In this episode of The 2pt5 innovator podcast my guest is Robert Llewellyn, founder of Fully Charged.
In an engaged conversation with Robert Llewellyn we are talking about his motivation to start and run Fully Charged, a show, podcast & event series about electric transportation & cars as well as renewable energy and #StopBurningStuff
Enjoy the show!
About Robert Llewellyn
Robert Llewellyn is the Joint CEO of “Fully Charged”. He has started the show as a Youtube channel with an engaging video in 2010 informing about electric cars, renewable energy and ranting about obstaclers. He has a long time career as comedian, actor, presenter and writer.
Listen to the episode
Connect & find out more
- Robert Llewellyn Twitter
- Robert Llewellyn Wikipedia
- Fully Charged Website
- Fully Charged Youtube
- Fully Charged Wikipedia
- Fully Charged Twitter
- Fully Charged Instagram
- Fully Charged Apple Podcast & Spotify
- Fully Charged Facebook
- Fully Charged LinkedIn
About Fully Charged
Mentioned in the episode & additional
- Red Dwarf Wikipedia
- Scrapheap Challenge Wikipedia
- Carpool by Robert Llewellyn Wikipedia
- James Corden Carpool Karaoke Wikipedia
- Öko-Institut e.V. Freiburg Wikipedia
- Car2Go 8today: Share Now Wikipedia
- Mobility Carsharing Switzerland Wikipedia
- “How do they do it?” Wikipedia
- Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation Theory
- Tony Seba Website
- Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature Wikipedia
- GROWIAN – first large wind turbine Wikipedia
- Tomorrow’s World BBC
- Domani Yachts – conversation with yacht builder Michael Goddaert on the podcast
- Evoy – conversation with co-founder Leif A. Stavøstrand on the podcast
- Fully Charged Live Europe 2022 in Amsterdam
- Vertical Aerospace
- Volocopter cargo drone
- Rolls-Royce Spirit of Innovation electric flight
- Airbus electric flight
- Dubai electric airtaxi service
- Fully Charged presenters
- Silent Yachts
And now what?
Check out Fully Charged Youtube channel, enjoy the videos and support them.
This manual transcript was created by podcasttranscribe.com
Klaus Reichert: Robert, when I started to do research on you on the Internet, I found really extraordinary things, so we need to get these out of the way first.
Robert Llewellyn: Ok.
Klaus: My first question is, are you a mechanoid guising as a human trying to take over the world?
Robert: [laughs] Yeah, sometimes I wish. No, I’m not. I’m a human underneath the mechanoid.
Klaus: So we can rule out the mechanoid thing. [laughs]
Robert: Definitely not a mechanoid. No. [laughs]
Klaus: Okay [laughs].
Klaus: Welcome to The 2pt.5 – Conversations Connecting Innovators. My name is Klaus. I’m an innovation coach in Baden Würtemberg in the southwest of Germany. Innovators and creators from around the globe help each other by sharing highs and lows, the motivation and creative passions, as well as their favourite methods, tools and ideas. The name of the podcast comes from the 2.5% innovators from Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation Theory. Find more details, all the episodes and transcripts at www.the2pt5.net. Enjoy the show.
Klaus: In this episode of The 2pt5 Innovative Podcast, my guest is Robert Llewellyn. Robert is a bit of an electric car fan and a very multifaceted personality. With his convictions, ideas and lots of time and energy, he’s an important part of the transformation of mobility, including, but not limited to, the generation of renewable energy. As a comedian, actor, presenter and writer, he has started Fully Charged as a YouTube channel with an engaging video in 2010, informing about electric cars, renewable energy and ranting about obstaclos, if that is actually a word. My name is Klaus. This is Robert Llewellyn, and this is The 2pt5 Innovative Podcast.
Klaus: Robert. Welcome to the podcast.
Robert: Thank you very much for inviting me. Thank you, Klaus.
Klaus: Robert. How did I do as a non Welshman pronouncing your name?
Robert: You did extremely, extremely well. [laughs] You did better than most English people do because they get it wrong very often. And I… particularly Americans… In America, I gave up. I became Robert Lou Alan because they thought it was like three names. But my grandparents… three of my grandparents were Welsh, and they would pronounce it correctly as a Welsh person, and the nearest I can get is [ˈɬwelɨn]. So it’s soft… the first two l’s are soft, but the second two aren’t so. It’s a really… There’s a town called Llangollen [ɬanˈɡoɬen], which has the same soft L at the beginning. So it’s [ˈɬwelɨn] is how you would say it if you were Welsh, but because I was… my parents and I were born in England we’re not… I don’t really classify myself as… I’m very… only vaguely Welsh. Only a bit Welsh. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] Well, aren’t we all a mixture of whatever was before us?
Robert: Well, I did… I mean, just very briefly, I did a DNA test where you take the swab in your cheek, and I thought I would be Welsh and maybe Scottish, and I don’t know what… you know, and I was hoping for some exotic… just a small amount of African or Asian or something, like, different. And I am Belgian and Welsh. And it’s very specifically South Holland and Belgium and northern France. That little corner, that’s where most of my DNA is from. 55% Belgium… Well, in my family history, there’s no knowledgeable… where, like, grandma was Belgium. I mean, we didn’t know anything. But then historians said, because my maternal grandmother was from London and it is likely to be of huguenot descent. That was the idea, we were from that area. Which is… it is possible, I suppose. So, basically… I’m actually going to drive through Belgium next week, and I’ll feel very at home there. [laughs] It’s my homeland. [laughs]
Klaus: But that’s great. That gives you an excuse to love waffles, to love chocolate, to love…
Robert: Yeah, waffles and lovely beer. I like their beer. I like their french fries. Yeah, yeah.
Klaus: I know. When I was living in Belgium, I discovered the… peach beer and…
Robert: Ahh, peach beer. Yes. It’s hard not to like that.
Klaus: It’s just something really special and the framboise which… and the kriek, which are fruity types of beers. And it’s just special. You don’t get it anywhere else.
Robert: No, I’ve never found it anywhere else. No. Yeah. Anyway, that’s my DNA heritage. We’ve done that. [laughs] Sorry about that slight detour.
Klaus: [laughs] Okay, well, names is always very, very difficult, if you start to sort of look at the global level. My last name is Reichert, and it also has these weird [x] as your original pronunciation. And I try to help myself with pronouncing it [raɪkər], which is like a Commander on Star Trek figure.
Robert: Yes, Commander Reiker, yes. [laughs]
Klaus: So that helps in certain areas.
Robert. Yeah, yeah. [laughs] Very true.
Klaus: Robert, when I started to do research on you on the Internet, I found really extraordinary things, so we need to get these out of the way first.
Klaus: My first question is, are you a mechanoid guising as a human trying to take over the world?
Robert: [laughs] Yeah, sometimes I wish. No, I’m not. I’m a human underneath the mechanoid. But that has been such an extraordinary journey, to do that show. So for your listeners that don’t know of Red Dwarf… because I think it’s possibly been shown in Germany. I know it’s really… We are a hugely popular show in the Czech Republic. It’s so dotted where the show gets seen most. For some reason, it’s a very popular show. It’s dubbed into Check, and it’s dubbed into Spanish. I’ve seen it in Spa… So we have old tapes of versions of it where our voices are suddenly Japanese, Spanish or Check. I don’t think I’ve ever heard German. Definitely not France. They never watch it. Dutch people watch it in English because all Dutch people speak English better than we do. [laughter] But yeah, that’s how I play a mechanoid, a robot. Although we’re not… I’m not allowed to call him a robot. He’s a mechanoid in a science fiction comedy show that’s been going for a long time. We started making it in 1988 and we made the last series -though we may make more- in 2019. So it’s been going for 31-32 years.
