made in the UK); of course 2020 was an exceptional year because of the pandemic but this phenomenal growth in e-bikes actually predates it. Whatever true reasons for this incredible sales surge, and as empty bike shops shelves around the country prove, there is a huge appetite out there for e-bikes. 

This is all against a background of the number of e-bike designs and the quality of the spec increasing year on year. Nowadays just about every kind of bike design you can imagine and more are available in various electric versions, from industrially specced cargo shifters capable of moving several hundred kg of goods to carbon-fibre-framed folders you can easily lift with one hand.  

As an example of just what is possible let’s take a look at a top of the line electric cargo bike from Riese and Muller’s 2021 range, the Packster 70.

The £5k+ price tag may have been unthinkable just a few years ago but so is the technology on display.

The massively powerful Bosch mid-drive motor augments your pedal power by a maximum 400%, there’s a huge carrying box that will take two children, a maximum battery capacity of 1250Wh, many times bigger than the original Bosch offerings of a decade ago, and high tech options like stepless gearing and a display that’s virtually a mini-computer with features such as automatic route navigation and mush else besides.

If I had been overtaken by this whilst riding my Powabyke in 1999 the technology would have appeared truly mind-boggling even if, in fact, it was just a huge refinement of technology that had already been invented. 

Much of this technology has trickled down to lower priced machines too – things considered luxury spec like hydraulic disk brakes and hardwired high power LED lighting are now essentially bog-standard mid-range e-bike fare.

Added to the fact there are more and more high quality drive systems and more and more quality e-bike manufacturers offering them and the growing success of e-bikes starts to look much less surprising. Recently a new wave of small, lightweight hub motor systems have lead to a rash of ever lighter e-bikes with e-road and e-folders in particular developing from the improving technology.  

Big Backers Pushing Value for Money

At the other end of the spectrum there are more budget e-bikes on offer, with the likes of Halfords and Decathlon now offering seriously good value and slickly-designed sub-£1000 machines backed by solid guarantees and their own reputations as longstanding companies.

This is miles away from the early days of the industry in the UK which was dominated by smaller, sometimes here today and gone tomorrow operators often selling distinctly Heath-Robinson looking machines. That £500 you would have needed to buy a Powabyke in 1999, in today’s money, would now get you a much lighter Decathlon electric mountain bike with disk brakes and a good sized lithium ion battery and the riding experience itself would be immeasurably better. 

An oft-repeated complaint in my many conversations with those who approached me whilst riding an e-bike was the price; avid interest soon waned when I revealed what it was (“I could get a motorbike for that” is typical of the replies).

But my own studies of the e-bike market show that typical prices have stayed much the same, allowing for inflation. What has changed is what you get for the money, with the technology and design of modern machines clearly representing much better value.

And as the success of the likes of Riese & Muller demonstrate, the UK market is no longer ‘price sensitive’ and UK customers will pay a premium once they are convinced of the usefulness, value and longevity of the product.  No doubt it also helps that the likes of German firms Riese & Muller and Bosch now have their own technical and sales backup teams in the UK to support the ever growing dealer network.  

Lessons for Electric Cars?        

The Honda E – an electric car that has won hearts, but not minds

It’s a tempting exercise to ask what the nascent electric car industry in the UK can learn from the eventual runaway success of e-bikes.

Of course there are pitfalls, the least of which is that I am not an electric car expert. To me though it seems the advantages of adding electric power to a bike are perhaps more immediately obvious than swapping petrol for electric power on a car. With a bike you get a vehicle still free to use on the roads and one that is powered by only a few pence worth of electricity. Perhaps the undoubted advantages of going from petrol to electric cars are less immediately obvious to the buying public.

The e-bike experience suggests to me not only that the right technology must be in place and be capable of doing what people expect it to do, but that it needs refining and then marketing. Education as to its advantages also plays a huge role here too. It took years in the UK to convince not only the public but many, many dealers and even some bike manufacturers themselves that electric was truly the future and that process is clearly just beginning with electric cars.

