Cumbria’s First Electric Taxi

Here we are with the brilliant Sue’s Taxis in Workington launching Cumbria’s first pure electric taxi.

ITV Border 11th July 2014

Armstrong Watson Review Tax Benefits of Electric Cars

We asked Nigel Holmes, Partner at Armstrong Watson a leading independent firm of accountants and financial advisers in the North of England and South West Scotland to provide an overview of the tax benefits of using electric cars for business and pleasure.  This is their view of the comparison between the super efficient Nisaan Quashqai DIG T-115 arguably one of the best diesel crossovers on the market and currently the 6th best seller in the UK with an astonishing 74 mpg fuel efficiency with the Nissan Leaf Ascenta.  They are almost identical in size and cost but the Leaf runs on pure electric.

This is what Nigel had to say.

IMG Nigel Holmes FVH 2011 Colour (2)

“Thousands of pounds can be saved just in tax for both employees and employers by choosing an electric vehicle. Even more savings are made on running costs. The Nissan Qashqai reports 74.3 miles per gallon. Based on current prices of fuel and electric, the same spend would enable you to travel 245 miles in the electric Nissan Leaf.  For a car travelling 10,000 miles in a year the saving equates to another £48 per month. Definitely an option worth considering!


Benefits to employers

Taxable benefits on cars in recent years have been related to their CO2 emissions figures.  Cars with high CO2 emissions are heavily taxed. Currently cars with a CO2 figure of less than 95g/km attract 100% capital allowances. This limit reduces to 75g/km in 2015. This means that the full cost of the car is tax deductible in the year of purchase as opposed to the usual situation where the tax relief is drip fed slowly over the ownership of car. The tax relief is restricted for sole traders and partnerships in proportion to their private use.

Benefits to employees

If a car is provided to an employee or a director of a company then that individual is taxed on their private use by way of a benefit in kind. This tax charge is, once again, linked to CO2 emissions and varies between affordable for efficient cars and severe for cars with high emissions. If the employer also pays for fuel on behalf of an employee a further benefit in kind is charged on the same basis.  An electric car therefore produces a tax efficient outcome. For 2014/15 the benefit in kind for an electric car is 0% of list price, i.e. no tax! Also there is no fuel benefit. This can result in a massive saving of tax for any employee choosing to have an electric car. From April 2015 there will be a charge but only 5% of list price.

What does this mean?

photo 8

Annual Fuel Costs Comparison – Based on 10k Miles

Nissan Leaf Quashqai
Electricity 13p/kwh £252
Diesel £6.18 / gallon £832
 Annual Savings  £580

Cost of Company Car Tax for 20% Tax Payer

Nissan Leaf Quashqai
2014/15 Benefit in kind 0% = £0 15% = £58/month
2015 /16 Benefit in kind 5% = £20/month 17% = £66/month
Total £240 £1,488

Employer Purchasing Outright – Capital Allowance Implications with 50k Profit

Nissan Leaf Quashqai
2014/15 Capital Allowance 100% = £23,490 18% = £4172
Corporation Tax Payable £5,302 £9,166


Free Coffee at Orton Grange Café and Gift Shop

ortongrangesignnewv4The chink of china and cutlery, the cosy atmosphere, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the best scones in Cumbria all make Orton Grange Café one of those places that you just keep going back to again and again once you’ve discovered it.  The warm welcome and gentle hum of relaxed conversation help you to unwind whatever car you’re driving and there’s always plenty of parking spaces.  Electric car drivers have their own cordoned off area – crucial for electric cars which rely on easy access to charging points.

Other destinations with charging points have issues with petrol/diesel cars taking up electric car places leaving them stranded because they can’t reach the charging point.  Not so at Orton Grange where a 24/7, free, easy access charge makes life easy for electric car owners.

Like her brother Richard, Claire is passionate about using local produce and providing facilities for the local community to use.  Orton Grange ice cream is a perfect example of the values running through the business, made with milk from their own Holstein cows using power generated by the turbine the family truly live and breathe a modern day “good life”!  As you drop into Orton Grange for a free charge for your car, you can pick up your Sunday Roast from Cranstons, get Aunty Betty’s birthday card and present in the gift shop that stocks gifts from local business, have a swim get your hair cut and a lovely lunch into the bargain.