Klaus: Wow, I was really surprised when I heard about that. So we can rule out the mechanoid thing.
Robert: Definitely not a mechanoid. No. [laughs]
Klaus: Okay. [laughs] Your wife is from Australia. Had she seen your TV programmes before she agreed to marry you?
Robert: No, no. [laughs] No, she hadn’t. But even if she had, she’s a very… I’m going to describe her as very grounded. She’s a very grounded woman. She doesn’t get impressed by things like that. So she wouldn’t have been impressed at all. [laughs]
Klaus: I wasn’t thinking of being impressed. [laughs]
Robert: Or she wouldn’t have been interested. She would have had no interest whatsoever. [laughs] So she keeps me, she keeps my feet very firmly on the ground. She’s not.. she doesn’t do that stuff. So yes. I mean, the only… I was in a gym a while ago, and I noticed in the background -I didn’t go anywhere near him- Lewis Hamilton walked into the gym briefly to have a look and then left. And I told her that, and she was very excited to meet Lewis Hamilton. She was not excited to meet me, her husband, but there was Hamilton too. So, you know, there are very few people in the world that she would be impressed to meet, but he’s clearly one of them.
Klaus: [laughs] Well, you have so much in common. You like cars.
Robert: Yeah. Well, I always think I’m just about as good a driver as Lewis is. [laughs]
Klaus: Sure, I think we all are, aren’t we?
Robert: We all think that. Yes. We all think that. [laughs]
Klaus: All the other people are idiots on the road, but you yourself, you’re always the best driver.
Robert: Yeah. Yeah. [laughs]
Klaus: You and Jeremy Clarkson, are you mates?
Robert: No, [laughs] I don’t think we could be described as mates. I’ve met him twice when we were both working at the BBC. The BBC has an annual party of, you know, the people who are on the shows, and so we met at one of those. And he was very funny and very rude. I can’t really repeat what he said -he had a lot of expletives in it- but he made me laugh. I think he’s very funny, but I think we generally would disagree on just about every possible topic there is. [laughs] But I have a huge admiration for him because I think he’s funny. You know, I don’t like what he says. I don’t agree with him, but you know, he can be very amusing. He can also be incredibly annoying, so I don’t know. He’s certainly not a friend or… you know, he’s someone I’ve met. I think if he could remember meeting me, he would probably feel the same way. But I’m sure he doesn’t remember. It was a long time ago.
Klaus: Now that we have cleared that out of the way, we can go back to our regularly scheduled programme. [Robert laughs] Thank you very much. Nowadays you are a sort of media mogul and at this time, Fully Charged, which you started, which you host, which you… whatever, whatever, whatever, is almost like a media empire with a major YouTube channel, a podcast, a series of conferences, a smart city movement. You assembled a team around the globe, which is… lots of cool presenters, producers, camera people and many others that are involved in making these items and many people supporting the channel. You started, I think, a movement and it’s fair to say that Fully Charged has sort of contributed substantially to these electric cars and renewable energy transformation. And it all started with, dare I say, a rant in the summer of 2010 with one video, and I think that shows a lot of courage.
Robert: Yeah. A wonder. [laughs]
Klaus: And this started from comedy. You talked about electric cars in 2010 on YouTube. I mean, what could go wrong?
Robert: [laughs] Everything. A lot of things could go wrong. I mean, that was sort of, in a way, the end of a journey that I went on from maybe 2000 to 2010. So I used to make a TV show in the UK and America. It was a joint venture called Scrapheap Challenge. That was the British version. And that was where two teams of usually pretty skilled engineers, from all sorts of backgrounds would build a machine in a set period of time, in 10 hours, in one day, basically. And then the following day, they would test that machine and whichever one could do it was the winner, you know. So it was a competition, a knockout competition that had a big semi final and final and big prizes and all that stuff. And it ran for 10 years. And we made an American version called Junkyard Wars, exactly the same show but with American engineers taking part, so they would make something like a digging machine, a drilling machine, a floating steam-powered paddle boat. A really wide range of things that they built, you know, over that time. So in that period of time, I met a lot of engineers, people who are working in engineering, when we made the series in America. So I was living in California. We were making them in California. This is from 2000 until about 2004. I was there for a lot of the time, which is very difficult with a young family. [laughs] Well, there’s that side to it, that’s the flip side, because we lived either in Sydney, in Australia, or here, but nowhere convenient for Los Angeles. It was quite a difficult time from that point of view, but an amazing experience to make those shows. And while I was doing that, I met a lot of engineers in America, in particular, working on electric drive trains, battery management software, battery pack design. None of it made any sense at the time because those things just didn’t exist, and I didn’t know why they were doing it. I thought they were making, like, a forklift truck for… or something that worked in an airport. You know, just like, “Why would you do that?” You know, it didn’t really register with me at all, But I could sense that there was something happening. And I also talked to them enough to find they’d all come out of the computer industry rather than the automotive industry. Because in that show we would often have a team from Ford or a team from Jaguar. You know, they would be automotive engineers. that would then… we’d make them build a boat. If they were good at making cars we’d ask them to build a boat [laughs] because they’d never done that. And if they were good at making boats, we would say, “We want you to build a car.” You know, we always pushed themto explore different areas. But so I’ve met a lot of automotive engineers, people who worked in the car industry, and these guys were different. They were all… they just always had a laptop plugged into a load of batteries or a motor or something, you know, they were doing… So a seed was planted then. But I didn’t really know what that meant and it took a long time to kind of understand 1) why they were doing it and then 2) what those cars were going to be like. And eventually I had a lift in a Toyota Prius, the hybrid car, and I didn’t understand… That was the one where I went: “Why have they bothered to do this?” I was fascinated by the engineering. I had a look at it and I was going: “That’s an electric motor and a petrol engine. And why would you make that?” And I then learned sort of backwards about the air pollution problems that were very bad in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. There were very serious, you know, public health issues, which was, you know, legislated against all the cars. Because you want to remember, you know, here in Europe we’re used to… even lovely German cars, [laughs] which tend to be… you know, the high-end German cars tend to be big, but we produce a lot of quite small cars that are quite fuel-efficient. And in America, they don’t. [Klaus laughs] They make enormous cars that use vast amounts of fuel and pump out vast amounts of gas, you know, of toxic gases. And so there were these sort of… I remember reading about surveys of primary school children, young school children whose schools were near big highways and their IQ was lower, they all had asthma, they didn’t do as well academically. You know, there was a huge disparity between them and the kids who went to a school… they weren’t wealthier children, but children who went to a school that wasn’t near a big highway. Just geography. It was the curse of geography. And so there was this legislation put through in California to help reduce air pollution. And that was resisted hugely by the automotive industry. But it did stand for one. And in that gap, it was when the first electric cars and things like the Prius were developed for that. And that was, you know, in the 1990s. So by the time I got there in the 2000s, a lot of stuff had happened and then had reverted. But there was a kind of key movement there, which would later… a lot of the engineers we met would later then go on to work at Tesla, right, at the formation of Tesla. But at that stage, you know, I mean, I met Elon Musk in… I don’t know when it would’ve been… 2010, maybe 2009, and I knew who he was, and I’d heard of him and I knew what he was doing. But he wasn’t a public… No one outside that very small circle of people interested in electric cars would have heard of him or know who he was. And he was a very quiet, shy man. My entire conversation with him was: me: “Oh, Hello. It’s nice to meet you” Him: “Likewise.” That was it. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] Did you meet the original Tesla founders, also?
