Frustration and determination in the electric vehicle sector have definitely paid off for Matt Cleevely.
The Cheltenham-based EV advocate established Cleevely Electric Vehicles two years ago as a sister firm to Cleevely Motors – founded by his grandfather John in 1962 – after he and wife Claire had a particularly unsatisfying experience trying to buy a Nissan Leaf for her.
The research had all been done, they knew exactly what they wanted and needed to replace her petrol Fiesta that wasn’t doing many miles – but then came what can only be described as a battle to actually get somebody to sell them one of the electric cars.
Both he and his wife were keen to reduce their vehicle emissions to improve the environment, and having solar panels on the roof of their home meant an EV would be an extremely cheap car to run.
Appearing on Car Dealer Live on July 15, Cleevely told host James Batchelor: ‘One drive in the Nissan Leaf and I absolutely fell in love. The problem was, I went to several local dealerships to get a test drive and they were very underwhelming visits where it was difficult to even get myself into a car.’
Repeated visits were met with fob-offs such as ‘No, sorry the battery’s flat’ or ‘It’s blocked in’ – with the pair even offered petrol and diesel alternatives.
‘By then I’d really grown to love EVs and wanted to be an advocate myself, and had become frustrated that if the main dealers who were supposed to be selling these cars didn’t want to sell one to me who specifically knew what I wanted, then anyone walking in just to replace their car who might just drive around town and do very low mileage would never get offered an EV.’
He added: ‘One of the most frustrating points was that not only were they denying me access to the cars that I wanted to test-drive but they knew nothing about them and they had them there to sell.
‘We’ve heard it time and time again, when you’ve done your research you’ll go armed with more information than you’ll ever get out of a salesman at a main dealers, because they just don’t seem to know anything about them [EVs].
‘Whether that’s not filtering down from the manufacturers, whether it’s the dealership group not wanting to sell the cars I don’t know, but there’s a lot of education that needs to happen in our trade in order for us to sell these forms of transport, because there is a huge market of people that want to buy.’
Matt joined Cleevely Motors nearly 21 years ago as a freshly qualified technician bursting with new ideas and keen to keep abreast of modern vehicle technology, and took over the reins of the business from dad Shaun five years ago.
‘I’ve become very passionate about wanting to spread EV adoption and to educate people about the joy of EV, but also give them somewhere to find out things firsthand and maybe buy.
‘Cleevely Motors was very successful and needed to grow but couldn’t in its traditional home on the outskirts of Cheltenham, so I located a 4,000 sq ft premises on an industrial estate just a mile away for it to grow, which gave me the opportunity to create EV just as a sideline initially and see how that developed – was I picking the right thing?
‘Certainly, throughout my career with Cleevely Motors I was told as a technician in order for an independent workshop to survive you’d need to specialise.
‘Many have specialised in one make or marque, but I didn’t want to alienate the customer base that my grandfather had built up by picking one make or model or even just a group, so I decided when EV came along that yes I believe it to be the future and the future of Cleevely Motors as well so why don’t we pick a fuel type, that being hybrid and EV, and let’s set down that path and see if we can keep Cleevely Motors going for another few generations as well?’
However, he added: ‘There’s no huge money to be made in EV servicing and repairs. They’re very reliable cars with very few moving parts.’ To make the same kind of money out of EV repairs and maintenance as with the traditional petrol/diesel workshops, you have to work a lot harder or have a higher volume.
‘Very much the core of our business at the moment is about education and letting people know the facts and figures about it. It was a lot different a few years ago, it was a lot easier – there were only a handful of cars, if that, to talk about with customers, but now the manufacturers are getting forced into creating a lot of different makes and models and versions of the cars, so there’s a lot more variety out there . . . and it’s growing all the time.’
Cleevely, who drives a Tesla Model 3, also told Batchelor: ‘The second-hand EV market is very buoyant. Car residuals are very high. I didn’t think we’d be as far along with EV as we currently are, I thought it was going to be a slow burn, but certainly the last year it’s shot up and we’re getting a lot more sales. The two months before Covid we were selling two to three cars a week, which is pretty good.’
He added: ‘We sell cars on behalf of owners that are moving out of their first-ever EV and moving up the ladder – and by the way nobody goes back. Once you’re on that EV trail you don’t go back to petrols and diesels.’
Which manufacturers are really getting it right, though, Batchelor wanted to know.
‘When I bought my Model 3 last year it was very much a close call between the Model 3 and the Kia e-Niro. because Kia and Hyundai have got it absolutely bang-on,’ said Cleevely. ‘They’ve created such an efficient car that’s a pleasure to drive.’
It was only personal preferences, such as the Model 3’s sparse interior, updates and the Tesla charging network that swung it for him. But he said they drove very similarly and the e-Niro was more practical, for example, having a bigger boot space.
‘Legacy manufacturers are a long way behind but the Korean manufacturers are catching up fast.’
Watch the interview in full by clicking on the main image.
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