Whether you drive an electric car or not – pop into Orton Grange before 11.30am any day with the voucher you can find in our e-magazine

Nissan Leaf Taxis – Surely Not!

C & C Cars, St Austell

What has someone with a private hire firm in St Austell got to do with Cumbria taking part in the electric car revolution I hear you say.  Well quite a lot really.  Cornwall is very similar to Cumbria in a number of ways.  It’s beautiful, remote, coastal, the transport infrastructure is pretty basic, the county depends on tourism for employment and prosperity – apart from the amount of sunshine there are lots of similarities between Cumbria and Cornwall!

When Michelle Williams owner of C & C Cars bought her first Nissan Leaf in 2013 to use as a private hire car – most people thought she was mad as a hatter!  Perhaps she is, but she’s also a woman on a mission to prove that despite all odds – if you want to make something work you can.  It all started with her Dad leaving a car magazine behind after a visit and partner Mark finding Renault Fluence featured in it.  Not being able to buy the car with a battery was no good for a private hire firm so they looked at the Nissan Leaf and the rest as they say is history.

electric cab

12 months later she’s got 5 Nissan Leafs used for private hire, no. 6 on order and a Nissan ENV200 van being converted into a 7 seater to replace her gas guzzling Ford Transit Minibus.  She has taken 44,000 carbon free fares and run 180,000 miles in her super-efficient all electric fleet of Nissan Leafs.  What’s even more astonishing is that she’s done this without any support from her local authority and without any access to publicly available charging points.  Michelle’s a strong believer in a business standing on it’s own so although it would have been nice to have locally available chargers as a back-up she knew the business had to survive alone.


Nissan Leaf, Taxi in Cumbria and St Austell

Dropping off one of Cornwall’s first electric taxi customers

C & C Cars started off with a 16a charger (that’s a 6-8 hour charging time for a Nissan Leaf) and it was a matter of military planning to make sure the car (+ the others that she then bought) are back and charged to make sure the business runs smoothly – she’s added to the charging points as she’s expanded the fleet and now has 4 charging points at the office. With some help from Nissan UK, Michelle managed to get a rapid charger not too far away meaning that charging time for each car was reduced to 30 mins (to 80% of the battery) which is just as well because by the time the rapid charger had arrived Michelle had 4 Nissan leafs and the 5th was on order.  The cars work all day every day averaging 600 miles but it’s not unknown for individual Leafs to travel 180 – 200 miles in a day.  All the charging is done from the business and Michelle’s pretty savvy – all the cars have names and customers just love ringing and asking for the cars by name.  In 12 months Michelle has cut her fuel bills by £40,000 and saved 203 tonnes of CO2.

Michelle says it’s helped to keep costs down so much they haven’t had to increase prices and local hotels are using her company as the taxi form of choice because it fits with their environmental credentials.  Aside from that, C&C Cars is getting nationwide exposure – including in Cumbria!  Congratulations Michelle a true inspiration.

Who is going to follow her lead in Cumbria – watch this space, we’ll be telling you more soon!


Living with an Electric Car in Cumbria

Paul & Debbie Johnston Case Study

In August last year fed up with spending £180 – £200 on petrol a month Paul & Debbie Johnston popped into J Edgar & son of Rowrah to see what they could do to cut their fuel costs.

10 months later we asked them some key questions about their final decision to buy a Nissan Leaf.


What Made You Choose an Electric Vehicle

We were looking for a replacement car for a very thirsty 2.0L petrol. We wanted something practical for a family, decent sized boot, economical, 5 door, and yet something that stood out from the ordinary family hatchback. We considered diesel options and economical petrol vehicles but couldn’t really find anything that stood out. It was while we were at our J Edgar & Son our local Nissan dealer that I spotted the Nissan Leaf.

