The growing alignment between governments, societies and businesses around the need to act on climate concerns at scale is clear. And a big component in the climate fight involves greening the world’s automotive and roads sectors, in particular the build out of vast electric vehicle (EV) charging networks.
Data is key to executing well on this grand endeavour. Put simply, the right chargers must be put in the right places and driver data can show the way.
The Biden administration’s ambitious EV policy push, including its recently announced ambition to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, is a huge potential boon in this respect to the businesses that generate and interpret vehicle mobility data.
This includes connected vehicle data company Wejo, which gathers information from more than 11 million vehicles with curated data covering almost 400 billion miles.
The company’s main focus right now is the US market, currently also home to the world’s largest connected vehicle fleet, but the market truly is global, says Bret Scott, VP of partnerships.
He is an automotive veteran of 20 years’ standing at leading automakers including GM, VW and FCA, working on infotainment, telematics and innovation programmes.
“Our secondary market is Europe, which is growing at great rates now,” says Scott. “We are also focusing on APAC, Latin America and China.”
The company currently works with seven automotive players, including GM and Daimler, to help them understand and unlock the value in the various elements of connected data, as well as helping identify the right structure and formats in which to organise different datasets so that they are interoperable.
Wejo’s particular strength is handling frequent data gathering. “What Wejo does well is handle streaming data better,” says Scott. “We help get data out every one to three seconds. It’s a challenge and something we are proud of.”
Wejo then helps its clients understand the marketplaces that exist around such data in both government and private sector contexts, says Scott. “Building a great marketplace so data makes sense to people outside the company is critical.”
A good example is the value Wejo can add for local government bodies that may lack the scale or expertise to sift and parse data to profitable effect. “In the US alone there are 24,000 municipalities and not all have data scientists,” says Scott.
“Making that data digestible to them is something we do rather well. We will see how important this will be when talking about charging stations or understanding how to pay for roads with fewer toll roads. We can help them understand these issues through the data.”
The importance of collecting such data around how people drive today to inform the infrastructure decisions that are being made now and in the near future is clear. “The data will inform them on how to put the right rules in place now,” says Scott.
“Understanding the reach and range of vehicles, how people shop, how people’s driving behaviour has changed, is something we can see in the data.”
Wejo’s technology and approach offers a finer-grained picture of these things than that gathered from roadside sensors or mobile phone data. “Vehicle data is very precise so it’s useful where accuracy is concerned. You can identify a traffic lane or a parking spot in a way mobile phone data cannot.”
Wejo is also capable of making valuable comparisons between different types of vehicles, an important capability in these early days of the transition to EVs, says Scott.
“How different drivetrain vehicles are driven today can tell us a lot about how they will drive in future. We can describe how people drive differently based on the kinds of vehicle they have. It can tell us where, as they transition from ICE to hybrids and EVs, the infrastructure should go based on how they are driving today.”
The data already tells some clear stories about the differences between the behaviours of these different propulsion tribes. While US cars are driven an average of 36 miles a day, hybrids cover 27 miles and electric cars cover a mere 16 miles.
Other factors can make a big difference to driving patterns - the proximity of the workplace or grocery stores to where a driver lives, among others. “The differences between states and between electric and gas is rather dramatic and we are digging into all that,” says Scott.
There is also much work to be done to understand the difference in driving between big and small cities as well as the frequency with which people drive between small and big cities, particularly in Europe.
Fuelling behaviours are perhaps the most important key to the EV charger build out and they are complex.
While 80% of EV drivers currently charge at home, the remaining 20% need to make decisions about where to charge. “What things work for people so they know where the charging stations are? How do you best provide information to them?”
How municipalities and road authorities enable long-distance, inter-city EV driving is another key consideration. In the UK, London to Manchester is an important route and a distance that will challenge the driving patterns of most current generation EVs. A comparable US route would be Detroit to Traverse City, Michigan.
“How to pick the best charging locations? How to do that and how to do it comfortably? We can use data to show how often people stop during trips, where the best locations are, whether that’s existing gas stations, a mall or an outlet mall,” says Scott. “It is possible to build a picture of how often EV drivers ‘fill up’ - until full or half-full - and what they are doing in the time they are charging.”
Scott, a hybrid driver himself, understands the mindset change required as drivetrain options evolve. Having the option to fuel up the conventional way may mean sometimes forgetting to remember to plug his vehicle in at home. “Remembering the plug is the interesting part.”
A granular picture of how such behaviours change over time is also likely to prove valuable as drivers get used to EVs and as the battery and charging technology improves. Once charging is roughly as fast as fuelling with gasoline, EV drivers may take a more casual approach, stopping to top up an EV routinely and worrying less about charging and route planning, says Scott.
Clearly there is much still to be learned about the myriad variables involved in building out the necessary EV infrastructure; meanwhile, pandemic-imposed restrictions, which have disrupted the process of building and learning from the data on historical driving patterns and behaviours, have only added to the complexity.
“We are waiting to see how that normalises,” says Scott. “Many are not going back to the office. There will be big changes in the habits that we see, so there is much work to be done to understand and interpret how people are getting back to work,” says Scott.
But whatever new work patterns emerge, one thing is clear: the march of climate policy is now unstoppable. “With zero-emissions mandates this will be a major topic everywhere over the next 10-15 years,” says Scott.
The insights arising from Wejo’s deeper analysis should help offer clarity on the important funding decisions that must soon be taken as EV mandates and subsidies take effect. “It takes so long for a city to get money approved to build to 2030 timelines. They need that data now.”