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London’s biggest minicab firm Addison Lee makes emissions U-turn

London’s biggest minicab company has U-turned on plans for all its cars to produce zero emissions this year, blaming a lack of public chargers in the capital.

Addison Lee said it had spent £30m on new Volkswagen Multivans, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which combine a small battery with a polluting internal combustion engine, and admitted that the switch to electric cars had been harder than it had expected.

The company pledged in late 2021 that its fleet of 3,000 cars “will become fully electric by 2023” in an effort to reduce globe-heating carbon emissions. However, it has now said its fleet will only be “zero-emissions capable” by April 2024.

Liam Griffin, Addison Lee’s chief executive, conceded that this was “disappointing”. He said the capital needed many more “trickle charge” on-street chargers that allow drivers without private parking to recharge cheaply overnight, as well as faster chargers to allow drivers to top up during the day.

“We were slightly oversold the dream, and it hasn’t been the utopia we hoped for in terms of being able to charge,” Griffin said. “The electric solution is brilliant if you have got overnight charging. Most of our drivers do not.”

The comments highlight the uneven rollout of charging capability even in one of the world’s richest cities, and add to the chorus of business leaders who want faster installation of charge points.

Most people who own parking spaces at home and can charge overnight need barely ever wait at public chargers, except for the occasional longer journey, but those who leave their cars on the street can find it much more difficult.

Addison Lee’s electric Volkswagen ID.4 models, ordered in 2021, have 230 miles of range – more than enough for drivers’ average daily mileage of between 130 and 140 miles, Griffin said. The Multivan’s electric range is only 42 miles, although the company said they will reduce CO2 emissions by 70% compared with its previous petrol fleet.

The US tech firm Uber, Addison Lee’s bitter rival in London, has pledged to have only electric cars driving for it by 2025.

Increased charging prices have also hit Addison Lee’s economic calculations. When it first took delivery of its electric-only Volkswagen ID.4 models, the costs to charge were as low as £7, with tariffs at lows of 14p per kilowatt hour (kWh) for home charging, Griffin said. However, prices rose significantly when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 sparked a global energy crisis, to as high as 80p per kWh on the fastest public chargers.

Not all chargers are created equal

More and more people are buying electric cars, and are having to grapple with charging for the first time. However, not all chargers are created equal, and the profusion of units can cause confusion.

Charging speeds are measured by power output in kilowatts (kW), while battery capacity is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). For example, a Nissan Leaf has 39kWh of battery capacity, while a Tesla Model Y has 60kWh.

Recharge times vary depending on battery size: divide the battery size by the power to get a very rough idea of how many hours it will take to charge. (E.g., a 60kWh battery at a 22kW charger would take about three hours.) The quicker the charge, the more it tends to cost.

Slow: 3kW to 6kW

Common at homes, and on-street chargers. Suitable for charging overnight. Plugging in with a UK three-pin plug to the mains at home will deliver about 2.3kW – although it is not recommended.

Fast: 7kW to 22kW

Found at urban sites like supermarkets and shopping centres. Capable of charging a smaller battery in a few hours.

Rapid: 22kW to 50kW

Motorway service stations and dedicated public charging hubs. 50kW could give an 80% charge in less than an hour.

Ultra-rapid: 100kW and above

Some of the newest and most expensive cars can handle power up to 270kW, adding hundreds of miles of range in 10 minutes.

Addison Lee faced other problems. The ID.4 was not the ideal car even in 2021, because it can only carry four passengers, but carmakers have yet to launch many six-seater electric cars. The Multivan can carry six, directly replacing the Volkswagen Sharan and the Ford Galaxy, which previously made up most of its fleet.

Griffin also said London’s decision to extend the congestion charge to electric vehicles on Christmas Day 2025 made the investment less financially attractive.