Dealer Insight: Norton Way – Motor Trader

Norton Way recently began an electric vehicle charging scheme that powers both its Letchworth dealership and the cars on the forecourt. Motor Trader spoke to Neal Grainger, financial director of Norton Way Group on its EV plans.

In March 2021, Norton Way announced that its Nissan dealership in Letchworth was taking part in an electric vehicle charging scheme to help reduce costs and improve its carbon footprint. The programme allows vehicles to be charged overnight when the cost is lower while the electricity stored in the vehicles can be used to run the dealership during the day.

For this scheme, Norton Way partnered with SmartestEnergy, Grid Edge, Virta and Origami. On-site kit includes two Virta vehicle-to-grid chargers, a solar carport, and a rooftop solar system.

Neal Grainger, financial director of Norton Way Group said: “Norton Way is excited and proud to be involved in being a front runner in the automotive sectors electric revolution. The latest development is a combination of electric car charging capabilities with solar integration and the dealership’s power requirements

“The plan is to use the vehicles to help with the energy requirements when they aren’t being used. The cars will be re-charged overnight when the electricity demand is less, saving 30% in electricity cost.”

Norton Way felt that the scheme had the potential to make the dealership more efficient with its power usage and reduce overhead running costs. It will run for at least a year.

Now, a few months into the scheme, Motor Trader caught up with Grainger to find out more about the scheme, the way Norton Way is approaching the uptake of EVs, and how it has fared in H1.

The “electric revolution”

Grainger said: “It is an exciting time for us, especially with the ‘electric revolution’ as they call it. Norton Way is a part of Marubeni, which is forward thinking and looks to make sure that we are at that front end of the latest technology to ensure that we do not become irrelevant.

“We looked at the idea of taking power from both solar and our onsite electric vehicles to power our dealerships. We are becoming more and more aware of the electrical needs of the business, and we need to adapt. Peak times are probably the biggest problem because everyone needs energy during work hours.”

Norton Way has installed solar panels on the carport and dealership with a bi-directional charger. So, the carport can pull energy from the Nissan LEAFs when needed, and then put it back in overnight.

Grainger added: “With the use of renewable energy and bi-directional chargers there is the potential for the business to reduce its carbon footprint and minimise cost.

“Right now it is only the Nissan LEAF that has this capability, but as we move forward with the technology I think that it is likely that it will be used across the board with the newer electric vehicles coming out.”

As this technology grows, the question of whether it could be implemented in the home or at other businesses can be asked. On this, Grainger feels that although the technology is expensive right now, there could be a place for it in the future.

He said: “The manufacturers need to adapt to make sure they comply with legislation, which leads to a need for the manufacturers to create an electric market. They have got to otherwise it is going to cost them. We think using bi-directional charging is a sensible way forward and will make our business a winner in the long term.

“Regarding customers doing this at home, not at the moment. The equipment’s not going to be cheap. We have looked at it as an opportunity. We are big into corporate at Norton Way, and in FY19 we were looking at 7,500 vehicles and FY21 we are looking to do over 6,000 vehicles in corporate. If we can prove the concept and that it is something that we could really offer the businesses, we could offer a vehicle, charger, and vehicle to grid product in one package.

“People are becoming more carbon aware, not only because of legislation but because of the moral implications. It provides a good news story to take steps to address your carbon footprint and something that businesses might look to put toward.”

And how has customer behaviour changed with a growing interest in EVs? Grainger said that potential buyers are clued up on the technology and take confidence from the LEAF’s history.

He said: “Across the whole industry customers are becoming savvier on the product, meaning that we need to have ‘geniuses’ in the showrooms. Customers are so well informed because they can find all the information they want online; they know what they’re looking for and the LEAF has been around for the longest. People are sometimes a little bit worried about electric vehicles because of the range, but with the range of the new LEAF and the fact that it has been around for a long time, they have more confidence. Nissan is aware of how this behaviour is moving and are looking to support the dealerships.

“It is dependent on what the manufacturers offer versus the models and how they fit into the market. With our sites in London, we see more EV inclined customers as opposed to a dealership nowhere near a city. We must adapt to the situation.

“For example, at our Kia site in West London the e-Niro has been absolutely flying, and we have seen 70-75% of vehicles sold there being hybrids, plug in hybrid or fully electric.

“I think that in the inner-city area, there’s going to be more need for other charging options outside of home charging, and the government is working on lamppost charging. They are going to have to develop the infrastructure throughout the network, because they are pushing the manufacturers to create the cars.

“I think we need to remember that in 2030 we will be banned selling new non-electric cars, but there are still going to be millions out in the public and it’s going to take many years to work through all the cars currently in circulation to become fully electric. It is not going to be as big bang as people might currently think.”

Adapting to change

Norton Way has used its experiences over the past year to look at how it can make the business more efficient, both in terms of energy and its day-to-day running.

Grainger said: “I think it is fair to say that in the first lockdown the world stopped. But people adapted. We adapted our online capabilities and then as the pandemic went on people became more comfortable working within the guidelines. They became more comfortable having internet-based conversations and then coming in to pick up the car.

“Since we have re-opened, we have stuck with the one-way system and operate in an open area. It is about making sure that the customers are comfortable with the safety measures. We do not demand that customers use a mask in the showroom anymore, but they can if they want to, and we do.

“When the pandemic hit, we had to make some changes. We had to use the furlough system because there wasn’t the requirement for everyone in the dealership during shutdown.

“We really looked at the way we want to build the business, how it needed to be built back up and we have come back more efficient. All our managers were working throughout lockdown and taking customers calls on their phones. I think that was a good insight for them into the real world and into how customers were feeling and how to react to them.

“Now we are building back up to similar levels of sales but with not quite as many staff, probably a 10% reduction in our overall workforce. And that’s just because we are now more efficient. We are just working hard to try and make sure improve our systems and our business.”

And the business is looking ahead. The installation of solar panels at several of its sites may be a large upfront cost now but will pay off in the long run. It is also looking into ways that AI can help it streamline the daily routines.

Grainger said: “We are trying to reduce our energy costs. We are confident that it will pretty much cost the same over a 15-year period to receive electricity as it will to pay for solar installation up front now, but then in 15 years’ time we will have a business that pretty much runs itself on that electricity.

“We are keeping ourselves on the front and looking at the automation space to see whether we can develop some AI take control of some of the mundane tasks, which then allows us to improve our customer service rather than time being taken up by standard daily checks. We need to continually move forward and make sure we’re not left behind.”

In conclusion, we asked Grainger how the business had fared in H1, and how he saw the rest of the year playing out.

He concluded: “We have had a very strong start to the year. In used cars, the cap price is going in the opposite direction to what you would ordinarily expect, so we are struggling to find stuff but when you do find it you can make a profit on it, so out profit has gone up in H1 on the back of that.

“There is the semiconductor concern, and we’re starting to see the possibility of delayed model rollouts and it is going to become a bit more of a problem in the second half of the year.

“We are confident that we can come in on our budget for this year, but we need to keep eye on that new car situation and continue to keep the used car situation rolling.”


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