Anila Siraj worked in the oil and gas space for over 20 years before transitioning into the world of embolity. Here she worked in electric vehicle (EV) charger placement as electric vehicles became more prominent.
Siraj went on to work at Kalibrate where she developed strategies and built a new alternative fuels business from the ground up. This included definition of the value proposition for clients, products and go-to-market.
In 2021, Siraj launched The Electric Evolution, a highly quoted business and consumer study. Following the launch, she led the new alternative fuels business unit at Kalibrate, focusing on driving product, data, strategy and analytical capabilities to empower clients with the full potential of EV solutions.
As an alternative fuels expert and trusted advisor, Siraj recently became an independent consultant. This allows her to provide more direction, focus and thought leadership to the key stakeholders within this area with a focus on building EV businesses.
We caught up with Siraj to hear more about her journey in the emobility space and get her thoughts on how things need to develop to speed up the transition to electric vehicles.
EDs: Can you tell us a little about your history and how you ended up in the emobility space?
I’ve worked in the oil and gas space for 20-plus years, primarily working with fuel retailers to help them develop their retail fuel pricing and location planning strategies. Some 7-9 years ago I started to see interest from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and government bodies around hydrogen charger placement. Over the next couple of years that evolved into electric vehicle (EV) charger placement as more EVs came onto the market.
As this EV revolution started to pick up pace, we all knew that fuel retailers would be acutely impacted, even if that impact may be several years, or maybe even decades away. My clients started asking questions about how this is going to affect them and what, if anything, they needed to do. This increased awareness led me to begin researching this area to understand the impacts and over the last five years or so I’ve become embedded within the emobility space.
EDs: What was your role at Kalibrate?
In my most recent role, I developed a strategy and built a new alternative fuels business from the ground up, including the definition of the value proposition for our clients, products and go-to-market.
This was based on several years of research into what our clients needed, both fuel and non-fuel retailers, as well as what original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), charge pointer operators (CPOs) and government were doing in this space, and probably most importantly, what consumers wanted.
I launched our EV services in May 2021 along with a highly quoted business and consumer study – The Electric Evolution. Following the launch, I led the new alternative fuels business unit, focusing on driving product, data, strategy and analytical capabilities to empower clients with the full potential of EV solutions.
Core to that, I was working with major retailers across the globe in this area, including strategy development, location optimisation, target market selection and future growth.
One of my personal goals has been to share my experience and knowledge about emobility to educate consumers and businesses. To that end, I spent a lot of time providing thought leadership and guidance through webinars, panel discussions, blogs and media engagement.
Having established myself as an alternative fuels subject matter expert and trusted advisor, I recently decided to become an independent consultant allowing me to provide more direction, focus and thought leadership to the key stakeholders within this area with a focus on building EV businesses.
EDs: Can you tell us about your work with the National Association of Convenience stores (NACS) EV Council?
The NACS EV Council, based in the US and run by the Fuels Institute, is focused on creating and delivering education and insights around EV infrastructure deployment and operation. The objective being to bring together the various organisations engaged in supporting EV charger deployment to then help retailers navigate the opportunities and challenges.
I serve on the NACS EV Council as an advisor, as well as playing a reviewer role for research that is being developed or delivered. I have also had the opportunity to share insights around EV economics through a live education session hosted by the EV Council at the annual NACS show.
Here, I discussed successful EV strategies retailers are adopting, how retailers are preparing for the future and what characteristics enable retailers to monetise EV charging long-term.
I continue to work alongside a diverse group of stakeholders, including EV manufacturers, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) manufacturers, CPO’s, electric utilities, retailers, government agencies and EV services providers, amongst others.
This is to provide expertise to enable the EV Council to create original research and reports on topics ranging from EVSE policies and regulations, EV charger deployment optimisation, EV lifecycle analysis, future-proofing convenience stores for EV charging and many more.
EDs: How important is charging and how do you see this developing?
It’s critical. If we are going to meet the net zero targets that have been set out by a host of governments around the world, we need to focus on reducing range anxiety and encouraging adoption.
Even with more and more affordable EVs coming onto the market, many consumers are still lacking confidence in the ability of the existing and planned charging network. This is both in terms of charger quantity and reliability to meet their needs and at the very least allow them to take the longer journeys they can take now with their internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
While a significant gap exists in terms of infrastructure, a number of initiatives both on the part of businesses and government alike are attempting to close this gap, but the real proof will be in the execution. To date, the targets in terms of EV charger deployment have not been met.
There is still hope as we have reached a tipping point in terms of new EV sales which applies pressure on businesses to put an EV charger strategy in place if they want a slice of the EV consumer pie. Understanding that consumer, especially as adoption is still in its infancy, will help drive charger deployment in the right places at the right time.