When we got home I went online and spent about three hours looking at all the facts and figures, I really liked the option of leasing the batteries which made the car more affordable and the government grant towards the purchase of the car was enough to tip the balance in favour of the Nissan Leaf. The following day we took a test drive, loved the car, found out we could get a free home charging point from Solway Renewables and from then on we were sold.

What was the most surprising thing about the Nissan Leaf.

How much fun it is to drive! It’s quick, surprisingly quick, and once you get used to the fact there is no engine noise it is no different from driving any automatic vehicle.


Does it live up to the hype about how much cheaper it is to run?

Forgetting the road tax which is now nil, on petrol alone we are saving a huge amount. Petrol costs for our old car were between £40 – £50 each week. Since buying the Nissan Leaf from Edgars our electricity bill has risen by only £25 – £30 a month!   What’s really surprising is that all of these savings are in spite of the fact that we are now doing more mileage in the Nissan Leaf than we were in our previous vehicle. It has become the car of choice for ‘nipping out’ to the shops, to the bank, for a take away. Our second car spends a lot of its time sitting idle on the driveway.

What Is the Drive Like?

The drive is good. It is a very nippy car which surprises almost everyone who experiences it. If you can drive an automatic you can drive an electric. We are getting a range of approximately 80miles per charge which is more than enough for daily use.

What Is The Biggest Misconception?

The biggest misconception we had before buying the Leaf was that the range of the vehicle would be inadequate for our needs. The range is more than enough for everyday use. We have never needed a public charging point. After the school run, commute to work and Mums evening taxi runs we still seem to have plenty of miles left in the ‘tank’!

Water into wine, a self parking car and a woodchip helicopter? Well not quite ….

At the end of February we took 7 electric cars (2 x BMWi3’s, 2 x Nissan Leaf, Vauxhall Ampera, Renault Zoe & Renault Kangoo ze van) to the Lakes Hospitality Trade Show in Grasmere.  Read on to see what happened ….

Who could have predicted such horrendous weather over 2 days in Feb – well OK, everyone who lives in Cumbria, but we’d had our fingers crossed for several days and hoped that was going to help!!  It didn’t and as a Cumbrian born and bred I’ve rarely seen rain like it before, some would say it was of biblical proportions! It didn’t stop Rick Lomax from Nurture Lakeland having a huge smile on his face though!  Water into smiles (better than wine in my opinion!!)

Nissan Leaf, Electric Car

Rick’s spontaneous smile after his first drive in an electric car

If you’re wondering what can bring a smile like this to a grown man when it’s been pouring with rain for 2 days then wonder no more!  This is Rick’s response after having his first test drive in a Nissan Leaf at the Lakes Hospitality Association Trade Show at the Daffodil Hotel in Grasmere.

He wasn’t alone.  With huge thanks to Edgars of Rowrah, Barton Townley of Barrow in Furness, Bristol Street Motors, Benfield Motors and Lloyd BMW Carlisle at their busiest time of year we pulled together 7 electric cars for visitors to the trade show to ride and/or drive in. Over 100 took advantage of their availability.  That’s over 100 people who thought electric cars were toys, didn’t go far and were too expensive to be effective in Cumbria.  I promise you, not one of them left without a huge smile on their face.

Getting 7 cars for people to drive doesn’t seem like much of a challenge does it?  Until you consider, if it was that easy why hasn’t it been done before in the North West for electric cars before?  Believe it or not this was the first time 5 different “proper” electric cars (we had 2 of the Nissan Leafs and BMW i3s) had been brought together in the North West.  Add to that the fact that we’re a two person business, already working flat out and you start to get an idea of how much of a challenge it was.

Our mission was simple – to stimulate the conversation about electric cars within the Cumbrian hospitality industry, raise awareness about the different types of vehicle available and above all to make sure that in the race for funding for electric vehicles and charging points to make sure that Cumbria doesn’t miss out.

Did we have problems getting the cars to the trade show – after all they have limited range don’t they?  Yes, we did have some problems, particularly as the hotel hosting the trade show didn’t have electric vehicle charging points, but we drove 5 out of the 7 to Grasmere (with the help of our friends at Rexel Energy Solutions) and contrary to what most people think most of the cars we had at the show could be charged with a 10a 3 pin household plug!  It was a bit slower, but we managed to charge form the generators on site for the trade show.