Robert: This is what’s frustrating now. I want to go back in time because I had a ride in a… I think it’s about 2003 when we were filming at a race track in California, just outside Los Angeles, and there were some guys who had built a test electric vehicle and I had a ride in it at lunch and they were doing… they were on a drag strip, so they were racing against a Ford Mustang, a Porsche 911, a Maserati… and they were winning. They beat everybody in this little really not… an ugly little electric car, but it had laptop batteries. And the company behind it was AC Propulsion. I know that now. I do remember that. But the people I met there could have been any of the people who then went on to found Tesla. But I didn’t know, because who knew? I mean, there wasn’t a Tesla. It didn’t exist, so I don’t know. I may have met some of them, but if I have, I don’t remember them. I remember the driver’s name was Randy, which for a British person is amusing. Yes. [laughs] And of course, this car… I mean, I do remember that very distinctly, because that experience of being in a completely silent car that’s not vibrating and it suddenly moves with enormous force is… when the first time that happens, it’s very confusing, because, you know, by then, certainly… but I mean, most of us are used to kind of being in a car that goes… [brrrrrm] and starts moving. This is nothing. And then… [screech] “Oh, Oh, my God.” I had never experienced that before and I think this car was capable of nought-to-100 kilometres in, maybe 4.5 / 5 seconds. So by today’s standards, not spectacular. But if you’ve never been into anything like that before, it was mind-boggling, and I just didn’t understand how they could do that. You know, it was a tiny little two-seater sports car and it was not a production… It was called the T-zero, and I think it was in a warehouse, that had been stored in a warehouse that has since burnt down so that there’s no record of this vehicle. There’s photographs of it on… If you google the T-zero, you can see pictures of it. But I think the drivetrain of that was what eventually developed into the drivetrain in the Tesla Roadster, the original Tesla sports car. And this was very much a kind of a slightly different version. This had a range, I think, of something like five miles, this car, because it was built just to test the drive train. It wasn’t about driving it for a long way. So it had literally laptop batteries built into a box that was in the back. So it was very, very basic sort of homemade, you know, garden shed engineering.
Klaus: I love these early experimentation phases…
Robert: Extraordinary, yeah.
Klaus: …where you just don’t look at style. Whatever is just concept, proof of concept.
Robert: Yeah, that’s exactly what this was. Yeah.
Klaus: Well, kind of… the first Prius was kind of a proof of concept.
Klaus: I have driven one of these early Priuses with the car sharing that I was using at the time, maybe 20 years ago, and it was ugly as hell…
Klaus: …but it had a screen that showed how the electricity flowed and you could start the car electrically and drive off electrically, which was really fun.
Robert: Well, I mean, I think one of the really brilliant innovations -which I don’t know if other companies have done it since; I don’t know if they did it first- but one of the things I really…I asked… I found a Toyota engineer, or contacted Toyota about it, because that’s what really intrigued me, was you’d be in a Prius, say, going up, maybe 20k and then, you know, just on electric. So it’s completely quiet. And then the engine started, but it didn’t start like we’re used to combustion engines starting [imitates sound]. It didn’t do that. It just went [imitates a different sound] and it was on. And they explained that what they did was they could electronically open all the valves for a split second. So there was no compression. So the electric motor is spinning, driving you along, it needs the power from that so it spins it, the pistons go like that, then the valves close, then it gets the injection, then the fuel starts and you get none of that shuddering. It starts so silently. It’s extraordinary. I mean, you know, we’re now used to that stuff, and that technology, but I’d never come across that before. You always had a starter motor and that sort of judder to start a combustion engine, which, I mean, is brilliant engineering, which I think is now… It breaks my heart because Toyota have really sort of fallen out there. You know, there’s a whole other topic, but they have not followed through in terms of the next step in automotive engineering other than hydrogen fuel cells, which is the journey that they’ve taken. So that might be a tangent topic.
Klaus: I drove the Mirai and it was fun, but it was weird that it leaked after you put it in park and left it.
Robert: It leaked?
Klaus: Yeah, there was drops of water coming out…
Robert: Oh, yes. The water. It’s still dripping water. Yes. [laughs] I was imagining it was leaking hydrogen, you know…
Klaus: No. [laughs]
Robert: Slightly more dangerous.
Klaus: Well, I exploded the gas stations when I filled up with hydrogen. [laughs] No, but it was a fun experience.
Robert: No, no. Yes, I’ve driven the Mirai. It’s brilliant. Yeah, I mean, it’s a great car, but it’s just…
Klaus: It’s a spaceship. I mean, you’re used to spaceships, right?
Robert: Well, yeah, I should be. I am. Yes. But the spaceships I’m used to are made of wood and covered in very badly painted bits of wood. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] Oh, don’t destroy the illusion.
Robert: Sorry. No. It’s a real spaceship. It’s a real spaceship.
Klaus: It’s a real spaceship.
Klaus: In my research, I came across, also, Carpool, and I think at some point of time, you said you were trying, experimenting with little cameras that you get from your filming before.
Klaus: And that’s kind of a genius moment, I think, in a way, because it sort of opened filming for you in a very independent way, without lots of camera people…
Klaus: …no set, [laughs] no props, no whatever. It’s just you, the car and a person. Another person. Maybe people in the back. So, not sure who invented that, but, um, did James Corden ever thank you for this idea?
Robert: No. [laughs] He did walk past me. We were at an event together in America, actually in Los Angeles, and he was there. No, he just nodded at me because we have… it’s that weird thing in… I don’t know if it’s show business, because I don’t really feel part of show business. But, you know, if you’ve been on the TV a long time, you know, like I have in the UK, you know, over 30 years, and when you meet someone who is also on the TV, you do recognise each other but you’ve never met, you’re not friends, you don’t know what to say. It’s quite awkward. So I sort of went: “Ah, hello.” And he went: “Oh!” like that, but I don’t know… Yes, No, he hasn’t thanked me. But, I mean, he shouldn’t be because, you know, other people had put cameras in cars before I did, but it was, you know, that very specific… You know, I mean, you’ve absolutely got it, which a lot of people don’t, is that the whole point of that show was that I could make something on my own, as you say, that I didn’t need anyone else, that it was… I’d stick the cameras in, would put the sound equipment in, I’d learned how to edit, you know, very crudely from working in TV for a long time. But it was a real liberation to be able to do that, to ring someone up and say, “Will you let me give you a lift to work? I’m going to record our conversation.” And 99% of people said yes, and it was a great thrill, you know, that a lot of the… you know, people who are…. some of the people I gave this to are very well known around the world, almost. But a lot of them are… maybe some of them well known here, some of them not known at all. I mean, I talked to neuroscientists and a lot of engineers, civil engineers, people who were developing nuclear power stations, you know, scientists and engineers. So it wasn’t just comedians. But of course, the comedians… more people watch the comedians.[laughs]
Klaus: Or Patrick Stewart.
