Try it, you might like it!
Established in September 2017, Try EV had one mission: Accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles to improve air quality for a more sustainable future. Louise Woodhams talks to founder Gerard Chaustow to see how he did exactly that.
How did Try EV come about?
EVs are my passion but it all began back in 2008 when I was a tennis coach and noticed how many of the children had inhalers. A few years later my daughter was born, and it was when I was out walking with the pram to playgroups in and around central London that I noticed how toxic the air was. In December 2014 we bought a first generation Nissan LEAF, and I would always try and talk to people who were interested in it and offer them a test drive. By this point I also had a blog called electricstreets.com.
I really wanted to do something meaningful to help make our air cleaner and in January 2017 I became involved in an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Air Pollution. It was a way for me to highlight EVs were a great way to reduce it. I’d heard encouraging stories from people that a test drive changed their perception of EVs and ultimately led to them to buying one. I knew this was something I wanted to be involved with, so I got a domain for TryEV.com to create events to allow people to get behind the wheel of an EV.
Could you tell me more about this parliamentary group?
I approached a Member of Parliament for Greenwich knowing that this aforementioned group was open to the public, he said I could partake in their discussions, which are held four times a year. After one session I met with Deputy Mayor Shirley Rodrigues, the head of Blue Point, South London, at the time and many other interesting people, who ultimately helped me to achieve my mission.
How did you fund it?
I approached my two very good friends – they are both car enthusiasts and really like EVs – one is a lawyer and one is a retired accountant. They thought it was a great idea and made the initial investment. Some people say it’s incredible what we’ve done with such a small budget, but it was very hard work. We are now crowdfunding to raise £200,000 to launch an EV hub in London where people can test drive EVs and learn more via virtual reality and digital tech. We also want to build an app to allow people to finance the car instantly as well as develop our website to offer more information about the cars, and finally, we want to grow the team.
Currently there are only three of us. Myself, Dr. Dorian Hindmarsh, who has been working with the automotive and motor racing sector for nearly 20 years , and was on the Qwest team, who were responsible for turning a Tesla Model S into a shooting brake, and Farrah Ofner, who is a huge EV enthusiast, but from a completely different background. She has 20 years in the pharmacological industry, and is an expert in business planning and strategy – she wanted to do something different, and when she spotted TryEV she decided to join us.
What is your vision for the company?
The long vision for TryEV is to try and assist people with the EV buying process. I think that the dealership model is archaic, it’s from the 1960s. They don’t provide proper information; they don’t encourage people to buy EVs. I wanted to introduce a new model, like a Carphone Warehouse for EVs if you like, where people can come to a pop-up store – just a simple, convenient location and test drive and learn about EVs. I have always been very customer orientated, and I think that stems from the problem I had when looking for an EV – even now dealers sometimes don’t have EVs available to test drive.
What services did Try EV initially offer?
Just events, our first was on a very cold February day in 2018 at the Ace Café. A lot of Tesla owners came, and we had a BMW i3 provided by our second-hand dealer. We then had other events in Hammersmith, Fulham, Woolwich and Greenwich. We went from having one car which was ours, to doing a deal with SMART and a big BMW dealer in London so we had various examples of their models, and by the summer of 2018 we were approached by Tesla, which is something I will remember for the rest of my life!
They sent me a message saying we heard you provide test drives to the public, can we join you? We said yes, of course! We did one event with them at the Cutty Sark, which was very busy, and they brought along two vehicles for our stand and two for test drives. We were then approached by the London Motor Show in 2018 where we made a world-first debut with an electric kit car, and were finalists in the elevator pitch alongside highly developed start-ups, so it was a huge privilege for us.
How has it expanded? What services does Try EV offer now?
We’ve were doing events until the end of September last year, when we then turned our focus to developing the website, promoting our brand, growing the team and talking to potential investors. It’s been amazing because we have been approached by individuals from the USA, Canada and Germany, saying that if we want to take Try EV outside of the UK they would be happy to run it. From February we were working on preparation for the London Motor and Tech Show, as we were partners for the Electric Avenue section of the event, which showcased electric cars from the likes of BMW, Hyundai and Smart. We also gave away ten copies of Marek Kamiński’s book ‘Together to the Poles’ and he was on our stand to sign each one.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Blue City?