One thing e-bikes and electric cars do have in common though is that once people have taken the plunge and bought one very very few want to go back – aside of all the well-rehearsed practical arguments, going electric, as e-bike and car drivers will tell you, is just so enjoyable it’s addictive.  

Survey shows less than 1% of EV drivers want to go back to gas

The poll, conducted in November by chargepoint location site Zap-Map, asked users if they would switch back to an ICE vehicle. 91% gave a firm no, with 8% of respondents saying maybe. Just 1% asserted that they missed petrol. 

Zap-Map’s community poll received 2,111 responses, the majority of whom were first-time EV drivers, over half having purchased their vehicle within the last year. BEVs actually received a higher overall satisfaction score than hybrids, with an average of 92 and 84 respectively. Both types of electric vehicles received better average scores than ICE vehicles.

The survey also asked about car models – two PHEVs, the Kia Niro and the BMW 3 saloon, received a 100% satisfaction score, and so did the fully electric Volkswagen ID.3, which we picked as the most important EV of the decade:

Other high scorers included the Tesla Model 3, the Kia e-Nero, and the Hyundai KONA electric. Zap-Map’s co-founder, Melanie Shufflebotham, commented on the significance of the data, which shows higher satisfaction rates with electric vehicles than ever before, despite what a year 2020 has been. 

It’s clear that many of the historical challenges of owning and running an EV have fallen away. 

Melanie Shufflebotham

There are some caveats, of course – the fact that most respondents were recent adopters probably biases them, as they’re still enamoured with their shiny new car. On top of that, we’re still at a stage where most EV drivers are already enthusiasts (Electroheads, if you will), rather than casual drivers, who might come in with more gripes. Nonetheless, these results show how the idea that going electric means compromising for a worse driving experience couldn’t be further from reality. 

Maybe a decade ago, driving an EV was a purely environmental decision and a case of enduring the downsides. But now that charging is more mainstream, vehicles are more affordable, and cars are not only keeping pace but outperforming their gas-guzzling predecessors, this is a good sign that it won’t be long before fossil fuels are as outdated as the dinosaurs they’re made of.

VW reveals working prototype of a robot that can charge EVs completely autonomously

Volkswagen Group Components have been working on the concept for a long time, but now hope that the charging robot will be usable in spaces like underground car parks within a few years.

In a 44-second trailer, which feels a little more like a Pixar teaser than a technology reveal, incongruously dramatic music plays over shots of gleaming metal, panning out to reveal a cute white cuboid with friendly light-up cartoon eyes. We see it glide across the floor, insert its arm into a charging slot, and… not much else, with the video ending on a promise of “more to come”.

According to VW’s press release, the R2D2-esque robot can be started with an app or Car-to-X communication. It does the rest totally autonomously, steering to the vehicle and effectively dragging a ‘battery wagon’ with it, communicating with the car to open the charging socket and connect the plug for 50kW DC charging. It’ll then be able to go and sort out other cars before returning when your vehicle is fully charged, decoupling the charger and trundling off to its next job.

The big deal here is the potential this tech has to make any space in a car park into a BEV charging spot… in theory. Having a working prototype is one thing, and trusting a robot to reliably steer around the chaos of how some people park their cars is quite another. I’ve got visions of Roombas getting stuck on the stairs and beeping for help like lost kittens – and those aren’t subjected to the randomness and vandalism of the general public. 

Furthermore, although VW haven’t made any statements about how widespread they expect to make these bots, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll become something you can rely on finding in every big Sainsbury’s underground car park. Still, in places where the robots are implemented, it would mean you could turn up to a busy car park, nab the first empty space you see, and leave your EV to sort itself out, which would be a welcome change.

VW’s press release keenly emphasises that the charging robot is one of several DC charging solutions they’re developing simultaneously – perhaps anticipating comments that this technology looks set to arrive just as wireless charging could make it redundant.

