Fleet Auto News’ Caroline Falls talks with Kirsten Corson, founder of EV sharing company Zilch in New Zealand for a FAN podcast. They chat about about NZ’s transition to EVs, Zilch’s role and the new association called Women of Electric Vehicles. The FAN podcast has a sponsor this year, Sofico Services. Thank you Sofico for making this series possible. Themes for this year are future technologies for fleets, sustainability, and circular economy principles such as reuse, remanufacture and recycle. To listen to this podcast, tap on the link here. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Caroline: Welcome Kirsten.
Kirsten: Thanks for having me along.
Caroline: Where are you at the moment and how’s the weather?
Kirsten: I’m in Auckland and it feels like we’ve seen the effects of climate change already. We really haven’t seen any rain for a good two months but then on the west coast of the South Island, it’s similar to the Gold Coast and Brisbane with flooding. It’s all over the show our weather.
Caroline: I think we can talk about the weather because it’s pertinent to what we’re going to chat about today — transitioning to an energy sustainable economy. I don’t think it’s something that we should argue about anymore, that climate change is upon us. I figure the push to electrification of transport, wherever we are in the world, is more critical than ever. What are your thoughts?
Kirsten: If we just look at our commitment to the Paris Agreement, the clock is ticking. Whether you believe in climate change or not, the reality is we’ve signed up to and committed to the Paris Agreement, and we need to start creating a roadmap to decarbonise our countries.
Caroline: So it’s a good segue from talking about climate change to now talk about Zilch, the company that you founded. Can you tell us what it does, when it was formed? And why you? Why did you found this company?
Kirsten: I’m co-founder. There’s two of us that set it up. Our business started as a vehicle leasing, fleet management business called Yoogo, and we started leasing cars and we could see that these cars were sitting in carparks all day.
It got us to thinking, “Was there a better way to approach large fleets?” When you look internationally, car sharing has been around for 20 years, and New Zealand has got one of the highest car ownership rates. We were always going to be a late adopter.
Australia you’ll be pleased to know is more advanced than us on that stat. We could see that there was an opportunity to introduce a more expensive electric vehicle and optimise it by sharing. So we started as a public carshare company and then over time, we’ve grown into a mobility as a service company helping businesses transition into electric vehicle fleets.
Caroline: And how long has Zilch been going and when was it formed?
Kirsten: We set up in 2015, and then we were appointed by Christchurch City Council in 2016 to roll out carsharing with electric vehicles in Christchurch. We launched officially in 2018, so we’ve been working at it for a long time.
Caroline: I love this mobility as a service business model. It’s so in keeping with circular-economy principles, to use resources so wisely. Can you talk about the growth and acceptance of mobility as a service, or Maas as we call it.
Kirsten: There are two different parts to our business. In the public car sharing part, we’ve certainly seen that develop and evolve significantly and we’re seeing strong growth in that market; obviously COVID has made it more challenging with lockdowns. With the e-Maas model, helping businesses transition into pure electric vehicles for their fleet, we’re seeing significant growth.
It’s a really large growth area because if you look at carbon accounting, say 12 months ago, you could offset internationally and it would cost you around NZ$7 per tonne of carbon. Now that rate has just gone to $121. So from a cost point of view, there’s a lot of businesses that are looking at that.
Also, now we’ve got subsidies. You get $8,000 back on an electric vehicle if you buy one. And, we’re just about to introduce a tax on ICE vehicles, on petrol and diesel vehicles. So there’s a lot of businesses now going, “We want to do the right thing. How do we decrease our fleet size? How do we introduce electric vehicles and also charging infrastructure?”
We’ve now hit the sweet spot. We’ve spent many years learning and now we’re getting to put it into action with our business customers.
Caroline: Oh, that’s fantastic! I wanted to talk about some of the New Zealand policies. I know that $8,000 bonus came in recently. I was just curious too about parking. I don’t know what it’s like to find a parking spot in a New Zealand city these days, but it’s ridiculously difficult to find one in Australia’s east coast cities that I know well. But share-car platforms get a better deal on parking, don’t they? Do they get preferential treatment in New Zealand as they do in many municipalities here in Australia
Kirsten: Different cities have different policies and some are more accommodating than others but certainly Australia, and Europe and North America, you are ahead of the curve on carsharing compared with New Zealand. We are following closely behind. You’ve had great providers in Australia such as GoGet who have been around well over 10 years. You were earlier to adopt than New Zealand.
Caroline: So we’ve talked about EVs and Maas. Let’s talk a little bit about women in transport. Like you, I joined the fledgling group Women of Electric Vehicles. It’s an offshoot of the US Association. Can you tell us a bit more about the group as I think you had something to do with its set up down under, here in Australia and New Zealand? Is that correct?
Kirsten: I can’t take any credit for the setup whatsoever. I was asked to speak at the launch. I also sit on the New Zealand Drive Electric board and they are also a big supporter of women in EVs. I guess it’s like everything, WEV want to see more diversity around the table and conversations, and Women of Electric Vehicles is just a way, a practical start where they’ve said, “Look, here’s a list of women speakers that can speak in New Zealand, or Australia, that can give a female perspective.” It’s fantastic to see more women getting the opportunity to speak at webinars and conferences, and just showing that diversity and a different lens across the conversation.
