FeatureThe EV Powered Interview

Quentin Willson: ‘Let’s make the EV debate a fair fight’!

Quentin Willson, founder of FairCharge, joined The Everything EV Podcast to discuss the misinformation within the electric vehicle sector!

What is the mission of FairCharge?

It’s to increase the understanding and awareness of EVs, particularly among politicians. Our mission is to tell it like it is with factual accuracy because there’s so much out there that is against EVs. The fossil fuel industry has obviously spent quite a lot of money putting out all this misinformation and we see it on a regular basis, and it’s our job now to shoot this stuff down as soon as it appears.

The stuff you read routinely about bridges collapsing because of the weight of electric cars, electric cars causing potholes, we’re going to lose our front gardens because of electric cars because of the home charging etc. There was a survey the other day in the mail that said that real men don’t drive EVs, and you just think, where has this come from? So that’s our job. We’re at the coalface every day shooting this stuff down.

The problem is people are reading this in the mainstream media and it’s putting them off adoption. They come to us and they say even people who are thinking of buying Tesla’s say, “is it as bad as I’ve been reading?” So we will be talking quite clearly about all these myths and it’s politicians we need to talk to as well.

Is misinformation the biggest issue facing the industry at the moment?

If you look at the amount of coverage in newspapers, sometimes you get five anti-EV stories in a day on a single newspaper website. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but with that amount of negativity being pumped in on a regular basis, is this just editors looking for clickbait in the sense that an EV story gets attention? Or is it something darker where fossil fuel advertisers are saying don’t promote electric cars?

Giles Coren did that celebrated piece on his Jaguar I-PACE in The Times, where he couldn’t get to work and he handed it back in to Jaguar. He told me that column got the most clicks of any column ever, and the editor said “this is great!” so you get a snapshot of what we’re up against. It’s mischievous in the sense that if it is going to destabilize the energy transition, which I believe is so important for my kids, your kids and their kids, this is wrong, isn’t it? Who knows what the real reason is? But there is this tsunami of negativity which is affecting the way people think.

All the surveys we look at say that the satisfaction of having an EV is about 80 to 90%. Only 8% say they would go back to a combustion car, so you’ve got 92% saying we’re going to stick with our EVs and we don’t hear those voices. They just quietly get on with their life. It’s important to say right now that electric cars aren’t for everybody, and there will be this group of people who will never, ever drive them or buy them, and that’s fine. You can buy a combustion car up until 2030, or a hybrid right up until 2035. So the hysteria that is this cliff edge is not the apocalypse that the press would have us believe.

If you can get these people behind the wheel of an electric car, the experience is often so much better than they expected and it makes them see electric vehicles in a different light, doesn’t it?

We did a little thing on FairCharge Twitter and said when was the moment you decided you wanted to have an electric car in your life? And they said the minute I drove one. And this is the great irony, that we are being lectured by people who have never driven an electric car.

I would say to anybody listening who hasn’t got an EV, just drive one and your life will change. I remember when I met Elon Musk in 2004, I had a long chat to him when he was launching the Tesla Roadster and he was starry eyed and he explained this vision of electric cars that would go for 350 miles and he’d build this charging system which was going to be almost as easy as filling up with gas.

Then he gave me the keys to this Tesla Roadster, and I was still quite cynical because it was a Lotus Elise reworked, but I took it out on the M4, I’m just going “whoa, this is amazing!” And then this guy in a Ferrari 308 GTV draws next to me and rolls his window and says “what’s that?” I said, “it’s a Tesla, race you,” and I absolutely smoked him. So it’s at that moment which you will, I guarantee, never ever forget in your life. You just go “if this is the future, I want it!”

A silver lining of all the anti-EV articles, such as Rowan Atkinson’s, has been the reaction from people within the EV industry, hasn’t it?

I remember that weekend very clearly because I switched on my phone and there it was. Rowan is a respected automotive figure but so much of that was wrong. I was spitting out my cornflakes! My PR director and I got onto the Guardian and said this is Tosh. We got other people to come in and the printed a fact check piece after it and said there’s a lot of this that is wrong.

It was largely derided by lots of people, but it’s like you get a handful of feathers and you blow them. They go all over the place, and you can never ever get them back. That’s what that piece did. And the thing with digital media is it’s there forever; If you put in ‘are electric cars any good?’ this is all the stuff that comes up. All of us who have been on this journey understand how good these things are. We almost have a duty to make sure that we, as, as the people who, who have been on this journey to tell other people.

What does the landscape of electric vehicles look like to you?

I think it very much depends on government policy. We managed to get Sunak to pledge that 2030 was immovable and that they wouldn’t tinker too much with the ZEV mandate apart from just fine details. Now there’s a coven of right-wing backbench MPs who don’t like this and who are doing their best to completely destabilize it. We must make sure that they don’t go down this road where they could roll back. 2035 because that means all the car manufacturers would really be in deep trouble. That’s a clear and present danger.

I think what we are seeing is better EVs coming onto the market, longer ranges, more interesting designs, whereas your choice was always quite limited. Now you can get everything.

But the biggest threat to it is misinformation. If we’re allowed to just carry on the way we’re doing, and it’s not towed out to sea and sunk by gunfire by vested interests, then we will see 50% penetration of EVs reasonably quickly in the next three or four years. We are seeing this penetration and what we also need to talk about is the advantages of buying EVs used because the prices are much, much, much lower and in some cases lower than the combustion equivalent. That’s a conversation that really isn’t being had at the moment. We need to understand that people need to, to be able to buy these things because at FairCharge we’re always saying this is about electrification that’s accessible. We’ve had these early adopters, these pioneers who approved the technology and they are usually middle class. Now we need to make it more accessible to people in lower demographics because they have as much right to clean air, in fact more of a right than everybody else, because often they live in areas where the air isn’t good. That’s something that I think is really important to make EVs accessible to all.

What would you say to an ‘old-school’ petrolhead in order to convert them to EVs?

Well, there are two things: I’m an old school petrol head! I spent all my broadcasting career telling people to buy Jensen Interceptors and Maserati Ghibli’s and Ferrari Daytona’s. I’ve come from the dark side, if you like, and I’ve still got a V8 Mustang 1964. But the one piece of advice I would give is that if you doubt all this, then talk to somebody who owns an electric car.

Don’t read the stuff in the tabloids and actually the broadsheets as well. Talk to somebody who’s owned an EV, and they will tell you what it’s like without fear or favour. That’s really the only way to get information, isn’t it? We know that social media is not an exact science, and the stuff we read is often tosh. Talk to someone who’s owned, driven and likes an EV. There are people out there who’ve had them for ten years and have done 300,000 miles. Those are the voices you need to connect with to be able to make a value judgment on whether EVs are for you or not.

Click here to listen to the full episode of The Everything EV Podcast with Quentin Willson!

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