It was a pleasure to talk to Lash Saranna about the fascinating story behind Electric Zoo – and how a lecture at Warwick University sparked a drastic change of business direction.
Where did your business idea come from?
“In 1985, my wife and I founded Autobahn Porsche in Coventry, and soon grew the business to become the largest independent Porsche dealership.
“In 2012, our 12-year-old daughter became interested in global sustainable development. A few weeks later, we attended a University lecture at Warwick University – and those 3 hours defined rest of our lives.”
Prior to this, Lash admits that he had no idea about climate change, air pollution (which kills 40,00 people a year – costing the NHS £20bn a year). “It sounds bad, but even worse when most of the air pollution is from petrol and diesel cars. And that’s what we were doing.”
After this initial lecture, the pair went to another 5 – including Glasgow, Southampton, and Birmingham. “On the way back, we discussed how we were going to tell our employees that we were no longer going to run this business. They thought we’d gone mad. We had built it up for 28 years and now suddenly we didn’t want to do it anymore.”
What did you do next?
“Next we decided to transition the business to hand it over to employees, free of charge and we went on a journey of self-discovery – travelling to Latin America and Europe.
“When we came back, we ended up buying a Tesla Model X, and collected it in January 2016. When I drove this 2-and-a-half-ton machine accelerating 0-60 in 3.9 seconds and being zero-emission I was convinced electric cars were going to be the future.
“We then worked with Coventry Council for a couple of years to develop an electric vehicle learning centre. It was difficult to talk to people about it – nobody wanted to change to electric vehicles, people were resisting the inevitable.
“Eventually, Coventry Council came back to us and said it wasn’t the vision they wanted. In January 2018, we decided our vision was to lease electric cars – and it was our job to convince people they were good.”
How did you manage to convince people?
“We bought telematic black box, wrote software for it, and put it into a diesel car. After 30 days, we were able to get the data and calculate total running cost of a diesel car. We could then compare it to electric vehicles on the market and ascertain best electric placement car with demonstrated financial savings by switching to electric.
“We trialled it with a few cars around Coventry. Everything was going very well, but in a board meeting, just as we were about to leave, someone turned around to us and said: “how much carbon does it save?” I couldn’t answer the question. So, I went back to the drawing board and developed the product to find out those facts. By end of 2019, we had it all ready to go and it was due to launch in April 2020.”
And then the pandemic hit. How did that impact your business?
“Well, when COVID-19 hit, nobody was driving anywhere. By this point we had managed to hold a stock of 3 or 4 electric cars, written a business plan for FlexElease for short term leasing of an electric car from us for 3 months.
“Since July last year our stock has grown to 30 cars. We are putting these cars out as fast as we can get them. We’re rebranding it as a Pay As You Go Electric – offering cars for 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, etc. but on a Pay As You Go Electric basis: one inclusive fee to include the car, insurance, and maintenance. This gives you more value for your money whilst helping reduce air pollution at the same time.”
What are the next steps?
“We are launching soon! We are also in talks with a couple of Local Authorities and Trainline operators to secure possible outlets based at train stations . We are also in discussions about having an outlet in Glasgow – Scotland has great charge point infrastructure, where the Government offer free charging hence a lot of people drive EV’s there, ultimately, it’s the best way to preserve nature.
Nearer home, with the clean air zone now in force in Birmingham, we are going to be increasingly vital for travellers in the West Midlands.”
Thank you for talking to us Lash! You can visit the newly launched Electric Zoo website here.