Surge in adoption marks pivotal moment for EV stakeholders

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The steep rise in electric vehicle sales is a pivotal moment for all EV stakeholders, writes Adrian Watson, Head of Engineering Research at Thatcham Research

September 2021 was the UK’s best month ever for new battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Not only did the 32,721 new BEV registrations account for 15.2% of the market, but that figure fell not far short of the total number of BEVs registered during the whole of 2019.

This surge in EV adoption is exciting news for automakers, suppliers, dealers, and charging companies.

It’s also a positive boost for the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, which targets carbon neutrality by 2050, leaning heavily on vehicle electrification.

Crucially, though, it marks a pivotal moment for all EV stakeholders. As the UK plugs into EVs, now is the time for those throughout the value chain to ensure they have everything in place to support this rapid transition to electrification.

Same but different

In many ways—most notably in appearance and purpose—EVs are no different from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. But beyond the feeling of driving an EV off the forecourt and into the future, and the seemingly obvious process of plugging in rather than pouring in, there are some key and very new differences in the user experience.

Much of the debate around EVs has centred to date on encouraging EV adoption, addressing range anxiety and charging infrastructure, and offering tax incentives and other benefits. But under the hood, so to speak, lie everyday essentials, such as repairability, serviceability, affordable insurance, and the claims process so critical to putting any new vehicle on the road. And nowhere is the difference between EV and ICE more clearly underlined than in the insurance claim chain.

For the EV owner, the process of shopping for appropriate levels of insurance cover and comparing competitive premiums remains broadly similar to the purchase of ICE insurance. But our research shows that every stage of a claim involving a BEV needs to be BEV-specific.

And currently it is not.

The moment an EV policyholder first raises a claim should trigger an EV-specific claims process. The call handler’s script should ensure appropriate processes are followed, from providing vital vehicle-specific information to first responders, if required, alerting them to the vehicle’s high voltage (HV) system; to ensuring vehicle recovery and salvage agents deploy the correct equipment and handle the vehicle safely; to sending the vehicle to an appropriately equipped workshop where suitably qualified technicians are allocated to the job; to ensuring the vehicle’s battery can be quickly and safely powered down, the vehicle repaired, and returned in an acceptable timeframe to the customer—and “acceptable” means no longer than for an equivalent ICE vehicle.

But there’s a gulf between what should happen, and what does.

Normalising EV claims

The growth in the EV market is a clear sign that EV-specific claims will quickly become the norm, and “EV claims” will quickly become “claims.”

That’s why, at Thatcham Research, we’re using our engineering skills and knowledge to anticipate new challenges, quantifying them for our insurers and their repair network, and turning that into valuable data and insight. Our work focuses on how to manage HV batteries in the repair process, addressing recycling and “second life” solutions, and delivering skills into the industry via our ‘EV Ready’ training programme to ensure safety for everyone that might come into contact with a zero-emissions vehicle.

Conscious that batteries are expensive, vulnerable items, vehicle manufacturers protect them with the same rigour as car occupants within crash structures, particularly in their dedicated EV platform designs, and batteries will rarely be affected by low-speed impacts. It’s when the battery is involved, either directly or indirectly as a result of a collision, or indirectly when the HV system becomes associated with the repair, that challenges arise. This might be the need to power down the HV system, a procedure which varies considerably between vehicle manufacturers, with some even mandating the use of their own proprietary diagnostic equipment; or structural repairs requiring battery removal; and although vehicle repairers know how to cut and weld a car body, failure to follow model-specific procedures could result in well-intentioned actions destroying a live EV battery. We’ve seen this happen, and the consequences can add significant cost and time to the repair.

At Thatcham Research, we support the transition to electric mobility. But this can only be achieved within a well-developed, sustainable EV ecosystem. The rate of EV adoption is growing, rapidly—but it’s rapidly outpacing the development of a supporting ecosystem. Although investment is being poured into charge-point installation, a sustainable ecosystem involves so much more, from vehicle design and repair networks to insurance itself.

Close the gap

From the outset, vehicle manufacturers building repairability into design would simplify the repair process, and vastly improve the claim chain; by contrast, failing to do so can extend insurance claims, increase insurance premiums, and significantly dent the customer experience.

There’s also a pressing need for EV-readiness in the independent repair sector. Opening up access to specialist equipment can ensure that an EV in need of a minor repair can quickly be returned to use, saving the time currently lost waiting for the vehicle manufacturer’s proprietary diagnostic equipment and dedicated equipment technicians to power down the battery, and later power it back up.

The growing EV market also presents insurers with an exciting opportunity to close the gap between ICE and EV claims, and encourage and support the early adoption of efficient vehicle technology with suitable, keenly priced, even innovative insurance propositions—and in doing so, support the evolution of sustainable mobility.

At Thatcham Research, we’ve spent decades promoting repairability as a design attribute, but we’re issuing this call with a new level of urgency: Sustainability spearheads government policy, with vehicle electrification playing a leading role. There’s no time for greenwashing: EVs are no longer a novelty, and existing ICE-focused processes are not directly transferrable. From the top down, all EV industry stakeholder organisations must ensure customer expectations of owning, insuring, and repairing an EV can be met—and that the experience can be better than they’re used to with an ICE.

None of these challenges are insurmountable, and the sooner we can overcome them, the sooner we can help pave the way for the sustainable adoption of EVs.

September was not a blip: At Thatcham Research, we expect many more months of strong EV sales. Indeed, we believe that by 2050, BEVs will account for 95% of the cars on UK roads. Supporting that rate of growth with a sustainable ecosystem will play a key role in achieving net zero emission mobility.

https://www.thatcham.org/electrification/

 


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