Electric car charging, electric cars, Nissan Leaf, BMWI3

Electric cars charging the day before the Ride & Drive at the Lakes Hospitality Trade Show

Notice the van in the middle – Renault Kangoo ZE perfect for collecting local produce to be used in the hospitality industry.

There were a three really remarkable things that happened during the show.  One was the appearance of Peter Foster below to help us out – he drove for 2 days solid for us, in miserable weather with a cheery smile for the whole period.  Lawrence and I can’t thank Peter enough for his help getting people about in the Nissan Leaf.

Electric cars,  Grasmere Top Gear

Peter doing one of his “day” jobs!

For the whole of the first day and most of the second day, despite running backwards and forwards with many different people the cars didn’t need any charging until the evening.  Our original theory was that while we had one car charging another would be driving and we would get a maximum of 22 drives/day.  We had over a hundred people in the cars over 2 days – about half driving and the other half being run backwards and forwards to their cars. Both journeys were 2-3 mile round trips in miserable weather, and more than double the number of trips we thought we’d manage without having to re-charge batteries.

Finally, watching the BMWi3 park itself was breathtaking – literally, the first time I was in the car with Ryan from Lloyd BMW and it parked itself I held my breath until it had finished.  No hands, no feet, parked perfectly – watch  The Fat Chat Show to see how it was done and  to see whether you really believe that woodchip helicopter exists.  Cars parking themselves, rain in biblical proportions, maybe it does exist ………


Nissan Leaf, Edgars of Rowrah

Edgars of Rowrah Nissan Leaf charging at Eldergove B&B in Ambleside. I’m not sure that’s exactly where we left it though ……….

Charging overnight was partly done via generator and mostly from other hotels and B&B’s in the locality.  Ambleside Salutation Inn and Eldergrove B&B were amazing, helping us out on the first 2 nights with charging.

Vauxhall Ampera charging courtesy of Eldergrove B&B

Vauxhall Ampera charging courtesy of Eldergrove B&B

Paul McDougall of Eldergrove B&B said ” I was lucky enough to have a look at 3 of the EV’s, the  Vauxhall Ampera has to be the most useable with its range and the Nissan Leaf was the quietest and most practical but for me the BMW i3 was the winner a real head turner it leaves me with a huge smile on my face each time I drive it”

That’s the beauty of having all of the different cars together, they all have different target markets.  Simplistically the Nissan Leaf is a real family car, the Vauxhall Ampera is brilliant for anyone doing regular long journeys, it’s not a hybrid it’s a range extender and new technology for the UK when it was introduced in  2012.  The BMW i3 is a great car for professional couples and couples with family that have flown the nest.  The Renault Zoe is a great car for around town and we even had an electric van – brilliant for those local deliveries.

Our last thanks are to a very special person – Nicky Armstrong for trying her hardest to film in appalling weather for the Fat Chat Show – have a look at what the visitors to the trade show thought of the electric cars and see for yourself whether you believe there really is a woodchip helicopter in Cumbria.

You may also want to have a look at a feature last year that The Fat Chat Show did on the Nissan Leaf at Edgars of Rowrah.

Can we do electric cars in Cumbria?  Of course we can!



Our “Appearance” on Radio 4 You & Yours

Suzanne Burgess on Radio 4 You & Yours Discussing Solar Panels as a Viable Alternative to Annuity

Have a listen to the discussion from 44 minutes about whether solar panels can provide a better return than an annuity as Greg Barker predicted.  Of course any solar installer worth their salt would make sure that a structural analysis was carried out before installing solar panels and Paul Lewis is right, you should consider building repairs into the equation, as well as rising fuel prices.

You’d never go out and buy a car without test driving it, carrying out some research and making sure it was absolutely right for you and we’d recommend you do the same.  Solar is brilliant – but not for everyone.

A big thank you to our amazing customer David Bowe for helping us and Radio 4 out.