EDs: Will we see this ramping up quickly now with more external charging partnerships taking place?
We’ve seen several partnerships emerge over the last few years. It’s been encouraging to see these partnerships develop between grocers, retailers, energy companies, charger manufacturers and OEM’s, across several regions.
The move to electric in retail, as well as the leisure and hospitality sectors, brings a huge investment opportunity. The commitment by these large business to set their own goals for charger deployment at their locations is a huge step towards rolling out chargers faster, and not just relying on EVSE manufacturers, OEM’s and government, to try to meet the EV charger requirements needed for mass adoption on their own.
While these initiatives are a significant step in the right direction, the key will be the speed of roll-out. As of now, there are still some supply chain delays with EVSE equipment and we have seen many businesses unable to meet their own targets for the number of chargers installed. With that being said we are on an upward curve with exponential growth, which can only be a positive.
EDs: Will the charging model be different to the classic gas station we’re used to and be more convenient geographically?
This has been a longstanding debate. Based on consumer feedback, most do not see the gas station, as it stands, as the go-to charging location for a number of reasons – space and availability of services being top of the list. While gas station locations are prime to attract the evolving EV consumer, the actual facility needs to evolve.
Traditionally, a driver refuelling their ICE vehicle may be in and out in a few min, but EV drivers will need to stick around for at least 20-30 minutes and in many cases longer. Since the driver does not need to stay with the vehicle while charging, they will seek to engage in other activities whether that’s a bite to eat or top-up shopping or something else.
This is where what’s on offer at the destination becomes more important. More and more non-fuel retailers and destinations such as shopping malls, restaurants and alike are adding EV chargers to their locations. These locations already have the services to capture the consumer and so adding chargers has become a no-brainer for them.
Retailers must also recognise that we are looking at multiple user behavioural types and more will develop as adoption increases. Each of these brings a different set of preferences and different considerations when selecting a location to charge their EV. From the ‘charge at home and slow top-up at a destination’ driver to the ‘long-distance commuter needing a full recharge quickly along the way’ and everything in between.
To meet these needs, while there is a market for both traditional gas stations and non-fuel retailers to share the space, with more business beyond the traditional gas station setting up chargers, there will be stiff competition. Understanding the consumers’ habits, preferences and behaviours and tailoring the offer will be key.
EDs: Currently, what do you see as the biggest barriers to EV adoption? And how will this evolve?
The biggest challenge is of course range anxiety, coupled with the unreliability of chargers. While the range on newer EVs has increased, with some reaching and even surpassing the range of traditional ICE vehicles, the relative distance between chargers compared to gas stations still remains a concern for drivers. With continual reports of chargers not working or being occupied and adding to wait time, anxiety is exacerbated.
For now, EV adoption is predominantly within the early adopter segment, those consumers that are willing to take more risks. Adoption is concentrated in metropolitan areas where most people either have off-street charging or charging stations are more readily available.
Transient routes in and out of these cities have also seen increased charger deployment and will only help fuel increased adoption. However, creating an imbalance between rural areas, smaller towns and cities will only slow down wider adoption, so investment is needed to enable a wider geographical spread of charging facilities.
The other key area that is holding back faster adoption is availability and cost. The cost-of-living crisis and supply chain issues have people waiting months or sometimes even years to get their EV. It still remains for the most part a luxury item, even in the used-car market, and although some EV makers have dropped prices recently, many consumers are still waiting for a widely available ‘affordable’ EV.
Added to that is the uncertainty over ongoing cost to charge, especially as CPO’s face demand charges from electricity companies, will that cost be passed through to consumers?
EDs: Do you drive an EV? What is it and why?
I have been driving a Tesla since 2019. I was encouraged by the range, charger availability and vehicle technology. I’d consider myself to be an early adopter of technology but my decision to purchase an electric vehicle had considerations beyond those of simply buying the latest iPhone for example.
While buying a vehicle that was built from the ground up as an EV rather than adapting an ICE vehicle to an electric drivetrain was certainly a deciding factor. I also chose a vehicle that had an extensive charging network, as range anxiety was definitely a real thing for me. The purchase of an EV was only made possible with the comfort of knowing that we also have an ICE vehicle in our household.
Over time, I’ve become loyal to the Tesla brand, driven by the functionality, reliability and continuous innovation – just like I can get new features on my phone with over-the-air updates, I get the same on my EV.
New makes and models are coming out every day – the number of light duty pure EVs has doubled from 2021 to 2022 – and with the choices available, whether my next car is a Tesla or not, it will certainly be an EV.