Interview: Robert Llewellyn
The Red Dwarf star and EV evangelist is the face of the Green Apple Awards for Car Dealerships. JAMES BATCHELOR chats to him about why you should enter the gongs.
OWNING, buying and driving an electric car is no bohemian dream for Robert Llewellyn, comedian, actor, electric car fanatic and the face of the Green Apple Awards for Car Dealerships. If anything in the world of cars is hippie-ish it’s the thought that the black stuff is going to run out, believes the Red Dwarf star.
‘If you take someone like Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and call him a hippie, you’d be really stretching it,’ jokes Llewellyn. ‘I don’t think I have met someone less hippie-ish. Ghosn is a tremendous guy who is very realistic and knows what he is doing, as are the other car manufacturers who are involved with green motoring. In fact, if you had to call something hippie-ish it would be oil and the people who keep saying it’s going to run out. It isn’t – it’s just going to become phenomenally expensive.’
Beneath the jokes, green motoring is a deep-rooted interest for Llewellyn.
‘It’s been a life-long interest,’ he says. ‘It’s probably due to me coming of age at the time of the oil crisis of the ’70s and it became very apparent to me then that the way we were organising our world wasn’t sustainable. I couldn’t put my finger on this interest.
‘I grew up loving cars, no doubt fuelled by living so close to Silverstone, me go-karting and my brother involved in motorsport, so my interest in green motoring wasn’t from the standpoint of hating cars and that they should be banned. It was a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.’
Llewellyn admits he couldn’t do much about this gut feeling at the time. In his own words, if he wanted to drive an electric car he would have had the choice between a mobility scooter or a milk float, but the feeling still remained.
‘Electric cars have changed my life – there’s no doubt about that. They’ve changed my life in the same way the internet has changed television.’
‘I cycled a lot, caught the train and bus and there was a period of time when I refused to get into a car. But a ride in a very powerful prototype electric car about 10 years ago in California was the pivotal moment for me as I realised that an electric vehicle needn’t be a milk float.
‘I did some research about electric cars, how the car running on oil became popular and the industry around it, and disruptive technology. Electric cars have changed my life – there’s no doubt about that. They’ve changed my life in the same way the internet has changed television.’
That ride in an electric car has resulted in Llewellyn driving them for the past two years. He’s never run out of power, claiming it would be ‘very awkward to ask a stranger for some electricity in the middle of Wales’ and uses solar panels to charge up his Nissan Leaf.
‘With the panels I think I will generate between 50 and 60 per cent of the electricity my Nissan Leaf uses over the course of a year,’ he says. ‘In fact, today I have generated 5.94 Kw hours!’ But it’s not just electric cars that enthuse Llewellyn. In fact any type of green motoring, including hybrid and efficient petrol engines, is of interest.
‘I said that ride in a prototype car was the life-changing moment, but perhaps it was the Toyota Prius,’ he adds. ‘My first experience with the Prius was in America. I came home and I had to have one. I’ve always been a Volkswagen Golf fanatic and have had a GTI, a VR6 and a V6 4Motion, and at the time I had a chipped Golf R32. I traded that in and even the Toyota dealer couldn’t believe what I was doing.
‘There was a moment of “what am I doing?” but as soon as I started passing petrol stations, I loved it.’
‘There was a moment of “what am I doing?” but as soon as I started passing petrol stations without having the need to fill up, I loved it.’
Llewellyn may well be a well-known figure and an evangelist of green motoring, but many other consumers are making the same lifestyle changes and feel as strongly as he does.
He explains: ‘I very much approached green motoring from energy efficiency and the cost of driving because I feel I am not scientifically literate enough to defend the climate change position – although I am in complete agreement with it. I cannot be bothered to get into the “Clarksonian” argument that climate change isn’t happening. It is and we have to do something about it – it’s obvious.’
It’s one thing that car manufacturers and consumers are embracing green motoring, but car dealers should be doing the same, says Llewellyn.
‘Car dealers are in a prime position to lead the way – in fact I think they could be at the forefront of it,’ he says. ‘Certainly Nissan dealers are moving in the right direction as I use their dealerships to charge up my Leaf. The people who work at those dealerships are really enthusiastic, and that is really important. But even they have not fully embraced the advantages of installing solar panels as this is an easy way for dealers to start becoming more efficient.
‘Fitting solar panels to the roof is a brilliant way to save money, and considering a lot of dealers have a large site and therefore large roofs, this is a way of saving money and embracing green thinking.
‘I also think that this enthusiasm would filter down through the staff and on to the customer. In the next few years, most manufacturers will have electric cars or hybrids. The challenge for dealers is how to communicate this effectively to customers.’
‘I am intrigued to meet the people and dealers involved – try to keep me away from them!’
With advice like this, it’s clear Llewellyn has a passion for the motor industry becoming green. But meeting dealers and those involved with green endeavour is his reason for backing the Green Apple Awards for Car Dealerships.
‘I wanted to get involved with these awards because it is an area I am fascinated in and I am intrigued to meet the people and dealers involved. I’ve hosted many awards in the past and I have been told not to mix with the audience or the people involved. But that’s what I want to do – try to keep me away from them!’
Llewellyn is supporting the Green Apple Awards for Car Dealerships for the same reasons we have put our name to them – we want to celebrate the dealers who are embracing green thinking and endeavour.
The motor trade needn’t be a sector that is stuck in the dark ages by having an ignorant attitude to caring for the environment. Being green doesn’t just have to be bulldozing your used car lot and installing a wind farm – sticking a few solar panels on your roof or making sure that the lights in the finance department are switched off are just as important.
However, it is not just about dealers having the correct morals – dealers need to start making their businesses more environmentally friendly. Take the Kyoto treaty as an example or the government’s targets to produce 15 per cent of the country’s energy from renewables within nine years, or Europe’s objective stipulating that of the energy produced per country, 20 per cent will need to be renewable by 2020.
‘There are tens of thousands of franchised and independent dealerships across the UK, most of which run large dealerships with a lot of glass and light. They are a prime target for reducing the carbon footprint, in line with key governmental targets including the Kyoto Protocol treaty,’ says the Green Apple Awards for Car Dealerships’ event organiser Richard Collins.
‘So we have also decided to create these awards due to discussions with the British Research Establishment, and we thought this was a good time to specifically concentrate on the automotive industry. We also feel now is the right time – people are receptive towards looking at and making their businesses green and are financially rewarded for that.
‘There are some dealers who are dealing with these issues head-on, there are some dealers who are having eco retro refurbishments, while others are having complete rebuilds. Everyone is falling over themselves to try to tell everyone what they are doing, and what we have noticed is that consumers are starting to make purchase decisions based on the green credentials of the dealer they are considering buying from.’
With consumers beginning to know more about hybrid, electric and more fuel-efficient motoring, and starting to want to get involved with it, now is the time dealers should be getting their green thinking caps on. There are benefits for dealers who enter these awards.
A large amount of PR and marketing will be generated about their businesses, and there’s also the possibility of winning more business from impressed customers.
There’s a wide range of categories dealers can enter (see right). Both the awards ceremony and the judging will take place at Gaydon’s Heritage Motor Centre. Car Dealer, along with an expert panel of judges, will be deciding what the greenest cars currently on sale in Britain are and the winners of the other awards.
Entries are being accepted now, and any dealer, whatever size of operation, can enter and be at the forefront of a motor industry that’s got its eyes firmly fixed on changing for the better.