Convenience and customisation will shape electric cars of the future, says Tesla’s UK director

Car clubs will soon be a thing of the past, driven out of the market by customisable electric vehicles (EVs) that can autonomously drive directly to their owners within minutes and take them to destinations cheaper than any other form of transport.

That’s the vision of Tesla’s UK and Ireland country director Georg Ell, who believes “convenience and customisation” will be the two most important factors when designing the cars of the future that will take the automotive industry towards a circular economy.

Speaking at a recent Business in the Community (BITC) sustainability conference in Leeds, Ell said: “There’s a lot of conversation about whether or not people are actually going to buy cars in the future, or if we will be all members of car clubs. I’m firmly of the opinion that car clubs are just an intermediate fix that will disappear and never see mass adoption – they are very inconvenient.

“What is really convenient is being able to have a driverless electric vehicle come to you, wherever you are in the country, within minutes, and take you where you want to go, cheaper than any other form of transport.

“Had I driven to this event on the motorway today, I could have touched neither the pedals nor the steering wheel, for hundreds of miles. 

“So, convenience is one big factor, and the other is customisation – if you can customise your vehicle and change it depending on fashion or preference, then that’s a big driver towards moving away from ownership.”

Second life 

It is this customisation that will allow the automotive sector to deliver a circular economy, Ell says, with modular-based EV designs allowing owners to interconnect and upgrade individual parts, rather than having to send an entire car to the scrap heap.

“It might be that I, as the first owner of an EV, don’t buy a software upgrade that is released at a later date and you, as the second owner, do purchase that upgrade. So a car could actually increase in capabilities and value with its second life.

“The circular economy is a real innovation and connected, upgradable, modular vehicles are the way for us to get there – there’s talk of taking this modular approach with our phones, too.”

Ell was speaking just weeks after Tesla smashed sales records for its more-affordable Model 3 EV, which took 326,000 pre orders in a week – making it financially the world’s most successful product launch from any company ever. “If you combine the iPhone 6, 5, 5s, 4, 4s, Samsung galaxy and Sony PlayStation launches and put them all together, the Model 3 was a more successful launch in revenue terms,” Ell reiterated.

Tesla is already taking a modular-based approach to its vehicle design, with the cars incorporating a flat battery pack that sits undeneath the floor, allowing its various components to be more easily recycled.

Supplier engagement 

But being one of the world’s most forward-thinking companies in this area is not without its challenges. Ell, who joined Tesla in 2014 off the back of a career working for technology companies, says engaging with a slow-moving supply chain can be difficult for a manufacturer that has such a fast innovation cycle.

“We make up to 20 changes to a product every week, across hardware and software,” Ell explained. “When we work with suppliers that are used to traditional automotive timescales of three-year product cycles, that clashing of gears can be tough – but we’re very up front about it with the suppliers and we set tough targets. A lot of suppliers are desperate to work with us, and we can leverage that.  

Ell explained that he’s currently engaged in conversations with an energy company to try to convince them to offer tariff for electric vehicle owners who inevitably consume more energy at home. “That conversation is like ‘this is great, thank you for the data, we’ll think about it, and then we’ll have a board meeting, and then we’ll roll it out three months after that’. Everyone’s just got to speed up with the transition,” he added.

This was a sentiment echoed by fellow carmaker Nissan last week, whose European chairman Paul Willcox proclaimed “we are entering the decade of disruption”, shortly after launching the UK’s first vehicle-to-grid energy storage system at an event in London.

Tesla’s Georg Ell was speaking at BITC’s fifth annual Business Unusual Conference on Thursday (12 May) – an event that focused on disruptive innovation to make positive and sustainable changes to businesses.

Disruptive innovation at edie Live 2016

Disruptive business models will be a key theme of the two-day edie Live 2016 exhibition, which kicks off at the NEC Birmingham tomorrow (17 May).

A session within the edie Leaders Theatre on Wednesday at 11am will explore how disruptive innovation can be used to shake up traditional business models, change the way we design and sell products, and drive changes in the global energy system.

View the full edie Live programme here and register to attend the show for free here.

Luke Nicholls

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