Robert: And Patrick Stewart. That was fantastic because I didn’t know him at all. And he was very generous. He was very good. Yeah.
Klaus: I believed you were actually colleagues, in a way.
Robert: Yes, there were connections, certainly, but we don’t… No, we certainly hadn’t met. But he was lovely. And when I went to his house, I was quite nervous, but he just… he invited me and made me a cup of tea. So it was a very, very English experience.
Klaus: [laughs] Later on, you also had a drive with Carlos Ghosn…
Klaus: …and it’s kind of a mix up of Carpool and Fully Charged. And I have met Carlos Ghosn in Silicon Valley, and I was quite impressed by this person by the presence of this person and being together in a small car with him, I think, must have been quite impressive, also.
Robert: I mean, he’s an extraordinary man, and I think it’s such a shame whatever did happen, because we don’t really know at all. You know, it’s a tragedy, really, because I think he did transform those companies. I mean, I could tell from my… you know, when you’re at an event with Renault and Nissan and you’re there with some executives, you can sort of sense there’s some tension. [laughs] I was aware of that. And particularly with Japanese people. It’s impossible to read… you know, they are so polite and so charming and so lovely, I couldn’t tell. But some of the French PR people from Renault would be less discreet with me and sort of say, “Yeah, there’s a bit of… I think Nissan are a bit upset” or “there’s a bit of difficulty in the relationship.” And he held that together for quite a long time and pushed through both the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe against a lot of resistance and I thought it was remarkable that he managed to do that. He was an extraordinary man, and I mean, that was the one thing I learnt that day while I was waiting to pick him up. There was a Japanese man from Nissan who I had met before, a lovely guy, and I could hear Carlos going speaking in Japanese to another Japanese person. And I didn’t… I went, “Oh, my goodness, Does he speak…?” Because I knew he spoke Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, German, Dutch. You know, I just… I think it’s nine languages he’s fluent in. Just ridiculous. And the Japanese man said he only learned to speak Japanese two years ago and he speaks very well and I said, “Has he got an accent? He went, “No, his Japanese is perfect,” he said.
Robert: Well, you know, and he was, like, 60 when he learned Japanese. I mean, I’m still useless at French, and I can say [speaks German] in German, and that’s it.
Klaus: [laughs] Okay, but if you go to Belgium, they will not give you any sweets or the good stuff if you don’t ask at least in French.
Robert: Yeah. I can ask in French. Just about. Yes, I can get away with that. And when I’m in Paris, this is… -as I had a French girlfriend for a long time, so I spent quite a lot of time in Paris- I found out that if I said I was Canadian, French-Canadian, everyone in France loved me. If I would say I was English, I was less. So I would speak French with a soft American accent: “Bonjour, je m’appelle Robert. Comment ça va.” [Klaus laughs] I learned to speak French- Canadian. I was very good…
Klaus: It’s like a self-protection thing.
Robert: Exactly. I was treated so well. I was given hugs in cafes. “Ah, bonjour! Ah, vive le Canada!” [laughs]
Klaus: I think I came across Fully Charged maybe 5-7 years ago, probably via the YouTube algorithm. Maybe it was even earlier, but I can’t remember. And I saw your first video, and I always thought, “OK, there’s a person doing something about climate change, about renewable energy, electric cars. He’s very passionate about these things” and I couldn’t, right, think of what your background was. And at some point of time I read your Wikipedia and saw a lot of shows and interviews. And imagine my surprise: you worked in many fields in your life, were some sort of craftsman, comedian, actor, screenwriter, author of several books, youtuber, podcaster, event organiser. So we just talked about Carlos Ghosn, and I mean, he’s a really big figure, but in a way that, sort of, is a portrait of, like, even, maybe a Renaissance person, a person that is able to evolve, mature and switch roles or grow into other roles. I mean, you are not a comedian anymore…
Robert: No, no.
Klaus: …but you use all these things, these skills in your current profession.
Robert: I mean, I don’t know how… a lot of it has happened in a way, despite me, you know, [laughs] kind of. So a lot of it was… it just sort of took place. But, I mean, there was always a kind of driving force that I don’t know where that comes from, I don’t know where it is, but in a sense, I can almost honestly say I’ve never had a job, but I’ve never stopped working. So that is not… I did have a job for about a year and a half when I was learning to make shoes -this is in the 1970s in London- and now I can’t really understand why I did that. But you know, in a way, I’m quite… I’m not ashamed of it or anything. I mean, it was an amazing experience. But, you know, it’s now something that’s so remote from what I do now, it’s kind of hard to understand. But there was a side of me at that stage designed not to have a regular job and work for a company or, you know, do that. I wanted to sort of work for myself. I always wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be my own boss, I think, and which I think was a good decision, because I think I would be a very bad employee. [laughs] I wouldn’t be very good at it. So, that… you know, from that point on, things kind of evolved slowly but naturally. So when I was making shoes, I met some people who were performers, and I wrote a funny sketch for them, a little script. And they did it and I went to see it -just two of them- and I went to watch it, and I watched at the back of a little pub in London, a theatre, and people laughed and I went, “Oh!” That was a real moment. I went, “Oh, I’ve written this thing and now they’ve done it.” And they were very good performers, and they made it funny, But people laughed at those ideas. So then I wrote more and more, and then eventually they made me… they really worked to get me to go on a stage with them, and I didn’t… I had no desire, ever, to do that before that, I didn’t want to be an actor or anything like that. But they talked me into it and we did this one little show, maybe 30 minutes long, and people laughed at it and they clapped, and at the end, they all stood up and clapped and I was so confused, [laughs] I didn’t know what to do. But it was… you know, it changed my life. That one night was life-changing because I sort of then got the bug of that experience. And then… and really, from then on, I never really stopped that side of things. So even yesterday I was doing a big conference here and I was presenting all the speakers and, you know, that’s still, in a way, my job, is that communication thing, you know. I guess that’s what I do now. And that really then evolved over many years by real chance. I mean, I won’t go into the details of it, but the fact that I ended up on Red Dwarf was so unlikely, it was so remotely possible that that happened. But, you know, at the time, you can’t tell. But there was a lot of reasons why the producer, the boss of the show, wouldn’t have seen me. But he did, and I ended up in that show for the next 30 years, which was again a very big change in life. But yeah, so those things always happen. But to put some context into Fully Charged and where that interest comes from, so my brother is a motoring engine, a proper automotive engineer, and he worked on… with Formula One teams in his youth, built racing cars, built amazing gearboxes and exhaust manifolds. And he was a very, very skilled engineer. And I wasn’t [laughs] and I could tell that I never would be. I didn’t have that sort of skill set that he has. The focus he has is extraordinary. But then I was really interested in it. So I was fascinated by engineering by, you know, big engineering as well. Big cranes, big boats, big, you know, bridges. I was always… I realised, with the people that I worked within performance and show business, they weren’t interested in that. They didn’t want to know how the train worked, that we were catching. I wanted to know how the train worked, [laughs] so they would tease me about it, and they thought I was, you know, “what’s wrong with you? You know, why do you need to know about the bridge?” “It’s… look at this bridge. It’s an amazing bridge. I want to know how they built that.” So that was always the thing. And I was so lucky then to get the job -I was very involved in its creation- get the job with Scrapheap, this show, Scrapheap Challenge. Because that was engineering and talking and communicating and, you know, showing off on television. It was just the dream job, in a way, for a long time.