Panasonic Premium Installer of the Month

Panasonic Solar Panels

Panasonic Solar Panels

Those of you who know us, understand how important customer care is to us and so it’s with great pride that we can announce that we’ve been awarded UK Panasonic Premium Installer of the Month for February.

Panasonic commented “After having read all the feedback of your customers and your comments on how you work, I have to say I am really impressed. I shared it with my colleagues here in the Munich office as well as with the headquarters in Japan.”

We’re a tiny firm with a massive mission to deliver quality solar installations and build electric vehicle infrastructure in Cumbria. To get accolades from an international brand such as Panasonic is a huge compliment for us. Of course we have fabulous customers and we thank them for telling us how much they appreciate our work.

Our Chat with BBC Radio Cumbria’s Mike Zeller

Just in case you missed us this morning (4th) – here’s the link, starting at 55 ish minutes.


BMW i3 Test Drive

Ok, so just to re-iterate.  We’re not journalists, we’re not car buffs, we’re very simply installers/people with a passion to spread the word about the opportunity that electric vehicles present.  We don’t think everyone should drive an electric vehicle and we don’t think that it’s the only solution to reducing transport energy use. On this occasion Lawrence did the driving and I did the writing!

So now that we’ve cleared that up – what did we think if the BMW i3 when we had it for the weekend?  Well first things first, it wasn’t the smartest thing to chose the weekend with spring tides for your test drive – when you live on the coast. So by the time I’d finished our work in the office on Saturday this is what I looked out onto.

First day's test drive scuppered!

First day’s test drive scuppered!

In case you’re not 100% sure – that’s our shared drive with our neighbours and the road was 2 feet deep with water.  I’m not sure that Lloyd BMW would have been too thrilled at us taking the car out in this.

Day 1 Lawrence brought the car home and we were alarmed at the reduction in range for the short journey home.  The i3 was duly plugged in (3 pin 10a plug) and charged overnight.  In case you’re wondering, we have a different charger on our house but the beauty of the BMW i3 is that you’re nearest filling station is never further away than your nearest electrical socket – ours was in our garage. It just takes a bit longer than a “proper” charger.

Day 2 Fully charged,we set off for Cockermouth – 28 miles from home and we planned to detour round one of our customers who we knew would love a look at the car.

ECO Pro - 99 mile range

ECO Pro – 99 mile range

Here we are, ready to go, we’re driving in Eco Pro the middle option of 3 giving us a little more range in exchange for maximum speed of 55mph and reduced heating options.  Most EVs have these options, you can make a choice between extended range and full comfort.  To be honest it’s not that different to an petrol/diesel engine, if you go faster and use air con then your fuel consumption increases significantly – you just notice a bit more with electric and have to make a more conscious choice.

If you’re a gadget freak then you’ll love the on board computers in electric cars and in the BMW i3 I particularly liked the position of the screen.  I didn’t think it was as big as the Nissan Leaf’s screen but as it’s on the dashboard rather than the centre console that’s not really an issue.  It looks a bit odd to start off with but actually it’s really practical, always in view and you get used to it very quickly.


Quirky Dashboard

Quirky Dashboard

As with all electric vehicles there’s a brilliant sat nav, it finds charging stations for you – although you do have to be a little careful because it shows private stations that have been installed by British Gas as accessible, where they aren’t.  This isn’t a fault with BMW it’s common with all EVs and is the problem with not having a unified charging infrastructure.  Lets hope that’s resolved soon, but in the meantime it’s one of the quirks of owning an electric vehicle that you get used to very quickly.

The screen for the computer screen splits into 2 and the options are endless.  There’s a screen to tell you how well you’re driving, this will show in parallel with the sat nav.  Or you can check out your consumption options – heated seat or general heating which is using the least heat, how does it impact on the range available? The computer options look a little daunting to start off with but honestly, with the intuitive controls where your handbrake would be in a “normal” car it’s easier than an Iphone to make your way round the screens.