Chinese startup Xpeng, accused of stealing from Tesla, debuts electric SUV in Europe

One hundred samples of the G3, a compact SUV crossover, have been delivered to buyers across Norway this week, with more to be introduced to the rest of Europe in 2021.

Until recently, Xpeng have only been delivering to the Chinese market, but they’re now expanding their ambitions. The huge appetite for EVs in China also recently gave new life to British sports car icons of the past, MG. We covered the born-again MG EV in our latest video:

Xpeng’s cars are being distributed to new owners across Norway, including north of the Arctic Circle, which will certainly test the vehicle’s reliability in extreme weather conditions. 

Xpeng likely chose the Scandinavian country for its soft international launch due to its strong market for EVs and existing infrastructure. The feedback on the car, including its English-language UI and AI, will inform the G3’s saleability in other Western markets.

The G3 isn’t Xpeng’s only vehicle – they launched the newer P7 sports saloon, currently only available in China, in June 2020, and will reportedly release two new models in 2021 and 2022. G3, incidentally, is short for ‘Geek3’. The name was chosen via a contest, but Xpeng have wisely chosen to downplay that part, at least in the Western market, where it would be a pretty bold label.

The startup attracted controversy in 2019, thanks to a still-ongoing lawsuit filed by Tesla against a former Autopilot engineer, Guangzhi Cao, who quit to join Xpeng. Tesla’s claim is that Cao downloaded their source code to his personal device, and sold it to Xpeng when he joined. Cao actually does admit to downloading some of the code, but claims he deleted it before leaving Tesla.

Xpeng founder Henry Xia has admitted that Tesla had an influence on him, and it’s pretty clear in the interior of the G3, with the UI design a near-identical ripoff. But considering Tesla effectively opened up its patents six years ago, it’s odd that they would then sue the company that was reportedly first to take them up on this. 

On the other hand, though, Tesla’s statement does specify the company’s patents can be used “in good faith”, not to manufacture “knock-offs”. It doesn’t specify how close a resemblance to Tesla’s products is acceptable, and that’s probably adding complications to this drawn-out squabble. 

The Xpeng G3 in Norway has a starting price of 358,000 NKr (£30,300). 

Elon Musk tweets vague confirmation that Tesla Superchargers will be available to other EVs

In typically abrupt fashion, Tesla’s CEO replied to a question about why other carmakers aren’t using the company’s technology. “They are, although it’s kind low-key. Tesla Superchargers are being made accessible to other electric cars.”, Elon tweeted in response. 

It’s unclear what exactly he means by that; whether this is an operation that’s currently underway, or just a plan for the future. ‘Low-key’ suggests Tesla are working with at least one other manufacturer who haven’t yet announced their use of Superchargers. If so, one likely candidate would be Aptera, as they used an image of a Tesla connector in one of their promotional videos – but they are still in the early stages of production, so that glimpse is no promise of the final product. 

Tesla actually opened up its patents to its competitors as long ago as 2014 – but there’s been radio silence since then, with no automakers seeming to take up the offer. Of course, getting to use Tesla’s technology wouldn’t come as an act of charity, and doing so would mean competing EV makers tacitly admitting that Tesla does charging better than them. And, as always, the small print is more complex, implying that the company would have to allow Tesla unfettered access to its own IP in return. 

It’s possible Elon is merely referring to the recent flaw that occurred when Tesla switched their EU Superchargers to use the standard CCS connectors – briefly, other EVs were able to use the new chargers for free, thanks to a bug. More likely, though, is that the same switch that caused the bug has made it easier to integrate other types of EV to the Tesla network, at least in Europe. 

In the US, non-Tesla owners wanting access to the Superchargers would need an adaptor. Tesla might be planning to switch the CCS in the US as well, but this would be an unpopular move with many Tesla maniacs, for whom the aesthetically pleasing charger design is one of the many selling points they see as superior.