Klaus: I don’t know if you enjoyed wearing that Rommel Rustam folks type of outfit that you had.
Robert: [laughs] I haven’t actually made that connection, but that immediately you say it, I can see it. [laughs] Yes, it was… well, it was nice when it was raining and wet, because then I would be dry, and it was a very comfy coat, but yeah, it was a little bit Rommelish. You’re right.
Robert: Seriously, that has never been… you’re the first person that’s ever made that connection, in America or in England, but yes. Okay. No, fair enough. Guilty as charged.
Klaus: That means that you, sort of, were able to evolve? And maybe we’re also lucky to be in the right place at the right time?
Robert: Yeah. Very much so. Yeah.
Klaus: But you were able to evolve from one place to another. And my wife just pointed out a very interesting study about Nobel Prize winners. Many of these did something else in their first half of their career and then switched to the science they got the Nobel Prize in. So they brought a very different perspective from the first part of this career into that new field, and that sort of enabled them to move on the field to sort of progress at the field. And I think that’s something I can see here a lot.
Robert: Yes, I think… I mean, I’m not really reflective on it, but I mean, now you mention it. I mean, that certainly is. It feels like that now. I can see that now that my interest in electric cars, and then my ability, I think it’s got a lot to do with learning to listen. So if you’re a loud shouting, noisy show business comedian, honest, you don’t listen. [both laugh] You send, you don’t receive. And what I’ve learned from interviewing people, [laughs] it’s very, very critically important that you actually listen.[Klaus laughs] And then I realised, “Oh, I’m actually absorbing this information” when I talk to an engineer or scientist or a battery chemist about that, 1) I’m interested in it, genuinely, and 2) I’m actually hearing what they’re talking about, and I can… I absorb it, you know. And I think that is a failing that I’ve always been annoyed and ashamed about, which is my inability to retain information or to absorb it and understand it. You know, it’s been a frustration of mine because I actually grew up in Oxford, in England, and I knew a lot of people my age who were students at Oxford. And to become a student at Oxford -I mean, there’s universities like that all around the world- but you do have to be very clever to get in. [laughter] I accept that. There’s loads of problems with Oxford, but I accept that you have to be very clever. So I was mixing with this incredible group of very, very bright people, and I was always frustrated because they can read a book and understand it and contain it, you know, contain the information within it. Whereas I would read the book and really enjoy it, and that information, it felt like I just had… They used to call me sluice head. So a sluice is a drain [laughs] which water flows through very fast. So the information would go in and it would come out just as… and go. And I hadn’t got any…. I hadn’t retained it. [laughs] And that was a lifelong frustration. And I think what’s happened with age is you do learn to retain the information that is important to you and what you’re interested in. And I think that has really happened with, you know, a topic… If you can find the area that you’re really… that really grabs you, that you’re passionate about, then you will, by osmosis, just by exposure to it, become knowledgeable in that area. And you know, because I always want to say when people say, “Oh, you know a lot about electric cars” and I know nothing. [laughs] I don’t know anything. And then you go, “Oh,” but I can stand in front of 300 people at a conference and talk for an hour with no trouble, no notes, no slides, nothing. You know, I can… So my experience is… I do, accept now I have that experience of understanding, in a way.
Klaus: I’m an innovation coach, and I oftentimes think it’s good to not be an expert in all of these things that I’m talking about, because then I can do all the… I don’t do the deep dives everywhere, but I can do the connections between the different fields that might not even be related closely. And that is sort of the thing that I can bring to the table at this point. And I think this might be something we have here, too, with you.
Robert: Yeah. I think you’re right. I mean, it is the big picture. It’s the big picture that fascinates me, and I think it’s the big picture that is… and when I say the big picture, I’m talking very specifically of, sort of, the energy… art, market, industry, whatever you want to call it. But that is such a fascinating part of our lives that is absolutely intrinsic to everyone’s existence. You know, let’s stick with Europe, greater Europe, [laughs] you know, it’s absolutely vital to the way we live. And yet 99% of the time, no one gives it a second thought or even considers it, you know.
Klaus: I studied architecture in the nineties. I’ve looked into, like, renewable energy for buildings and stuff like that and I’ve worked for the Öko-Institut in Freiburg, which is a very famous institute in Germany, a research institute and in the Energy Department. And in this time, nobody cared about these subjects.
Klaus: So now we have the time, that is very important, but you started Fully Charged in 2010…
Klaus: Maybe the idea developed a bit earlier? It was in the Carpool times?
Klaus: And I understand the ways… You talked about the ways you got to Fully Charged. But I was wondering, where is that special spark and also that sort of radicalisation that brought you to start it like a one-man’s crusade for electric cars and electric everything? [Robert laughs] I mean, it was not just a normal video where you talk about Tesla or whatever. You were informing, you were ranting, you were passionate… [Robert laughs] You were maybe… I don’t know what else. It was very powerful as a video, I think.
Robert: I mean, certainly there were numerous causes of it. I mean, without question, one of them was Top Gear, was Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team when they did a review of the Tesla Roadster.
Klaus: Hmm, I’ve seen it.
Robert: And at that time I knew I was doing a lot of stuff with Tesla. So there was a time it was like five people from Tesla in the United Kingdom, and they had, like, three cars. You know, they were very, very small, and I knew them, and one of the guys I knew very well had taken the car to Top Gear for them to film, and he was there for the whole time they were filming it. So he knew what actually had happened. So I’d heard that they said, “Oh, it’s run out of battery” before this show was shown. So I, kind of, was… I got some inside information around that, and he said it hadn’t done that. They did it for, you know, for whatever, for their own reasons. And then when I saw the show, the two things that really gave me the spark and the drive to do it was 1) that review, which it didn’t really… I wasn’t upset about that, they’re an entertainment show, you know, that’s what they do. That wasn’t a problem. But what they then did was a comparison. So they… -I was going to call him Brian May. [laughs] It’s the wrong name- James May drove the Honda Clarity, which is a hydrogen fuel cell car, which there were, I think, 900 were ever made. So yes. No. James May did a review of the Honda Clarity. And what they said at the end was, “It’s obvious, hydrogen is the future. Battery cars are never going to work.” That was their kind of overarching statement. And, you know, [laughs] I just… I would love to see Jeremy Clarkson again play him that: “That’s what you said then,” and I think it was like 2008-2009. It was, you know, quite a long time ago.
Robert: Because if you look at the world now, you know, where there’s something like 120 million battery electric cars and 1000… 3000 hydrogen fuel cell cars. I mean, I still think hydrogen fuel cell cars may eventually be successful, but currently you have to say battery electric vehicles are in the ascendant.
Klaus: Mm. And the hydrogen production is just very inefficient.