Really Easy Fingertip Controls for the Onboard Computer

Really Easy Fingertip Controls for the Onboard Computer


Assess Your Driving Skills The Smoother The Lines The More Efficient Your Drive

Assess Your Driving Skills The Smoother The Lines The More Efficient Your Drive

Smooth, Careful Driving

Smooth, Careful Driving


Using the "Normal" Heater Uses More of the Battery

Using the “Normal” Heater Uses More of the Battery


Using the Heated Seat uses Less Than Heating the Whole Car

Using the Heated Seat uses Less Than Heating the Whole Car

The ride was quite a firm sporty ride and once again we loved the smoothness of the ride and the silence as the car crept out of the drive.  The 184lb/ft torque provided an even faster take off (0 – 60 in 7.2 secs)  than the Nissan Leaf and make no mistake that’s an impressive car.  That reduces a bit if you opt for the range extender (which we haven’t tested yet) which has a 647cc scooter engine added to give you an extra 80 ish miles.  The range extender is an interesting interim option for electric cars but that’s a story for another day.

The regenerative braking, feeding excess energy back into the battery takes a while to get used to.  Instead of coasting to a junction it feels as though you stop almost immediately.  It’s very different to any other Ev that we’ve driven and quite alarming when you first drive it. However, after driving a few miles you do get used to it and adapt your driving style accordingly.  The Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Kangoo all have regenerative braking but just not as decisive as the i3.


plenty of Room to get in the Back of the Car

plenty of Room to get in the Back of the Car

I love the doors, there’s plenty room to get into the back of the car.  I hate the doors – when you have to open the front door to let the person in the back out. Or when you stop to pick someone up – you need to get out of the front door to open the back door for access to the back seat.  If you have a family I reckon it would drive you nuts! If you’re a single person or couple using the back for occasional rides with family and friends it’s much less of an issue and actually a big part of the fun ride you have with the BMw i3.

There are four different trims with the BMW and they’ve gone all out to prove their environmental credentials with eucalyptus trims in some options and a recycled fibre interior trim which has a sort of marmite effect.  I’ve heard people say it’s over styled but actually I really liked it – Lawrence wasn’t quite as keen but as I said he’s a bit more conservative than me.

BMW has the battery in the back of the car in contrast to the Nissan Leaf which is underneath the car and there’s arguments for each, but it does leave a rather restricted boot space in the BMW i3.  Probably not a massive issue if you’re a couple but a much bigger issue if you’ve often got a lot of extra gear to transport.

48mph on A595 Down to 35 Mile Range - Battery Half Full

48mph on A595 Down to 35 Mile Range – Battery Half Full

and so to the big question – what was the range like.  official figures suggest an 80 – 100 mile range for the BMW i3 depending on whether you’re driving in comfort, ECO Pro or ECO Pro Plus.  The latter two make compromises in performance and heating options in order to eke out a few more miles.  Given that the average commute is 25 miles then for the odd longer journey this is a sensible solution and all other EVs have similar variations.  The weather makes a difference and driving style makes a huge difference hence the onboard computer providing helpful tips to get the most out of the car.

In all honesty we haven’t driven an electric car that gets anywhere near the projected range (it’s no different to the mpg quoted for any car – how often do you achieve that?) and the BMW i3 isn’t any different.  It’s very much what we expected and so wasn’t particularly disappointing and we did feel that we were gradually getting the economical driving better each time.

12 Miles to Spare.

12 Miles to Spare.

We got home after just over 60 miles and had 12 miles range left but we had cheated a little and had a top up in Cockermouth for about half an hour.  I’m certain we could have driven more conservatively and extended the range a little but I’m equally certain that you’d be very hard pushed to get anywhere the 100 mile range even in Eco Pro Plus.

For me that’s not an issue – I know that the Nissan Leaf won’t do the projected 124 miles and the Renault Zoe won’t do 100 miles and for the 25 mile daily commute – what does it matter?  If the rapid charger infrastructure continues to build then it just means for those longer journeys you’ll need to plan some extra breaks or take a petrol/diesel car instead.

As I said at the start – electric cars aren’t meant to cover every eventuality, in the same way as a tractor, pick-up, sports car or people carrier doesn’t cover every eventuality.  It’s an option and a very exciting one at that.