Blue City and Source London, which are sister companies, have a common interest with us in that they want to assist people to transition from ICE to EV. Blue City already has an electric car club in London and so we partnered with them to offer Try EV members one hours’ free ride and a year’s free membership to Blue City.
Who is your target customer?
On the one hand its young people, but looking at data shared by our investors, I think everyone is a potential customer, whoever wants to make that transition to driving EVs. According to the Baringa report – ‘Is the UK ready for electric cars?’ – the national average is 30 per cent, with 41 per cent of Londoners likely to purchase an EV, which makes the city very important for us at the moment.
Obviously people are also encouraged to use public transport instead, but a lot of Londoners still drive. I have to emphasise that London is not just central London – it’s all 33 boroughs, as far as Dartford, Bexhill and Greenwich. There are people who have to drive – whether it’s because they have children or a disability, and they need advice on how to make the shift to an electric vehicle. Millennials are also very important and we will be working on a solution to offer them something more flexible.
You say everyone is your target customer, but are EVs really affordable for everyone?
We will compare the best lease deals, and help you find the best electric vehicle for your needs. Last year at an event, a gentleman was telling us he couldn’t afford one, but we found him a two and a half year old Renault ZOE for £5500, he leased the battery, and he is really happy as he’s saved a lot of money on fuel and servicing.
Realistically for £300 to £400 a month you can lease an electric vehicle with a decent amount of range. The second-hand market is also becoming more affordable now, but it’s still a challenge and we hope this will improve soon. Saying that the SMART range of electric vehicles starts £20,000, they have a 90 mile range, and they would cost around £250 a month.
What was the last big achievement that was celebrated at TryEV?
We had three big achievements. Firstly, we were in the Evening Standard last year, after I contributed to an EV infrastructure task force workshop. We were mentioned alongside Zap Map and TFL, and it said if you’d like to try an EV, look for these guys and they will help you! Secondly, we were shortlisted – among such companies as 02 Arena – for the Greener Greenwich award at the Best of Royal Greenwich Business for making a difference to the local eco system. And thirdly our presence at the London Motor & Tech show where our display tripled in size and we were on the EV panel – alongside you guys.
What’s been the company’s biggest challenge and what did you learn from it?
Our biggest challenge has been to convince OEMs that the dealer model is not good enough and that it needs to change. They are not responding properly to customers and it is not bringing the anticipated value to the customer.
Going forward, we don’t know how car manufacturers will really behave, there are obviously signs that they want to go that way, but it’s still a big change and a risk. I will be interesting to see how quickly they can produce EVs for a mass market. The battery production has to be sorted out first and foremost, as potentially we need millions of batteries to be produced in the near future. We need to find a way to manufacture the batteries more consciously with regards to sourcing minerals such as cobalt, and making the process as environmentally friendly as possible.
What’s the company’s vision for the future?
The short term vision is to have the first EV hub in London so that we can provide test drives for people with our own fleet of vehicles and to continue to help them find the best deals. The long term vision is to roll out into the wider UK market, Europe and then think about Rest Of World. It would be great to engage with new players, for example Rivian or NIO, and to help them once they enter the UK market. We are also starting to assist local businesses with testing all of the electric vans that are coming to market and we hope to assist Arrival when they release a van, as we love their design.
How have you seen peoples’ perceptions change over the years towards EVs?
It’s been quite significant, as I mentioned on the panel at the London Motor & Tech Show. When we started producing electric vehicles, people thought ‘what is it’, ‘it can’t be a real car’, so people were quite sceptical, but now the public have accepted that this is the way. I had a lot of people come to our stand at the show and we had lots of discussions about how they’ve seen changes to the infrastructure. You can feel and see that people are accepting that electric vehicles are here to stay, and together with the 2040 announcement, and the likes of Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar joining Tesla in promoting quality electric vehicles, there’s a buzz around EVs. That’s not even mentioning the more affordable manufacturers coming to market with their offerings such as MG, Peugeot and Vauxhall.
How can people help you?
We have recently started our crowd funding campaign via Crowdcube (https://crowdfunding.tryev.com/) to raise £150k, which will be followed by a public round a month later. If you’d like to do this privately, then there will be details on the landing page of our website TryEV.com.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that I work on a daily basis in an industry that I’m passionate about, it’s not just EVs, but e-mobility, and it’s exciting I can do something that changes the way people buy or use cars.
Would you like to add anything?
If you read this and have never driven an EV or really don’t want to buy an electric vehicle – just try it. You might like it.