Some Tesla drivers reacted to the tweet with trepidation, as opening up Superchargers to other cars would mean a major increase in demand and wait times for the faster network. On the other hand, many recognised that it would be a step forward, especially in the US, for high-speed charging to become standardised. As one Reddit user put it:

There is no Toyota gas pump. There is no Ford gas pump. A gas pump is a gas pump. (…) The Tesla Supercharging network could be like any company selling fuel but instead selling electricity for EVs. The stalls are always full? Build more stalls.

maxhac03

It’s certainly true that too much demand for EV charging would only be a positive change in the long run. However, as with all of Elon’s remarks, it’s probably best to take this one with a really, really big grain of salt.

Biden to build 550,000 EV charging stations and create 1 million clean energy jobs

According to Joe Biden’s website, the US President-Elect intends to ‘make major public investments in automobile infrastructure — including in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations’, and ‘create millions of jobs producing clean electric power’. 

Although the policy itself isn’t new information, as it was part of his platform as a candidate, Biden’s transportation and energy policies were somewhat overshadowed by… you know, everything else going on during the US election. However, with the news that former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is the expected pick for Secretary of Energy, that promise looks a lot more hopeful, as Granholm has been a strong voice for the EV movement.

As governor of the auto capital of the US, Michigan, Granholm secured $1.35 billion in federal funding for the state to manufacture electric vehicles and batteries. She sits on the board of electric bus company Proterra, and has pushed for the US to keep pace with China and the EU in electrification, where the nation currently lags behind. Currently, there are about 90,000 public charging plugs in the US – and one-fifth of them are exclusive to Tesla. Biden’s policy, if successful, would multiply that by five times. 

Granholm will be supported by Transportation Secretary pick Pete Buttigieg, whose own platform as a presidential candidate was environmentally focused, also mentioning investment in EVs. But it will still be a tough job for the Biden administration to persuade Congress to pay for the plan, which would cost billions – not only to build hundreds of thousands of charging stations, but also to make major upgrades to the US electricity grid to ensure it has the capacity to handle EV charging. 

We all know how reliable political promises are, but, as with so many other issues, it would at least be a swift U-turn from the Trump administration, which boosted oil and gas in the name of “energy dominance” and rejected electric-friendly policies. 

Currently, the lack of reliable charging across the US is one of the major barriers that keeps the average buyer from considering an electric car, especially outside of major cities. Biden’s policy, coupled with greater availability of affordable EVs for American consumers, would give drivers in the car-dominated land of the free the freedom to make climate-friendly transport decisions.

Nissan’s Ariya EV will be produced for the EU in Japan, not Britain

Accounts vary as to whether the Japanese carmaker cites Brexit as the reason for its decision.

Ah, Brexit: the gift that keeps on giving. Or perhaps taking away. For, as fears of a no-deal outcome loom ever closer, Nikkei Asia has learned that Nissan has already made the decision to ship its newest BEV to European buyers from Japan, instead of making use of its Sunderland plant.

According to Nikkei’s initial report, the company’s decision comes as a direct result of Brexit fears, but Nissan have since disagreed, saying that it was always the plan to produce the Ariya in Japan’s Tochigi plant: 

You take many factors into account when deciding where it is most reasonable to produce a vehicle and these decisions are made years in advance.

Nissan spokeswoman Azusa Momose

The Ariya, coming in 2021, is the first globally available BEV from Nissan since the Leaf was launched in 2010. Expected to cost around £40,000, it’s the company’s first all-electric SUV, with a top range of 310 miles, following in the footsteps of the hugely successful Qashqai and Juke. 

Thanks to an economic partnership agreement, Japan currently has a 7.5% import tariff for automobiles coming to the EU. But a no-deal Brexit would mean that British exports face a steeper 10% tariff. 

The EU is the Sunderland plant’s biggest customer, with over 70% of its cars currently being exported there. Just last week, a Nissan source told the BBC that no-deal would threaten Nissan Europe’s entire business model, and implicitly the continued existence of the Sunderland factory: “There’s no Plan B.” 

The Brexit transition period ends on the 31st of December, and currently, no free trade agreement has been signed. Sunderland, where Nissan employs about 7000 people, voted Leave in 2016 by a margin of 61%.