Business Green: E-Car Club aims to spark car sharing revolution

UK’s first fully-electric car club goes live in London, but is the UK doing enough to encourage similar schemes?

Car clubs seem a natural response to the rising costs of living and doing business. Individuals and companies can spread the expense of ownership while cutting the number of cars on the roads, a move that can only be a boon for the environment, health, and all those angry people stuck in traffic.

The Department for Transport (DfT) seems to agree. Last month’s ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) strategy notes 99 per cent of car journeys in the UK are under 100 miles and 98 per cent are shorter than 50 miles, which leaves expensive cars sitting on driveways or the roadside for a huge amount of time. The strategy notes that for every vehicle operated by a car club more than 20 vehicles are taken off the roads. “With increased use of car hire or sharing, individuals could use different types of vehicles for different types of journeys, rather than buying a single vehicle to cover all their possible journey needs,” the paper argues.

The economic benefits also stack up: the CBI estimates congestion already costs the UK economy around £8bn a year and this could reach £22bn by 2025, while air pollution is losing Europe’s economy up to €940bn a year, according to one EU study.

Companies such as ZipCar and City Car Club have pioneered the car sharing model in the UK and there are now around 3,000 shared cars in operation. Hertz’s launch of its own car sharing scheme and Avis’ $500m purchase of ZipCar at the beginning of this year confirm the market has not escaped the attention of the big players in the car hire market.

The latest operator to enter the market is E-Car Club, which, after trials in Milton Keynes and Luton, this week launched what has been hailed as the UK’s first electric vehicle car club in Poplar, east London.

While Hertz’s car sharing scheme includes Mitsubishi iMiEV and Nissan LEAF electric cars, E-Car club is the first car club to operate using solely electric cars. Four Renault cars, both the Fluence sedan and ZOE hatchback, will be available to residents and businesses for as little as £5.50 an hour from dedicated bays with charge points. When booking online customers can see how much charge is left in the car and how far that will take them, while charging cables and cards that provide access to Source London’s roughly 1,400 charge points are included. E-Car Club anticipates that the reality of short urban journeys means the cars will spend most of their time between 70 and 100 per cent charged.

E-Car Club has teamed up with social landlord Poplar HARCA, which owns around 9,000 homes in the area, to promote the scheme to residents and businesses. Christopher Morris, director and co-founder of E-Car Club, says the model can not only be easily replicated, but can also help E-Car expand nationwide and move into the small towns and rural areas that car club operators currently tend to ignore.

“We very much believe this is something that can reduce emissions, improve air quality, reduce congestion and provide a low cost and flexible transport solution,” he says. "The size of the community isn’t necessarily as fundamental as you might think. The likes of ZipCar or City Car Club might not target a community of 1,000 people as it will only sustain a couple of cars and it’s not worth the hassle. [But] with a community-upwards scheme, whether it’s supported by someone like ourselves or operated by the community themselves, three, two or even one car schemes can operate."
Morris intends to have 20 cars across the Poplar, Milton Keynes, and Luton schemes by mid-November and is gearing up for an expansion to over 100 cars by the end of next year.

E-Car is also poised to launch in Oxford and is looking at 30 other potential sites in London, Hertfordshire, and the South East, including the Maylands Business Park in Hemel Hempstead, and is working on a supply contract to source as high a percentage of renewable electricity as possible to charge its fleet.