Robert: Yeah, I mean, that side of it… And by then I understood the, kind of, basics of how you get… where hydrogen comes from, how much energy it requires if you don’t get it from fossil fuel, how hard it is to store, how hard it is to pump from one thing into another, how much pressure you need, you know, how much equipment you need, and then what you need to fill a car up: a plug with a wire. You know, it’s very simple. You know, that side of it. And I just meant, “That is just wrong. I want to do something about that.” So that was kind of… but it wasn’t just that. So there was plenty of negative reports. So anytime anyone said anything about electric cars, they were just considered a joke and they would never work, and all that, and I… kind of something in me, and I don’t know what it was, I went, “I know they’re wrong, but I don’t know why, but I know they are, And I’m going to find out,” you know.
Klaus: “I will find them.” “I will hunt them down.”
Robert: “I will find them.” [laughs] “I will hunt them down, and I will talk to them until they fall asleep.” you know. But they were… So there was a certain level of evangelical, you know, passion. But it was also always realistic because I had electric cars, and at that time they were a massive pain to drive around, because there was nowhere to charge them, their range was hopeless, you know, they were really at the start. I’m talking 2009-10-11. That period… there was no charging infrastructure in this country at all. Anywhere. It didn’t matter where you went. But I could sense… By then I kind of met people that were… there was going to be. And then I saw things like a rapid charger. Not working. It was in a warehouse. [laughs] I went, “Oh, that’s a rapid charger.” [laughs] That is, before they even put it in the ground, I went to see one, and I was so excited. I was so excited about a rapid charger. But I had to wait for, like, two hours at that warehouse to charge the car I was driving because I couldn’t get home again.
Klaus: So it was like Top Gear and stupid people drove you to fight for common sense in this first Fully Charged video.
Robert: Yes, I think so, and also it’s easy to get there, but I kind of wanted to question the relationship that we have with cars. There’s always a part of it, because you don’t need to… you look at the statistics for a moment and you go, “Oh, that doesn’t really make sense.” You go out, you spend thousands and thousands of euros or pounds or dollars on a car, and then you leave it for 90 plus… You know, there are some professional drivers who probably drive their car more than… but most of the time you’ve got that. So it is like a billionaire who’s got a yacht that he sails for two weeks a year, but he can afford to have this yacht just sitting there doing nothing. [Klaus laughs] You know that’s crazy for people like… And so then I thought that was a very early desire and I think I got in contact with a company called Car2go and particularly the work they were doing in Berlin, because I went, “That’s got to be better, that you don’t own a car, but you use one when you need it, and you don’t have it when you don’t need it,” you know that. But I know there’s huge pluses and minuses with that. But that was… So it wasn’t just I wanted to prove Top Gear wrong -although that’s always fun- [laughs] but it was also that, you know, I wanted to question the whole thing and I would keep that quiet, that idea, when I was talking to the the automotive industry because they want to sell cars, you know, and they’ll support me with what I want to do and loan me a car because it helps them sell cars. But you, always in the background, are going, “Yeah, but you shouldn’t buy this. It’s a great car, but don’t buy it.” [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] I know. The first cars I’ve driven as an adult was car-sharing cars…
Klaus: …a concept that we had that was quite developed in the place I studied. And I think it was developed in Switzerland initially.
Klaus: And it allowed me to use basically any car that was around, that was in their fleet, and book them in advance and go on vacation, for example, in this car, or go to the supermarket or drive to a holiday destination or something like that for a weekend.
Robert: I mean, it just makes so much more… I mean, there are, now, here, I’m sure, all around Europe, there are companies now where you can… you know, one of them where you can lease, like, the cheapest, smallest electric car possible, which you do to take your children to school, go to the shops. And then you can, on an app, you literally go, “We want a Porsche Taycan,” you know, for two weeks because we’re going on holiday and they come to your house with the Porsche and they take your car away, and you have that Porsche, and you pay a lot. You pay more for that lease, but then when you come back home you don’t need a Porsche Taycan to go to the shops, so you get your car back. And you can do anything: you can get a van or a little minibus or, you know, a Tesla or whatever. You know, that is like a step in that direction. But it just… it is, you know, a really difficult discussion, because we’ve all invested, not only financially but emotionally, in the cars that we own, and that’s a hard one to suggest to people. Maybe if you live in a city, particularly, [laughs] you don’t need to own one. I mean, there were some fantastic statistics in the early days of Car2go in Berlin. There was a 20% reduction in private car ownership in the city, which meant there was more places to park, there was less traffic on the road, there were less cars in the centre of Berlin at that time. And I was just amazed by how that worked. And it was really popular across incomes and class and everything, because it was just much easier. And you had access to the car when you needed it. We stayed in the middle of Berlin and there was never a time we were more than maybe 50 metres from a car we could use. They were all everywhere, they were very common. But I then met one of the founders that I had met in Germany, and had interviewed in Berlin, and I met him at a conference in Portugal a few years later and he said, “Oh, it went really, really well until, you know, it was very much a generational thing. It was people in their twenties and thirties, and it’s when they started having babies,” [laughs] he said, “that’s when it all went…” Because you see a mom and, you know, it’d be raining, and you see a mother walking along and she’s got a car seat in one hand, she is pushing the pushchair, she got the shopping and she’s looking for a car, she’s got to put the seat in the back, and strap that in, and get the kid, and the shopping. And he said, “It was like months later there would be a whole load of Volvos parked all over the streets.” [laughs]
Klaus: And it’s always a minivan type of thing.
Robert: Yeah. Yeah.
Klaus: You have the smallest baby, right, you might have a big pram,[Robert laughs] because then you also need a big car, right? And it’s always like a minivan type of thing. And that’s just… I wonder how our parents, my parents… they had a VW Beetle…
Klaus: …they raised us in that car. I mean, they had no complication with the car and three kids.
Robert: I don’t know how… Yeah, Yeah. Exactly the same. Well, the family I went to Germany with, there was my friend, his sister -so three of us in the back- the mom and dad in the front. That was a Ford Corsair, which I remember as being this quite big car. Now Ford Corsair was a… you know, it was a front-engine car, but it did break down quite a lot. The back axle broke [laughs] quite a lot on that journey, but we all got in there with loads of baggage, and they all had presents for their families that we were going to visit, so we had bags on our laps for huge amounts of those journeys, you know? And that was completely normal, wasn’t it? Yeah, you’re right. Yeah.
Klaus: So let’s not talk like old geezers.[laughs]
Robert: [laughs] Sorry. Yes.
Klaus: When you started with Fully Charged you brought vehemently some ideas to life, or at least to the public. You defended these ideas. Some people might have said that you were spreading like urban myths and conspiracy theories. And there are also lots of conspiracy theories against your electric cars, against renewable energies and stuff like that. I myself like a good windmill, right, wind turbine. I think that’s really pretty. And it really gives me a good feeling because it produces the energy that I’m using in the car and that gives me some freedom, and go to clients and stuff like that. But that’s something you were faced with. You were faced with lots of controversy or opposition…
Robert: Sure. Yeah.
Klaus: …I guess also alongside with lots of enthusiasm. And I do very bad in talking with people that are so really terribly stupid that they don’t understand these things. How do you deal with these terrible yesterday idiots [Robert laughs] with arguments against renewable energy and stuff like that. How do you do that? Where do you get the patience?
