What's your name? Simon Acton
What’s your current job?
Founder & Managing Director of Next Eco Car and Chairman of IEVOA (Irish EV Owners Association).
How long have you held the position?
Next Eco Car – 2 years, IEVOA Chairman – 6 months.
Can you describe your daily work routine?
As I’m running my own business every day is different and I have to be very flexible. If I’m in Ireland I might be fielding sales inquiries, hosting viewings and test drives, working on vehicle sourcing, preparing vehicles for sale and/or delivery, working on marketing or events, or just keeping up with general company admin, it’s pretty full-on. I’m also often in the UK sourcing cars, whilst we work with a number of trusted suppliers I like to take a very hands-on approach to the source to ensure the quality of the vehicles we sell.
My work for IEVOA is voluntary and fits around what I do with Next Eco Car. The committee meets quarterly where we set out and feedback progress on initiatives we are working on, but I’m in contact with other committee members on a daily basis and I spend time most days feeding back on enquires via our very active Facebook group.
What is your professional background?
Before starting my own business in 2017 I worked in IT for over 20 years. I graduated with a BSc in Information Systems in 1994 after which I started work as a software developer and basically worked my way up through various roles to Project Management, working primarily in the Public, Finance and utility sectors. In 2017 I decided to change careers, have always been passionate about cars, technology and the environment promoting EV adoption was an ideal opportunity for me and I’ve been surprised by how applicable many of the skills I acquired during my previous career have been to running my own business.
Tell me about yourself away from work?
My number one priority away from work is family. I met my wife Nicola when we were both living in London and we married and moved to Ireland in 2012. Since then we’ve had two children, Charlotte 5 and Danny 3. Aside from family time I’m also a keen cyclist, both road and mountain biking. I also volunteer with Seal Rescue Ireland who does great work rescuing and rehabilitation sick and injured seals from all over Ireland.
Tell us something very few people know about you?
As a teenager, I was big into kart racing and hoped my future would be as an F1 racing driver. Whilst this dream sadly didn’t come true I was twice second in the UK national schools karting championships. I raced cars in an International endurance racing series as recently as 2008 and hope to return to it someday, hopefully in an EV race series. Now there’s a challenge for the Irish motor racing community!
You are speaking at the forthcoming 2019 National Electric Vehicle Summit in Croke Park. What is the focus of your talk?
I am taking part in the morning panel discussion ‘Are EVs a solution to climate change?’ I’ll be able to offer a grassroots level perspective on this topic, from what I’m hearing both from potential owners coming to Next Eco Car and IEVOA members as actual EV owners. Of course, EVs are only part of a much bigger picture when it comes to climate change, but they are certainly a large part of the picture from an Irish perspective considering the high proportion that diesel and petrol vehicles currently contribute to our national emissions. I’m very much looking forward to exploring this topic with the other panel members.
What in your opinion will be the key challenges for industry and policymakers in achieving our target of 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads by 2030?
Education – I talk to a lot of people about EVs and the lack of knowledge and myths are that surround them is currently a huge barrier to wider adoption. Much more needs to be done in this space, if we look at the UK there is the experience center in Milton Keynes and there is the Fully Charged Live show at Silverstone each year. These are places where potential EV owners can learn more without being in a sales environment. These sorts of things need to be replicated in Ireland and should be something supported by the likes of government, local councils, and manufacturers if we are serious about making headway.
Pricing & Incentives – I hear it all the time ‘I’d love to drive an EV but aren’t they at least €40k?’ For a new one sadly this is pretty accurate, even after the current incentives. But there are of course used EVs which would suit so many people for as little as €10k, or less, but many people don’t even realise these exist because the SEAI have focussed on incentivising only new cars which so many people would never be in a position to buy anyway. How many ordinary people ever actually buy a new car? I think we need both a reduction in pricing from manufacturers, which is on the way now that battery tech is getting cheaper and competition is increasing. We also need to look at the incentives to help ordinary folk get out of polluting vehicles and into EVs, such as scrappage schemes for older petrol and diesel cars which should be available when buying either new and used EVs.
Infrastructure – The availability of public charging infrastructure is a huge deal for many people considering switching to an EV but there are two strands to this conversation. Firstly, people need to understand that if they have a driveway or allocated parking they will mostly only charge at home which is super convenient compared to having to go somewhere to get fuel, but this requires a change in mind-set which many people don’t even realise yet. Secondly, of course, reliable and nationally available public charging is required for those who cannot charge at home or who are completing long journeys or who simply just aren’t that organised. Now that ESB eCars are introducing pay charging we are already seeing other players entering the market such as Ionity, EasyGo, and also chains such as Applegreen, Circle K and Lidl. This is great but there is an opportunity here to learn from what has happened in the UK with so many different charging providers. It would be great to see all the providers agree standards for operation and access to make life as simple as possible for EV owners. IEVOA hopes to have a role to play in this.
How do you think charging and infrastructure will advance over the next decade?
As mentioned above, now that ESB eCars are introducing pay charging we are already seeing other players entering the market and I expect to see many more. But there are still questions to be answered about the long term viability of running a business providing charging infrastructure. For example, in the UK one of the largest charging network providers Ecotricity has yet to turn a profit. The best place to make this work are the current fuel station providers like Applegreen, Circle K, Texaco and so on. They have the sites, the complimentary services such as shops and food outlets, they just need to swap out fuel pumps for charge points at an appropriate rate, the main challenge is how to get the necessary electricity supply but this can be complemented by the installation of solar panels on their roofs and canopies and on-site wind turbines. We already see this model working well with the likes of Total in France which provides a very familiar feeling environment.
We are also already seeing the charge rates supported by both cars and chargers increasing from the currently common 50kw to the likes of 150kw and even 350kw. We can expect this to increase further in the next decade. This will be necessary to allow cars and commercial vehicles with larger batteries to be charged in an acceptable period of time and also to appease owners in being able to add range quickly enough to make the switch from petrol or diesel to an EV acceptable. Once you can fully charge a car in 5-10 minutes the whole argument about the inconvenience of charging simply goes away. Of course, charge service providers will need to keep pace with developments by upgrading their infrastructure on a regular basis.
In addition, I’d also expect to see on-street charging becomes available in all towns, cities, and villages. We’ve already seen lamppost conversions in Ireland, and there are other options too like pop-up chargers and wireless charging mats which I would hope to see become common over the next decade.
Simon will be speaking at The Electric Vehicle Summit on October 24th, 2019 in Croke Park, Dublin.
For more information see www.evsummit.ie