Aston academics support Midlands SME to deliver pay-as-you-go electric vehicles

Birmingham business Electric Zoo has worked with Aston Business School to help drive the adoption of electric vehicles. The electric car subscription company joined the school’s Advanced Services Group SME Partnership to develop its advanced services offer and tap into growing demand for sustainable transport.

Husband and wife team Charnjit and Lash Saranna have a wealth of business experience, having spent nearly 30 years running a successful car dealership. The pair became increasingly concerned about the impact vehicles emissions are having on the environment and when their daughter announced she was considering studying global sustainable development, the family began to reassess their priorities. Out of that soul-searching came the concept for Electric Zoo – a company with an innovative business model to support the electric revolution.

The co-founders’ dream was to look beyond selling vehicles and develop a subscription model offering mobility as a service, incorporating supply of the car, insurance, maintenance and road tax. The business needed support developing its advanced services model and enrolled on Aston Business School’s Advanced Services Group SME Partnership programme which has been designed to support business transformation and growth for SMEs.

The free support programme, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, targets businesses trading in the Black Country, Birmingham and Solihull LEP regions. It helps businesses become more competitive by embracing servitization – the organisational transformation of manufacturing companies to compete through advanced services.

Electric Zoo’s Chief Financial Officer, Charnjit Saranna said: “We came to realise that we didn’t want to continue selling gas guzzling vehicles and spent a lot of time working on a business model that would help people make the transition from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to NICE (No Internal Combustion Engine). The team at Aston University helped us to work on our strategy, develop our value proposition and put the needs of the customer at the heart of our offer.”

With the motto: “Pay As You Go Electric” the business set about developing a range of services to ease the transition. The pay-as-you-go model allows customers to access vehicles for as long as they choose without having to deal with the hassle of insurance, maintenance and road tax. The business also offers top-up services including setting up a tax-efficient Salary Sacrifice electric car leasing scheme, installing charge points, and using its SmarTech devices to help customers analyse usage of their current ICE vehicle with demonstrated savings in money and CO2 by switching to electric.

Transport is the UK’s largest greenhouse-gas emitting sector and if we are to reach our goal of hitting Net Zero 2050, we have to find ways of decarbonising mobility. The Government will ban

the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and there have been significant technological advances in electric vehicles.

According to a recent paper by academics from Nottingham Trent University, if all cars were electric, UK carbon emissions would drop by 12%. The pandemic has forced people to re-evaluate their relationship with their vehicle. In 2020, 6.5% of new cars registered were pure-electric, compared to 1.5% the previous year.

Increasing uptake of electric vehicles will depend on engaging with customers, understanding the needs, and developing business models to meet them. Joining the SME Programme helped Electric Zoo develop its strategy and value proposition. The business tapped into Aston’s academic expertise to develop the website, improve the customer experience, and review the company’s leadership and financial models.

Electric Zoo’s internet traffic increased by 15% as a result of the programme. It now has a fleet of just under 40 vehicles and hopes to increase that to more than 100 by the end of 2021.

“The team at Aston University taught us that everything has to be process driven. Using the business model framework that the Aston Academic team have developed to support the transformation process, our services are now developed around the needs of the customer”, said Charnjit. “The programme also offered a great way to increase our skillset and was pitched at just the right level. I would highly recommend taking part. Every day is a learning day and an opportunity to grow as a business as well as an individual.”

Since 2012, Aston Business School has supported over 200 companies like Electric Zoo transform their operation through academic engagement, business model innovation and the adoption of new technology. Financial data from participating companies indicates that shifting to a servitized model led to combined growth of £30 million.

The programme is now recruiting its next cohort of SMEs. To find out more about what it could do for your business please visit: /sme-programme-home