Robert: It is very hard. It is hard but it is also… I think you can take comfort in the fact that it’s really… that I was very confused, to start with. Because I also I’m not… I think I’m lucky and I don’t become a believer, if you like. I don’t have faith. I’m always questioning. So, you know, when you first hear about batteries and you… exactly what Jeremy Clarkson said, after three years, you’ll have to throw this battery away in the Nissan Leaf. And I didn’t know. I mean, the Nissan Leaf had only been around for a few months. Maybe he’s right. And what a terrible waste that would be. And that’s awful, if that’s true, you have to literally take it out of the car and literally just throw it into a hole in the ground.[laughs] And it’s only as you, then, you know, with time you go… I now know that isn’t what happens. I mean, I have a Nissan Leaf that’s 10 years old, and I’ve just replaced the battery because we treated it so badly in the early days. But the old battery is still in use. It’s now been repackaged into a box, and it helps charge a house, you know. So that’s 11 years now, and that battery will last another 10 years minimum. But anyway. So you learn all these things slowly. You have the arguments at your disposal to go. Well, it’s fine that you think that, but it’s not right. You know, “wind power is so expensive.” Actually, the problem with wind power is it’s so cheap. It’s messing up the whole energy market because then, you know, it’s a hugely complex topic, you know. And it’s getting cheaper, still. You know, offshore wind is still going to… they’re talking about it dropping down to ridiculously low levels and still making a profit for the companies that put things in. So that the long term arguments have, in a way, answered themselves, you know, that I don’t need to argue. So now when people say “I don’t want to get an electric car,” I say, “Don’t get one.” [laughs] “It’s fine. Carry on. The rest of us will get one, and you can just not get one until your car falls to bits, and then you probably will get one,” but, you know, or “have a go in one,” you know.
Klaus: Because there won’t be much else.
Robert: Yeah, there’s no… I never now get involved in arguments with,“There’s nowhere to charge my car in my street,” people say. Well, is there a petrol pump in your street? [laughs]
Robert: Yes. Can you pour petrol out of your house? You know, So it is… in a sense, now, the arguments make themselves. But then I think that isn’t to deny that there are really serious problems with what we’re all faced with, which is how on earth do we, you know, in the next, really, one and a half generations, stop using fossil fuels. It’s really difficult, and I think it’s very important to be realistic about that. It’s not going, “Well, let’s just have some wind turbines and solar and everything sorted.” No, it isn’t. It’s much more complex. It’s a really difficult, challenging, complicated problem, you know, And it’s a huge problem. And, you know, we’re so reliant on fossil fuel and we have been for so long, so generations of us have… you know, and I didn’t even know what the word meant, I think, until I was in my thirties. Probably, what? Fossil fuel or something? I don’t know what it was. Just stuff, you know. I loved it.
Klaus: It just came from a pump.
Robert: Yeah. It just came from a pump. Yeah, yeah. And now, I mean, I think that was the other little advantage I had when I started Fully Charged was I made a series of TV series here called How Do They Do it? And we’ve made 80 episodes, and some of them were “How do they make a tea bag?” “How do you make insulation for… like, fibreglass insulation?” All those multiple topics but one of the two, of the big ones, was “how do you generate power with coal?” So I went to the biggest coal burning power plant, but we would spend two days there filming it and talking to the engineers that run and see the whole process from the coal coming in on the ship from Poland, [laughs] at the time, being ground up, being blasted into the furnace, generating all this heat, turning them, generating all that stuff. But I had it. So therefore I had a kind of base understanding of what that actually entailed and I spent three days at an oil refinery in Wales, which was mind-boggling, because I had no idea how that works. I was fascinated. And amazing engineers that run it and they’re really, you know, really skilled people that are really complicated but incredibly energy intensive processes, which you don’t think… you think, “Oh, the oil refinary,” It’s like in the kitchen. You pour the oil in, you sit a bit and out comes petrol.
Klaus: No. [laughs]
Robert: [laughs] No. No. That’s not how it works.
Klaus: [laughs] Plus, you have to transport it a lot, pump it and store it a lot and stuff like that.
Robert: And when you see the oil tankers… you know, we’ve all seen pictures of oil tankers, but we were on the dock when one of them came in. It was Saudi crude. It was from Saudi Arabia. What’s it called.. Saudi? They’ve got a particular term for it. So, you know, they love oil from Saudi, because it’s very easy to refine, it’s a very good quality oil. But when you’re standing on a dock, which was quite big, you know, and this thing comes towards you, it is massive. It’s so huge. And that was just extraordinary, you know. So that was… so those things kind of were the building blocks of that understanding, you know, of the fact that an oil refinery uses an enormous amount of electricity and cobalt. So then, you know, I saw what they use. They showed us the cobalt. They use the cobalt to remove sulphur, particularly from diesel, to remove the dangerous particulates. And they get through a lot of cobalt. They wear out cobalt, and they can’t recycle it. So then suddenly you hear all these stories about “Oh, cobalt is terrible. It’s dug up by children in Africa, and it’s in your… you know, so-called clean batteries.” I go, “Yeah,” but I think about half the cobalt we extract is used to refine your so-called clean diesel. [laughs] So when you’ve got those arguments at your disposal, you do have an advantage, but… So it’s not… It is “knowledge is power.” There’s no question of it. But also, I think, acceptance of being sceptical of questioning and of maintaining that we all need to do it. We need to maintain the pressure on the companies that we rely on. It’s not… you know, battery companies, Tesla, we should be critical of Tesla or BMW and Volkswagen: “Wait a minute. Where are you getting your materials from? How do you produce them? How do you manufacture them? Where’s the energy coming from that you use to manufacture your vehicles and stuff? You know, don’t just tell us in a car advert on the TV that they’re clean.” You know, it’s not that simple. And we’re not that stupid. And we should hold them to account as well.
Klaus: But still that video with VW Jetta and the three old ladies pointing out how clean the diesel is. I mean, that was very cute videos.
Robert: [laughs] I mean, I think that is really a critical turning point. I think historically, that will be seen as… it will be in the history books, You know, “Why did electric cars suddenly take off in, you know, 2015-16 or whatever?” It was kind of… because, you know what? I was genuinely shocked. I didn’t think German people lied [laughs] and cheated. I think we did. British people do, Americans do. You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that had been General Motors in America. I wouldn’t even have… I would have barely registered it. The fact that it was Volkswagen also. I was a passionate Volkswagen owner. I had every type of Golf that Volkswagen had ever done. I spent a day at the Vosburg factory. I was shown around by this amazing woman. I was the only… she normally would show a group of people around, but there were no English people. There were Japanese people and Polish people the day I went. And so I was with her. And it was amazing. That factory is incredible, absolutely incredible. And she was extraordinary, a really good communicator. So I learned an enormous amount about that. But so I was a kind of Volkswagen fan. So when that happened, that was so… it really hurt me. You know, that is such a bad thing to do. But there’s a legislation that’s been put in place by people who got voted into power by people who are going, “Diesel is quite dirty and bla bla bla”, and then a company cheats. It’s just… I think that turned public opinion very much.
Klaus: I mean, many companies…
Robert: They all do it. I mean, I know that.
