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EV Experience Centre: “Electric vehicles are a whole other world”

Lewis Barthaud, assistant manager of the EV Experience Centre in Milton Keynes, explains how his team are encouraging people to switch to electric.

Located right in the heart of Centre MK, one of the biggest shopping centres in the UK, is a hub for education regarding electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. Inside, a team of ‘EV gurus’ are on hand to dispel any myths people may have surrounding electric cars and the centre also offers short and long term loans for people to experience the vehicles for themselves.

The centre is part of a wider scheme established by Milton Keynes Council to help put more people behind the wheels of electric vehicles. Lewis Barthaud, assistant manager of the EV Experience Centre, explained.

Speaking on the Everything EV Podcast, he said: “The Electric Vehicle Experience Centre was set up in 2017. It was through the Department for Transport and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles’ Go-Ultra Low Cities programme. Milton Keynes Council, over a number of years, had spent their own money and grant money in installing a number of chargers around the area. They’d reached a point where the use of the chargers and they could see the sales of plug-in vehicles, but they weren’t seeing the growth by just putting the chargers in the ground.

“They came up with the EV Experience Centre where the idea is to show the infrastructure and the vehicles you would use to go alongside the infrastructure. It was a big education piece around helping the adoption rates. They set a target of 22% of all new vehicles sold in and around MK to be plug-in vehicles by the end of the project at the end of 2022. It’s quite an ambitious target.”

In the centre, the showroom boasts a number of the latest electric vehicles and since 2017, it has featured a number of manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Skoda, Vauxhall and many more.

The staff are all EV drivers and have been for many years, including Barthaud, who provided a unique insight into life as an EV owner without home charging, having relied on the infrastructure for many years.

Often perceived as one of the biggest barriers to mass EV adoption, Barthaud said it comes down to a mindset change.

“You have to adjust the way you start doing things,” he said. “It was definitely a learning curve. I was in the ‘early adopter’ group and back then there was less information out there, there were not bodies out there like ourselves to help people.

“When I first started charging, I wasn’t doing it in the right way. I was really lucky that in about a ten or so minute walk from my flat were two rapid chargers and that’s what actually prompted me to go and get my first Zoe. I had looked at it prior to that and had decided that it was going to be too difficulty without the ability to charge at home. At the time, there wasn’t ability to charge at my previous place of work either.”

He continued: “When I first got the Zoe, I was still in the mindset of combustion and fuel, where I would run the car down until it was relatively low and then I would think about charging. I was coming unstuck whereby if something came up that was unplanned then I potentially didn’t have enough charge to do what I needed to do and I would have to start a journey with a charge.

“As time went on, it became clear that this was the scenario I was going to be in where I wasn’t charging at home, and actually the best way to do it is to charge little and often and take the opportunities where you can take them. It was about getting savvy as to where the points are in relation to places I would go. I’d be lying if I said driving an EV didn’t require a bit of an extra level of planning compared to combustion. We talk to so many people in the centre who have had EVs for a number of years and they come in to ask about public charging infrastructure because they haven’t made any use of it at all.”

Whilst the team insists that there is a “zero sales environment” at the EV Experience Centre, they are there to encourage people to make the switch to electric and to outline the benefits of EVs to those who have yet to experience them.

When asked how he would describing the ‘experience’ of driving an electric vehicle to someone who had no idea what they were like, Barthaud said the feeling of being behind the wheel of an EV is “transformative.”

He said: “An electric vehicle is going to be the best automatic car that you have ever driven. It’s going to be the smoothest car, the quietest car, and potentially it’s going to be one of the nippiest cars you’ve ever driven. I use the word ‘nippy’ to refer to that initial punch. They’re great for city driving where you might be in a lot of start stop situations, having to pull out into traffic and jump onto a roundabout.

“Similarly, they’re great for doing the longer mileage as well where you’ve got that smooth and quiet feel to it. It makes longer journeys less draining and less intensive. I’d encourage anybody who hasn’t driven one to give it a go and I challenge you to not enjoy it. It should be transformative. Anytime anybody gets a new petrol or diesel car, there’s not really anything that’s changed. There’s nothing groundbreaking and nothing different, whereas moving to electric is just a whole other world.”

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