Tired of the mass of misinformation surrounding EVs, mobility tech entrepreneur Aidan McClean has published a book on the evolution of the electric car. He expects society will soon view ICE cars the same way as it does smoking indoors.
Jess Bauldry: Electric Revolution is about the evolution of the electric car, a fundamental part of your startup UFO Drive. What was the turning point that pushed you to put pen to paper and write this book?
Aidan McClean: I’ve had an electric car for a couple of years. It works perfectly. I’m all over Europe and this thing is definitely the future. We’re trying to run this electric company, to get people to rent electric cars, but the world is still against it. I thought, I’m gonna write a book about this. So I wrote a book about how they really work. Do they actually help climate change or not? And why is the air so bad?
You’re a busy entrepreneur, how did you find time to write and research the book?
I think when you are passionate about something you find the time so I decided I wasgoing to do this thing. I started in Christmas 2020 and worked every night on it from 10pm to 1am.
What kind of feedback were you getting when you first started pitching UFO Drive?
I created UFO Drive in 2017/2018, combining digital rental experience with direct to car electric rental. I started meeting different people from all parts of industry, including hundreds of potential investors for UFO Drive. Most of them were very skeptical about electric cars. I suppose they just lacked facts about how EVs actually worked and didn’t work. I regularly have people say to me, ‘but the batteries run out after a year’. They don’t. Or ‘I would never buy an electric car because I drive from Luxembourg to Brussels and I’ll never be able to do that trip’. There’s a massive misconception around electric cars. And then you’ll see the press put out there by the oil industry, saying that EVs are actually worse for the planet than petrol or diesel cars, that the carbon footprint is bigger, you shouldn’t buy them. We got frustrated with some of these meetings. At a presentation with a well known Californian-based VC about four years ago, they said ‘I love the idea of direct to car and digital and no queuing uh no paperwork and seamless rental fantastic. Why do it with EVs? That’s never going to work.’
What I enjoyed about the book is the way you apply it to your own life. You’re not an evangelist, you’re a keen cyclist and driver. I love the fact that you took an air quality detection device with you. Do you still do that?
My partner is from Slovakia and I brought it to her hometown which is in the mountains. You would think it would be cleaner, not at all. Because there is no wind. Luxembourg has poor air quality compared to say Dublin, which is right next to the sea. Wind makes a massive difference. In Luxembourg when you get to October November, sometimes you get that stale stuck gray air. That’s when all this particulate matter builds up. Your car filter doesn’t filter that out, it’s too small. I’m actually going to bring the air device to Israel, to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. I’m really curious about pollution there.
Some of the statistics in the book are crazy. For instance the energy inefficiency of the ICE, which is worse than a bike. Tell us more about that.
If you think about the climate problem, we have all this air pollution and we’re trying to bring down global temperatures, which are increased by carbon dioxide that we, humans, put in the air. But, 80% of that carbon dioxide was for nothing, because internal combustion engines lose 80% of the energy that’s derived from fossil fuels, whereas electric cars are 80% efficient.
As you say in your book, misinformation has muddied the waters and some people will never be convinced. So, what then?
You have to do it the hard way: regulation. When I was a young guy in Dublin, I’d be in a pub with 25 people standing around you smoking. You’d go home and your clothes stank of cigarettes and you didn’t acknowledge that. And then it was just banned. Now, none of those people want anybody to smoke in a bar or restaurant. We’re all so used to this. Right now, electric cars are without a doubt becoming the mainstream. There are about 40 models now on the table, compared to three or four a couple of years ago. I do agree it’s not affordable for everybody yet, but it’s getting there. Over the next 24 months you have more affordable electric cars. Education is the prime piece. Telling people that 99% of the journeys they take are well covered by electric cars, the experience is better. Back to the regulation, it’s about just being tough. I think we need to ban hybrid cars immediately. They’re one of the biggest problems. We have to ban hybrid cars and then ban diesel cars.
Another issue you homed in on was greenwashing and in particular, carbon offsetting. Sounds like you’re convinced it has to be netzero?
It’s like burning tires in your back garden, while planting trees in your front garden. That’s what carbon offsetting effectively is. There was a big service station chain that had an advertising campaign saying that their fuel was basically Net Zero petrol and diesel net zero because they had invested in some offsetting tree planting programme and forest regeneration program in Africa. They’re all great projects, but that doesn’t solve the problem. It’s greenwashing and then they believe it. There’s a few examples of these biofuels pushing clean fuel sources, but you’re still burning fossil based fuel and putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It helps people feel a little bit better. But, it’s really just companies trying to mask the fact that they are doing massive climate damage.
Do you think this is something that regulation can fix?
You click on a light switch or put gas in your car, it’s extremely cheap. But the cost of survival on the rock is so huge in doing that. We only think maybe 50 years ahead, but if you take a 200-year view, that expense to the planet for what we’re doing right now, in terms of our use of energy or use of fossil fuels, there’s no consequence. That’s the issue. If there was a price on carbon or a pollution price, for every mile you drove or every piece of energy you burned and hit people in the pockets you will see two things happen: a massive decline in fossil fuel use and you’d see a lot more innovation going into giving people options around transport and energy.
EVs are a constantly evolving sector. Presumably you can’t just stop at publishing one book on this topic?
I’ve actually started on the next book about the clean energy transition. And it’s on a par for the last chapter of Electric Revolution. In our business, we lead so many people through energy storage and energy production. What’s going on there? What has to happen there? So what is energy production? And with this horrible thing in Ukraine and Russia, it’s just made it even more relevant that we have to shift to renewable sources of energy as soon as possible.
What else is happening with UFO Drive that you can share?
We’re setting up a Dublin office, probably in July. We’ve hired about 30 people in two months. Before that, we only had about 20. We hired software developers, managers, salespeople, car rental operations people and so on. A lot on the software side, because we are really about software, and we’re very happy for competitors to use our e-mobility platform.
We’re putting a huge amount of emphasis now in North America. We were due to launch in February 2020. We put it on a pause and we restarted once we finished our Series A funding round and our Hertz deal back in February. We’re hoping to launch our first US locations in the Bay Area, California, in July. Then we’re going to launch some on the East Coast probably around August. We will also launch in a few other places in the US as well. There’s more charging stations, connectors now in this public charging connectors in the States than there are petrol pumps are over that the book as well because you can just know where to charge in the States, but there are places in the US there that are more suitable for electric cars than others, just like Europe. They are a little bit behind Europe, but are now accelerating massively and will certainly overtake us. Biden’s administration is putting trillions into infrastructure and tech electrification facilities. It’s still very difficult to actually rent an electric car in the States, despite what you read with our competitors like Hertz and everything else.
Electric Revolution: Myths and truths about electric vehicles and climate disaster by Aidan McClean is available to purchase on Lulu, Amazon and other online stores.