Inside the car showroom of the future

If you walk around the UK’s first multi-brand electric vehicle showroom in Milton Keynes, you will not just see some impressive cars – you will see the future of transport.

The 4,000 sq ft showroom, which is in the city centre, opened its doors for the first time in July and is one of a number of initiatives being launched by Milton Keynes Council to help encourage more residents to think about and buy EVs.

Speaking to Environment Journal, the council’s head of transport innovation, Brian Matthews, says the showroom booked 42 test drives in its first weekend, and ‘at least two people went out and bought an electric car’ afterwards.

‘It’s encouraging that some people are almost going out immediately to buy one,’ he says.

‘We expect that number to grow as people try one or two of the vehicles,’ he adds. ‘I work in the city centre myself and there’s never a time when I’ve wandered past the showroom when there’s not been people looking at the vehicles, so that’s really encouraging.’

He says ‘part of the thinking behind’ having a showroom with different brands is that it can help dispel a lot of the misconceptions around EVs.

‘By having a range of vehicles, we can match the requirements of the consumer to their particular needs.

‘We tell people in an open and honest way what the capabilities of the vehicles are and how they can fit in with the requirements of the consumer. It’s then up to them to think about it. So, when people are thinking of changing their car and buying a new one, they have to information to understand an electric or plug-in vehicle is a viable option for them.’

The showroom is a key part of the council’s strategy to have 23% of all new cars registered locally be electric by 2021.

‘We’ve been supportive of electric vehicles for a number of years,’ says Mr Matthews.

‘Over the past three or four years, we’ve put the infrastructure in place, which has been a crucial first step in supporting people’s decisions to use electric vehicles.

‘We’ve got probably the highest density of charging infrastructure in the UK. We have 200 charge points in the city centre, along with 60 rapid charging points, but the challenge is now to get people to buy and use more electric vehicles.

‘We did a fair job of estimating where the charging infrastructure should be originally. But we’re now using the information and analysis since we put the first network in to target infrastructure at particular locations, where there are gaps in the networks.’

‘By the end of this calendar year, we will have the vehicles going around the city, demonstrating their capabilities’ – Brian Matthews, head of transport innovation, Milton Keynes Council

Mr Matthews says the council has three programmes to improve its charging network. The first is putting more charging points in supermarkets, hotels and leisure centres, and other places ‘where people stay for two or three hours to get a meaningful charge’.

The council is also targeting businesses and offering workplaces free charging points if companies show some commitment to change some of their fleet to electric vehicles.

And finally, the council is also looking to install charging points in residential areas where there are no garages.

‘We’re targeting our investment to meet the consumer’s needs,’ adds Mr Matthews,

‘We’re being helped by the manufacturers bringing more and more EVs into the market. The recent announcement by the government banning the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 will help and stimulate the market. It’s early days, but we’re looking to get there.’

As well as EVs, the council is currently two years into a three-year project to test and develop autonomous vehicles.

‘Over the next few weeks, we will be demonstrating the vehicles on the footways and highways of Milton Keynes,’ he tells Environment Journal. ‘By the end of this calendar year, we will have the vehicles going around the city, demonstrating their capabilities.

‘We’re looking at generating our own power through solar panels and windmills so we could run an all-electric bus fleet sustainably without too much impact on the grid. It’s early days, but that’s our ambition.’

Jamie Hailstone

Jamie Hailstone

journalist

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