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Exclusive interview with Jacques de Selliers, Managing Director, Going-Electric

31 Jan 2012

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Going-Electric is the Association for Electric Vehicles and their Users in Europe. cars21.com took the opportunity to ask Jacques de Selliers, Managing Director of Going-Electric, about his industry and policy forecasts for 2012, as well as the best practices in terms of EV promotion.

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For Going-Electric, small EVs are the future for urban mobility

cars21.com: You were importing REVA (EV manufactured in India) in Belgium between 2007-2009. How did you evaluate consumer acceptance for EVs at that time? Has it evolved since then?

Jacques de Selliers: REVA is not really a car: it is a quadricycle, only good for driving in urban environment. It also has very little comfort, so it is not exactly what consumers wanted in those days when SUVs were very much the trend. However, all our customers are delighted to use them because they realise how much a small car is an asset when you drive in town.

cars21.com: 2011 was expected to bring the breakthrough for EVs. How do you evaluate this expectation in hindsight and what are your expectations for the EV market in 2012?

Jacques: In 2011, the first EVs were coming to the market, but the mass production in only coming in 2012. So I want to see what will happen this year. What we already know is that most available EVs are very much in demand: there is usually a 6-month waiting list!

Very much to the surprise of OEMs and not at all to mine, a lot of the demand comes from individuals. These “innovators” have been waiting for an electric car for many years and are now very pleased to buy something corresponding to their needs - although prices are still high, which is normal with any “new” technology.

cars21.com: Do you think that the OEMs are really serious about electric mobility this time around?

Jacques: OEMs understand that they have to do something in this field, to remain fashionable and to prepare for a possible electric future. I am not sure that they are all convinced that the future is electric but they do not have a choice, so they do it, whether they like it or not.

cars21.com: Which country would you for the moment consider to be the most effective in promoting electric mobility? Why?

Jacques: In terms of promoting electromobility, there is no doubt one winner, and it is Norway. This country has strong financial incentives because taxes on petrol cars are very high and EVs are exempted. But more than anything – and that is what is really effective – they also offer EV drivers all possible non-financial incentives, including access to bus lanes, free unlimited parking on public space, free toll on freeways, and congestion and public ferry charge exemption.

These non-financial advantages are clearly the main motivations for Norwegians to buy EVs by saving them 30 to 60min when commuting to work in some cities like Oslo.

cars21.com: What are your comments with regards the EU’s efforts in promoting electric mobility in general and to the CARS 21 Interim Report published on 2 December 2011 in particular? How could the EU do better?

Jacques: The EU is sort of promoting electromobility. But it is also promoting cleaner petrol cars – and let face it, you cannot promote everything at the same time: car manufacturers do not have the means to develop advanced technologies in all directions. So the European Commission should be focused on the future, otherwise the future will not be European but it will be foreign, whether Chinese or other. I regret that the European Commission is lacking determination. It should be just forgetting about petrol cars improvements and concentrate all its efforts into the promotion of electric vehicles.

The other thing that they have not grasped is that to promote electric vehicles, they should use what works, and what works – as proven in Norway – is non-financial incentives. So they should concentrate on implementing non-financial incentive throughout Europe.

For the CARS 21 Interim Report, I do not see the Group having a good understanding of the future. They seem to be trying to do a bit of everything to keep everybody happy. But then, when you do a bit of everything, you do everything bad!

cars21.com: Do you have any comment about the Belgian draft Roadmap for promoting electric mobility?

Jacques: It seems that some of the points are going in the right direction and that they are starting to understand that to promote electromobility, it is non-financial incentives, such as access to bus lanes and free unlimited parking in urban areas, that are effective. I am really lounging to see what the final Roadmap will look like.

cars21.com: How could the Danish Presidency influence EV uptake in Europe?

Jacques: I know that some politicians in Denmark have realised that the Norwegian model works and that what could promote electromobility are non-financial incentives. I really hope that they will make their point through during the EU Presidency and influence favorably the EU in that direction.

cars21.com: If you would be asked to formulate a global action plan for a rapid introduction of electric vehicles, what would be your top 3 points on the agenda?

Jacques: First of all, it is important to realize that electric cars bring very little advantages to their user. They brings advantages to society, by creating clean, unpolluted, and silent cities, but also by reducing our energy dependency: electric cars are not powered by petrol but by a mix of different sources of energies, making them less dependent on single cartel of suppliers.

So if Europe really wants to promote electromobility, it needs to give advantages to EV users. As we know, the most valuable advantage that can be given to EV users is to save their time by providing them non-financial incentives such as access to bus lanes and free unlimited parking.

The second thing that the Commission should realise is that pure electric vehicles have a limited range, which means that their use will always be limited in mileage. So basically their main usage will be commuting, city driving, and other short trips. For such trips, the smaller the car the better: it is good for the driver, because small cars are more agile in traffic and easier to park in cities. It is also good for cities, because small cars reduce parking and traffic congestion. Therefore, micro-EVs such as Renault Twizy or Lumeneo Smera are really what I believe should become the cars of the future: they are the most practical for many users and are best for the cities in terms of congestion.

The European Commission should therefore be promoting these micro-EVs, notably by changing the homologation rules so that they can be homologated more efficiently and at a lower cost.

My third point is about charging: it seems that everybody concentrates on fast charging. But this is ill-inspired by the petrol car model: you drive at a petrol station once in a while and you get a refill. The big difference is that the petrol car gets a refill for many hundreds kilometers in 5min, while an electric car, even with the fastest charging stations available, only gets an hundred kilometer refill in about 30min. You cannot use the same model. The right model for electric cars is you drive back home and charge, either in your garage or on the curbside, on a 220V charging pole. An overnight charge on a domestic socket, using off-peak electricity, gives you more than enough for your daily driving, since the daily driving is less than 50km for over 85% of drivers, and that it is very rare that people drive over 150km a day. Fast charging is very expensive and will only be used in exceptional instances – such as unexpected longer trips.

Regarding standardised plugs, it only concerns fast-charging, since domestic plugs are fine for overnight charging. But even there it is not really an issue, considering that a fast-charging station cost several tens of thousands of euros, so adding one or two different types of sockets would not significantly change the station’s cost.

cars21.com: What was your motivation in 2008 to create Going-Electric in 2008. What is the association’s mission today?

Jacques: I started Going-Electric because I became the first electric car importer in Belgium and there was clearly a need to lobby the European institutions if we wanted to succeed. This was my first motivation for creating the association in 2008. My dealership lasted a bit more than a year, but I continued to develop the association after that because I am convinced that EVs are very effective solution towards less energy dependency and cleaner and quieter cities and that they will soon replace petrol cars. When I say electric cars I do not only mean pure electric cars, but I also include Extended-Range Electric cars and Fuel Cell Electric cars, which are also very sustainable and, unlike pure electric cars, are suitable for long trips.

cars21.com: What are Going-Electric’s concrete plans for 2012?

Jacques: We want to develop our membership base and to offer our members more services, such as access to useful information like the list of EV incentives across Europe. We are also in the process of improving our website and making it more user-friendly. You can get more information by contacting us via the cars21.com community or at 2...@going-electric.org.

cars21.com: You are speaking and chairing events related to electric vehicles around the globe. What is your next stop?

Jacques: The next one is in March, AUTOMOTIVE RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION 12TH ANNUAL in Brussels, then in Shanghai in May for the 6th Annual China Green Transport Summit Committee and in Denmark in June for the World EV Summit 2012.

cars21.com: Thank you very much for your time, Jacques.

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