Milton Keynes opens UK’s first electric vehicle showroom

7th August 2017 Nick Michell

At the end of July, Milton Keynes, in southern England, opened the United Kingdom’s first multi-brand electric vehicle (EV) showroom at its centre:mk. Following its launch Nick Michell spoke to Brian Matthews, Head of Transport Innovation, Milton Keynes Council, about how the new Electric Vehicle Experience Centre could increase the number of EVs sold in the city

Why did Milton Keynes decide to open the Electric Vehicle Experience Centre?

Our commitment to becoming a Go Ultra Low city is to increase the number of ultra-low-emission vehicles (ULEVs) in Milton Keynes. To achieve this, we feel we need to provide potential customers with up to date impartial advice on the capabilities of ULEV, and do this away from a traditional dealership–with no sales pressure. We do not sell vehicles we demonstrate them and offer test drives and experiences.

We can answer questions, provide practical advice, and try to match customers to a vehicle that meets their needs from a wide range, as we are not tied to any make or model. We feel this approach helps break down barriers and allows the customer to then engage with dealers informed about vehicles.

It was important to us to have this facility within a busy shopping centre environment that provides exposure to large numbers of people.

Has the showroom seen many visitors since the opening? Is there enthusiasm and willingness from the residents of Milton Keynes to learn about the benefits of electric vehicle ownership?

The centre has been open for around two weeks. I do not have visitor numbers yet, however we noted 42 test drives over the first weekend and are getting reports of vehicle sales to customers who had visited the Electric Vehicle Experience Centre.

How realistic is Milton Keynes’ target for 23 percent of all new cars registered locally to be electric by 2021?

It is a challenging target yet deliberately so as we want to make a difference locally. With the forecast increase in electric vehicle capabilities, likely price reductions and huge increase in models available, we believe it is a challenging target that can be met.

We have noted that with the right support the shift to EVs can happen. In Norway for example, 25 percent of vehicles sold are EVs and this number is growing.

Brian Matthews, Head of Transport Innovation, Milton Keynes Council

What benefits could a significant increase in electric vehicles have on the city and its citizens?

ULEVs can offer lower cost travel costs–running costs are less too. We offer free parking in the city centre and widespread availability of charging infrastructure. Many cities are struggling with worsening air quality, and with Milton Keynes forecast to grow significantly over the next 20 years, tackling one of the main contributors to poor air quality now can help secure a sustainable future for all our citizens and visitors.

While education on the advantages can help, is the price of electric vehicles not the main stumbling block preventing further private ownership?

It is a challenge, but perhaps the perception of this cost difference is greater than the reality. The Electric Vehicle Experience Centre will be able to advise on price, dealer deals and ensure that customers are aware of the grants available for helping with the purchase price of vehicles.

The centre will also help with supporting grant applications for home charging equipment, outline the cost of electricity from charging networks, show how to charge overnight to gain low cost power and with the support from the AA, offer one-hour free driving lessons to ensure that the vehicles are used to maximise efficiency. It should also be noted that there is a growing second-hand market with very competitive prices for nearly new vehicles.

What other initiatives is Milton Keynes Council launching under the Go Ultra Low City scheme to promote the uptake of electric vehicles?

As mentioned we are offering free parking. We are also providing further infrastructure for charging at home, work, and key destinations.

Early next year we will have opened two EV hubs–fuel filling type facilities with several rapid chargers that can refuel an electric vehicle in around 30 minutes. This will supplement our existing network of around 60 rapid chargers and nearly 200 fast charge points.

We also aim to deliver car clubs (carshare) and better information around charging availability.

We are about to tender for a package of innovation measures to explore the next generation of interventions to support more EVs. This will look at vehicle to grid technology, inductive charging and charging on the move.

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