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Hamilton Electric Vehicles Charges Along

[Article first published in EVTALK, September 2019, www.evtalk.co.nz]

It’s been seven months since the inaugural Hamilton Electric Vehicles, the city’s only EV centre, opened in early February. Dealer principal Nicholas Down says the enquiries have been huge, which is “absolutely phenomenal”. “We can’t keep up with it!” Down says.

"Our Lane is Pure Electric"

Hamilton Electric Vehicles specialise in just battery EVs, and when Down was asked why there aren’t any plug-in hybrid EVs, he jokingly said “they’re stupid”.

“They still have petrol; they still have maintenance. They have over 2000 moving parts that can break down. With pure electric vehicles, you don’t have any of those problems. The cost savings are phenomenal with a full, pure electric car,” Down says. “We want to stay in our lane. Our lane is pure electric. We are pure EV. That’s all we want to do, that’s all our customers want as well.”

"We aren’t about trying to get customers to buy cars"

Down says they are breaking away from what he calls a “car sales” mentality.

“If we sell the car for this, and we discount the car for that, we can make some money off their trade if we do this or do that – all that mentality is old school, it’s gone.”

So, what’s new school?

“New school is giving customers service, education and support. Solving their problems and answering their questions, it’s about giving them massive value, and price is never an issue.

Down says: “Price is always an issue in the absence of value”.

“None of our staff are incentivised with bonuses or commissions. We aren’t about trying to get customers to buy cars. We’re here to help them, educate them, show them where the investment can be made and how much it can save them, and make sure the vehicle is fit for purpose.”

Down says Hamilton is a great place to own an EV as everything is in commute distance – Morrinsville, Te Aroha, Matamata, Otorohonga, Raglan, all 30 – 40 minutes from Hamilton. Raglan has been called the “Leaf capital of the Waikato,” with Down regularly seeing 18 to 20 Leafs coming from Raglan way into Hamilton on the daily commute.

Down says electric is one of the answers in response to the massive challenges with global warming, oil crisis and climate change.

Amazed by the autonomous electric bus he took in Shanghai, Down questions why New Zealand is further behind in the uptake of alternative transport but says it’s all scale of economy. “But we’ve got to take that step,” Down says. “And we’ve done that with Wellington. We’ve done that with the full electric buses and in Christchurch.” He points out SEA Electric’s electric trucks and the fully electrified Nissan ute, which will “revolutionise” the market. “It's going to take some time to come to New Zealand with the scale of our market, but it will come,” Down says.

Hamilton EV differs from other EV Hamilton dealerships as it’s the only dealership that is pure electric and showroom based.

Down says he did not want to replicate the car yard model like traditional dealerships, where customers are instantly on guard because of the old school car salesman techniques.

He credits his early days in the industry to the likes of Garry Keith, Ian McLeod and PJ, (Peter Johnson, GVI Electric); people that taught him the worth of great customer care and value.

The Second-hand EV Market in Hamilton is Healthy

August was a good month, starting with 37 cars and only nine left in the showroom at the end of the month, with more sold, sight unseen (currently in transit). There is more stock arriving and the business can’t keep up with the demand.

Even university students could afford an EV at $29 a week—which Down points out is probably less than what they would spend on fuel or public transport.

“If we can’t show a university student that they will spend more on the bus or on petrol, then we’re doing something wrong. There is virtually no maintenance with an EV, compared to a warrant of fitness bill that could add up to $500 (with an ICE car). You wouldn’t even spend $500 a year with an EV,” Down says.

Warrant of Fitness for Life

Down says anyone who buys an EV from Hamilton Electric Vehicles will have a warrant of fitness for life—every year, a new warrant of fitness and service will be issued for free. “It’s part of the service we provide to our customers to support them and the huge repeat business this brings us. If we look after the customers from the start and continue to look after them, they will be customers for life.”

Down takes the Hamilton EV philosophy from Tesla. “Once you buy a Tesla you will never buy another brand and the majority of cars are sold by existing owners.”

He compares his customer centric approach to banks, where banks often have special offers to generate new customers. “They make all these amazing offers for new customers. What about the existing ones?” Down asks. “They say ‘hang on, I’ve been with you for 20 years, what are you going to do for me’? “The bank says: “We’ve already got you; we only want new customers’.” Down uses this analogy as an anti-example of his approach to customers. “We are customer centric.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but if you water your side of the grass? We want to look after the existing customer.”

“You can quote me on this: You will never see Hamilton EV in the disputes tribunal or MTA resolution with an unsatisfied customer.”

The Feebate Effect

Month on month, Down says sales and enquiries have increased.

He says the Nissan Leaf is by far the most popular EV and the best value, saying you can’t beat the benefits and value for money. Every electric car has its advantages and features.

There was a small “blip” when Julie Anne Genter announced the government was looking at incentives such as extra taxes to convert people to buying EVs. However, people were hesitant about buying EVs as the incentives were only going to take place next year and the year after.

“Why wait until then? Why not make the savings now?” Down asks.

Down says the Clean Car plans are fantastic, but if the government was serious about their intentions, they would introduce it immediately. “CO2 emissions are poisonous, and people breathe it in every day. It’s harmful on the environment, people’s health, our whanau and the planet.”

... And Your Future Direction?

Down applauds micro-mobility and alternative mobility options, such as e-scooters and ride-shares. He notes the new NIU e-scooters, which can do 80 – 100km on a single charge, will be hitting the streets of Hamilton and will be especially targeted towards the University market. Car ride-share technologies are in infant stages, Down says. “But it’s only a matter of time before people get their head around how much they can save.”

Hamilton Electric Vehicles will soon venture out towards electric motorcycles, with Zero and Evoke coming and expanding the range. “As we grow the company, our focus is full electric transport. We are serious about what we do.”

At Hamilton Electric Vehicles, customers have the option to rent an EV from $99. This is similar to car subscription, where people can subscribe to a car for a certain amount each week. Down offers this to potential customers who want to test the waters before purchasing one—after making the investment, Hamilton EV will deduct the rental cost and put it towards a new EV. So far, Down says there has been a 100% conversion.

Down was born and bred in Hamilton and lived in Dubai and then Wellington for years where he set up an EV dealership in Lower Hutt, (that has since closed) before being scouted to open Hamilton’s first pure EV showroom.

He co-manages the showroom with Shane Hobson and several team members.

[EV Talk, 12 September 2019]