Remember Polar Network, the U.K.-based charging network that costs electric car owners upwards of $30 a month to gain access to charging points? 

Previously, Polar’s sales director Neil Sharpe said that its level 2 charging stations were not designed to help electric car owners travel long distances. Now David Martell, CEO of Polar Network and Chargemaster -- Polar's sister company --  has joined the fray, calling claims that his company is preying on electric car owners “Hysteria”

“Electric Car Owners Can Afford It”

During a cellphone conversation with Mr. Martell yesterday, we personally offered him the opportunity to set the record straight about the network which has caused an outcry from electric car owners in the U.K. Unfortunately however, Mr. Martell refused to accept criticisms from electric car drivers. 

“Look, it’s like this,” Martell said. “No-one asks you to go to an expensive restaurant. You don’t have to eat out if you don’t want to. No-one is making [electric car owners] join our network”

Polar offers multiple levels of membership, much like a cellphone call plan. The base level only includes access to the public charging network, and costs customers £19.50 ($30.73) a month. 

Polar Network Charging Stations

Polar Network Charging Stations

Subscribe to the next service level, which includes rental of a home charging station,  and you'll pay £29.50 ($46.50) a month in rental fees. Add a charging point at your place of work, and you'll be paying £39.50 ($62) a month.

In addition, customers are expected to pay a £95 ($150) joining fee, agree to a 24-month contract, and pay an additional 95 pence ($1.50) every time they use one of Polar's public charging stations. 

Misplace or damage Polar's specialized RFID card, and Polar Network will sting you with a $15 replacement fee. 

When it came to claims that the network was taking advantage of early adopters of electric cars, Martell was frank. 

“If someone has just spent £30,000 [$47,000] on a new electric car, they can afford to join our network,” he defended, adding “we’re not a charity.” 

Frustrating Service, Flawed Posts

Earlier this year, Charge Master -- the parent company of the Polar Network -- announced that it would be installing electric car charging stations at the rest-stop restaurant chain Little Chef

Free until the end of 2012, Little Chef promised the charging points would allow fast charging of up to 7 kilowatts to allow electric car owners to top up their car while enjoying a hot meal. 

In reality, things are somewhat different, with electric car owners claiming that Polar Network charging stations at LIttle Chef restaurants are poorly sited and non-functioning, with restaurant staff unsure of how they work. 

Polar Network Charging Stations

Polar Network Charging Stations

Jon Tracey, an early-adopting Leaf owner, reports calling up the telephone number posted on the Polar Network charging station to be told that the person answering the telephone was the only person in the office, and had no idea how to activate the charging station

After three failed attempts to power the charging station up, Tracey gave up and found another, free charging post at the limits of his car’s range to refuel at. 

He’s not the only one to have issues with Polar, either.

Nissan Leaf owner Paul Churchley went to try a Little Chef  charging station, only to be told that in order to use the “free until the end of 2012” service, he would have to register for a time-limited account with Polar. 

In addition, he was told he could only use the polar network 12 times before he would have to subscribe in order to continue using the service. 

Ninety minutes after arriving, the car started charging. 

Nissan Leaf charging

Nissan Leaf charging

Wireless Communications Needed

This week, we obtained an email from a Hotel in Farnham, Surrey, where a recently installed Polar Network/Chargemaster was not operating. 

On inquiring why the newly installed point had remained inoperative since its installation, the hotel was told that a lack of cellular coverage meant that the expensive charging station was rendered useless. 

“The need for the signal is that we can monitor and control the usage of the post,” a technician from Chargemaster-approved charge point installers SSE wrote. “My suggestion is that we remove the ‘intelligent’ terminal and replace it with a ‘dumb’ one." 

Is due diligence being undertaken as part of charging station installations? Apparently not. 

Pay As You Go “Not An Option Yet”

During our conversation with Mr. Martell, we passed on feedback from electric car owners who have clearly said they would prefer to pay for charging on an ad-hoc basis, using a credit card reader attached to the charging station. 

This would eliminate a monthly service fee, and allow those who rarely use charging stations outside of their home to use the network. 

“When cellphones first came out, you had to have a contract,” Martell answered. “You couldn’t do pay-as-you go. Our network is like early cellphones. Besides, no-one I know of offers credit-card pay-as-you go services.

When we pointed out that U.S. based ChargePoint offered such a service using contactless credit-cards and a toll-free number printed on the front of the charging station, he remained unconvinced. 

 “Who are they?” he queried. “I’ve never heard of them.” He then added “ I think you need to get your facts right.”

Not Just Charging Stations

Interestingly, Mr. Martell is also chief executive of the Electric Car Corporation, a U.K.-based firm which converts the European-specification Citroen C1 into an all-electric car - the ECC C1 Ev’ie.

Now overshadowed by production electric cars, the ECC C1 Ev’ie has attracted mixed reviews, with many test-drivers reporting limited range, poor performance and questionable handling characteristics

Polar Network Charging Stations

Polar Network Charging Stations

Questionable Business Model?

We’re not business professionals, but our understanding of a successful business is one that can sell a product a customer needs at a price they will pay. 

For Polar, the latter seems unimportant, with Martell unfazed by suggestions that Polar is antagonizing the very people it needs in order to survive as a business. 

Polar and Chargemaster claim support from all of the major electric automakers, as well as support from he U.K. Government. Talking to industry insiders, we’re not so convinced -- although we have yet to find anyone willing to publicly go on the record to air those opinions. 

Since our telephone conversation with Mr. Martell, we have officially offered Chargemaster PLC and Polar Networks the chance to offer an official statement in response to some of our questions.  At the time of writing, we have received no such statement. 


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