Caroline: I’m looking forward to a Women of EV catch-up on Sydney’s harbour later this week. Can’t wait to meet some more of the women doing great things in the field. Have you had any meet ups in New Zealand yet?
Kirsten: We’ve just got one scheduled for next month. We’ve been a bit like you, it’s been a little bit challenging to hold events with Covid. I think everyone’s a little bit over Zoom and Teams and Skype, so we’re looking forward to that next month.
Caroline: Let’s just go back to some of the New Zealand government policies that are helping green the transport sector and the economy more generally. Let us know if you or others are pushing or lobbying government to bring in some better policies regarding tax or fuel.
Kirsten: There’s definitely a lot of work that Drive Electric are doing and some of the changes we’d like to see are around charging infrastructure. We would like to see changes with Worksafe, to make it easier to have charging infrastructure at home that was outside, not in the garage.
Another thing we would also like to seeare changes with central and local government for new builds — commercial and residential — to have wiring for electric vehicles. We’ve seen that sort of policy change in countries like Norway that have been early adopters. That’s just a couple of examples of what we’re lobbying the government on.
Caroline: I reported a few years back io a circular-economy model in New Zealand, whereby used engine oil packaging was being collected and recycled. And that story drew a lot of international interest and New Zealand was lauded for being among the first to tackle the issue of waste in that quarter. Do you have any other examples from New Zealand that you or New Zealanders are proud of?
Kirsten: I know the Sustainable Business Network has done a huge amount of work in New Zealand, creating awareness around the circular economy. Something that Zilch is working on at the moment is how do we tackle the social inequity that is going to emerge; We’ve got the challenge of electric vehicles, a much higher capital cost than an ICE vehicles currently, and how do we make that affordable to all parts of our community?
Some of the concepts that we’re looking at from that circular-economy model include “How do we have electric vehicles going into fleets?” Some 70 percent of new cars in NZ are bought by fleets. So, how do we get the cars that are going into a business like Genesis to come out of that business and go into a residential carsharing environment, an initiative to make those cars available for people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford electric vehicles.
Also, in New Zealand, one-third of our trips are two kilometres or less, so how can we get New Zealanders transitioning to e-bikes and e-scooters? In that circular model too, we’re looking at, what life does that battery have? and, what happens to it once it comes out of the car? There’s been some work in New Zealand done on that, and Zilch is part of that as well. We look at the life beyond the car and home storage on batteries, and then in time, will therel be battery recycling as well? There’s a lot of work being done in that space here, as there is internationally, which is exciting.
Caroline: I was wondering how you get about do you cycle or use an EV, or both?
Kirsten: Well, I am Zilch customer so I don’t own a car. I live semi-rurally so I get a different Zilch car every evening as part of what we call our commuter club subscription.
Caroline: Variety is the spice of life.
Kirsten: Exactly. I use every opportunity to get on an e-bike or a scooter. EVs are part of the solution. I look at it like a mobility jigsaw puzzle and at the moment, primarily in New Zealand and in Australia, our mobility jigsaw is pretty red, full of lots of carbon.
And the challenge for us over the next 10 years with the Paris Agreement is, how do we get that jigsaw puzzle to become green? And, how can we reduce the size of a fleet and look at other ways that we can move around our cities and our country? The answer is using more public transport and more walking, more scooters, more e-bikes. If we look internationally, in North America or Europe, they are certainly more advanced in this space than New Zealand and Australia.
Caroline: Just one more thing before we finish, how have you seen things change in terms of acceptability of EVs and the trend toward them in New Zealand over say the lifespan of Zilch, so the last seven years.
Kirsten: I’ll tell you a funny story about a customer in Christchurch. He worked at the council, so he was driving EVs during the day. So he knew about them. He signed up as a commuter club subscriber and I spoke to him about nine months after he had signed up. And I said, “How have you been using the service?”, and he said, “Look, I only signed up because I needed my Holden to get serviced and I didn’t quite have enough cash. The funny thing is that I never really saw myself as an EV driver. I just did it to save money, not because it was an EV.” And, he added, “It kind of just snuck up on me. I actually feel really good about driving these EVs now.” It was quite funny seeing that change in someone that I would probably describe as a good Kiwi bloke.
We still have a long way to go, but we are certainly seeing that change of attitude. In New Zealand now, a third of luxury cars sold are electric so we’re starting to see that shift. As I said earlier, the challenge for us is, how do we support all parts of our community to decarbonise? How do we make it accessible and affordable? That’s a real passion of Zilch’s.
Caroline: Thanks for joining us today. Kirsten, you’ve given us some good stories and it was great to get a bit of perspective from New Zealand. Thank you very much.
Kirsten: Thank you so much for inviting me along and more than happy to come back and chat on any other topics. As you can tell, I get pretty excited talking about electric vehicles and sustainable mobility.