Brand Builders: G-Wiz

Goingreen is winning over a small but ardent band of admirers with its emission-free electric car.

There's an image that's hard to shift out of your head while wandering around the modest Southall headquarters of electric-car company Goingreen, with its boxy G-Wiz vehicles scattered around. It's Postman Pat driving around Greendale in his little van. Because, just like Pat's van, the G-Wiz's seats are fitted unusually high up.

In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Pat to switch to a G-Wiz on fuel economy and environmental grounds. This is the only vehicle on British roads to be fuelled entirely from a rechargeable electric supply, making it emission-free.

On the money-saving front, G-Wiz drivers are in the lowest insurance bracket, pay no road tax, no Congestion Charge in London, and can park for free on meters and in municipal car parks in the capital. The on-the-road price is £5599, after a £1000 government Energy Saving Trust grant and £1000 discount from the company.

Launched in India by Reva, and still made in Bangalore, Goingreen owns the marketing licence for the cars in the UK. It has made many tweaks for the market, such as the addition of a remote control for the heater that lets drivers warm the car before they've left the house.

However, the model's idiosyncratic features remain, including a totally flat windscreen and those high seats (Indian drivers tend to be shorter than Brits).

It may be stating the obvious, but the G-Wiz isn't for boy racers. It has a top speed of 40mph, and must be charged for six hours every 60 miles.

'People expect an electric car not to have much power, but it generally surpasses expectations,' insists the brand's architect, Keith Johnston.

'It's very nippy around town.' He admits the G-Wiz 'takes a bit of getting used to' but says customers, most of whom buy them as a second car for short city trips, fall in love with them.

A key part of the appeal to the model's 100 or so early adopters is that they are buying into a brand that tears up the car sales rulebook. Goingreen employs no sales people, only 'co-drivers' - young environmental science graduates who give customers a test drive and explain the features with no 'car salesman' pushiness. Equally, it eschews showrooms and fancy literature.

Test drives are arranged at three central London locations and all dealings with customers are via its website and email.

Conscious that taking cars to garages is an annoyance for most drivers, Goingreen is planning a squad of mobile engineers to visit customers' homes, erect a tent around the vehicle and conduct a kerb-side service.

It's a radical template and one that clearly excites serial entrepreneur Johnston. Having launched four direct marketing agencies in Hong Kong and the UK - he was latterly chief of the publicly floated Chemistry Communications - he is embracing Goingreen as a means to 'change the way people think about transport'. Referring to the impact of car pollution on asthma, Johnston paints the G-Wiz as a catalyst for change.

'In the future we will choose different transport options for different journeys - perhaps public transport or a car such as ours for short city trips, and a bigger vehicle for longer journeys. In years to come people will look back and see that we started the ball rolling.'

He is dismissive of major car companies 'dabbling' in electric vehicles, claiming their vested interest in promoting the internal combustion engine prevents them from putting in more than a token PR-motivated effort.

Currently searching for funding, he needs more cash to pre-order cars from Bangalore so customers don't have to wait so long for delivery. More money would also mean Johnston could spend more time promoting the vehicles to potential customer groups such as local authorities and city businesses.

Marketing has so far centred on PR and the website. G-Wiz has attracted global publicity, but Johnston has shied away from the motoring press.

'I suspect that because G-Wiz is different it would be open to ridicule,' he explains.

So no reviews from the Godfather of the motoring press then? 'Jeremy Clarkson? I'm not sure he'd even fit inside.'

TIMELINE

May 2002: On a trip to India, former Asda marketing director Steven Cain and Nick Hewson spot some Reva electric cars and wonder whether they could build a business around them in Britain.

Sep 2002: The duo negotiate a licence to sell the cars in the UK under the name Goingreen. An order is placed for 16 test vehicles.

Dec 2002: The cars roll off a transporter. Some are issued to councils, local businesses, even Cain's old Asda boss-turned-MP Archie Norman. 2003 is spent developing a UK specification for the car, branded G-Wiz.

Oct 2003: Cain is offered the job of chief executive of major Australian retail group Coles Myer, which he accepts. He and Hewson remain major shareholders in Goingreen, but recruit Keith Johnston to run it.

Jan 2004: The first shipment of UK-spec cars arrives. All 40 sell within eight weeks.

Aug 2004: 100 cars have been sold. The team moves into a former British Gas site in Southall and awaits the next shipment.

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