Klaus: …try to find solutions, right? But I drove like a VW Golf diesel and then a later one, a three-cylinder Golf petrol powered. And then suddenly the ID3 came around, and it was a very simple choice for me because I believed what VW was thinking of, how the future might look like and how they could contribute to it and how they could change themselves. And, yes, some of that might be still PR Spin and stuff like that. But for me, that was credible, including it’s one of the… probably one of the best, socially best jobs that there are in the car industry at VW. So that was… It’s like a social thing that convinced also. Plus, it’s a good car.
Robert: It’s a great car. I mean, I absolutely agree with you.
Klaus: I think it’s still too big. I wanted to have, like a polo-size type of car, but it doesn’t exist, actually.
Robert: Yeah. I mean, the e-Up was great. The electric…
Klaus: A great driving experience.
Robert: Yeah, yeah. I love that car. But I mean, I just quickly want to say that I think that was a key component of what the whole of the dieselgate scandal was. It was the response of Volkswagen, which I thoroughly support and I think it’s brilliant that they’ve gone, “Okay. That’s okay,” because so many companies will make… there’s a petrol version of their car, there’s a plug-in hybrid, and now there’s a fully electric one and it’s a bit compromised. And Volkswagen were going the whole hog, were buying millions, millions, billions of Euros worth of batteries, were building the car around the battery and the software, which is the way that electric cars should be built and they’ve made a really good car. I mean two of my neighbours, very near where I live there are two ID3 owners who are upset. These are not car people, and all they talk about is their ID3: how far they got in it the other day and how quickly it charges. And they love them, you know. So it’s a really good car.
Klaus: And I think that’s the interesting bit. Many people think maybe because they were conditioned from whatever was said in the past, 5 or 10 years, about electric cars, that these are not good cars. But once you have started to use them, you understand that it’s just a car but it’s quiet, you charge it at home, there is no problem at all. It’s just fantastic. And it’s a fantastic experience.
Robert: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s probably an equally important part of what motivated me to do it, because I was driving an electric car every day and going, “This is better,” You know, and that was with no infrastructure to support. My journey is really, really difficult to get anywhere, of any distance, but I still don’t know. Intrinsically, this is a better technology, you know, just purely from that point of view, it’s more efficient. And then, when you then talk to engineers and scientists about, you know, the kilowatt energy embodied in gasoline and petrol and how much of that you use to burn it. Basically that will move a petrol Golf about 500 metres, one kilowatt, whereas one kilowatt will drive an electric car between 3.5 and 5 kilometres. More. More than that. So it is that kind of difference you go, “Well, that’s a better use of energy.” If we can produce that energy in our own country and then use it more efficiently in a car, you know there’s so many arguments. It isn’t just about “where do I plug it in?” It is how and what it runs by. And, you know, those things… what’s become a really big issue in this country now is particularly schools. So when parents pick up their children from school in a very large SUV and they sit outside the school with the engine running… [laughs]
Klaus: Running, yes.
Robert: What that is now…
Klaus: …polluting everything around… smelly things…
Robert: Yeah. But, I mean, that has become the same as if you’re in a car with a child and you’re smoking. You know, it’s become… that is just not socially acceptable anymore. You know, my dad used to smoke all the time we were driving in the car. I’m not being an old bloke [Klaus laughs] talking about that, But when you think of that, you get, “Hey, I can’t believe he did that.” He was chain smoking while we drove on holiday. So his three children were breathing that in the back seat.[laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] Well, tobacco wasn’t harmful in these times…[laughs]
Robert: Wasn’t that harmful then. Yeah. [laughs] Yeah, very true.
Klaus: I’m a big fan of Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation Theory. Hence the name of the podcast, The 2pt5. That’s the 2.5% of innovators that are in the world based on the theory, right? It’s a theory. And then there’s about the next… around 17% or 14% that’s the early adopters. That’s the ones that basically everybody knows about and then there is the early majority, the late majority and the laggards, which form about 80% of the whole thing. And 20% are the laggards. They would still use, say, the disc type of telephone if you could still buy it, right? [Robert laughs] It’s just they don’t want to change.
Klaus: So I’m very aware of these cycles, how something new is introduced into the world..
Robert: Yeah, yeah.
Klaus: …and how it might fail, and that it will take time until it is established. And established means say, about 20-30-40-50% are using it. It might be that the development stops after 10% of people using it, and that’s easy to get to. But it might be that it’s 80% and it might be just a short time, like a smartphone got like 100% or 90% market share in the US in six or seven years.
Robert: Yeah, yeah.
Klaus: So that was quick, right? People understood how important that is. With cars, or let’s make that a bit larger, with mobility -because cars are not just cars, all the solution: it’s buses, public transportation and stuff like that- all this takes a bit longer because all these cars are expensive, they need to get developed, and you have to finance them also, in a way. It’s a big thing to produce a car, also. What do you feel, yourself? What’s your patience about this diffusion of, say, electric car renewable energy in the mobility sector? What is like a time frame that you would like things to happen and that you see things to happen?
Robert: I mean, I think there was a huge frustration probably five years ago. I just thought, “This is being held back.” It’s being… you know, there’s a lot of resistance to it, and it’s going to… you know, I’m not talking about, say, a lobbyist working for an oil company. I’m talking about the car manufacturers, the excuses they would have, their reasons about “We can’t get the materials for the batteries” or you know, a huge array of things. And that’s actually such a complicated beast, in a way, that the transition, but it has happened. And certainly it’s been, as with everything, affected by the pandemic, that’s really set it back. And there are now huge other problems that we’re all facing around the world with labour shortages, which is very confusing [laughs] because you think there’s a lot of people around. [laughs] I can’t believe they can’t fill all these positions. But you know, there’s clearly lots of problems with logistics, with distribution of stuff with the chip shortage. But the overarching thing is that I feel now there is a momentum that won’t stop. But I think we… I don’t know if you know an amazing academic from America, Tony Seba? Have you come across Tony? If you look him up, he’s… I did a talk, really for executives in the automotive industry, initially -he’s an academic from California- and it was a devastating talk, which is now done as a Ted Talk, and he’s done it in many places more publicly. But Tony Seba (S-E-B-A). His theory is that if you’re an automotive industry and you don’t make fully electric, fully autonomous vehicles, you’ll be out of business in the next 10 years. And he has these slides where… and that shift was remarkable, historically. So it’s a slide taken on Broadway in New York City in 1906, and it’s hundreds and hundreds of horse drawn carriages and one car. You can see one car, what we would recognise as a car.
Klaus: And heaps of manure.
Robert: And heaps of manure. Huge. Thousands of tons. And then it’s like eight years later, and there is one horse-drawn carriage and it’s full of cars. That is a really quick transition. But that was… And those cars actually are a mixture of electric and internal combustion, but clearly internal combustion engine one. And he’s now suggesting that’s going to happen again. And actually I think it won’t, because we’ve already got cars [laughs] and, you know, we’re not going from horses to cars, we’re going from cars to cars.[laughs]
Klaus: Right. They look the same, exactly.
Robert: They look the same, they do the same thing and they are just slightly different… Well, they are fundamentally different. I think… I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it probably won’t happen in the kind of classic s-curve of adoption that he does for the refrigerator, the television, the radio, the telephone, the mobile phone, all those things. They all do that thing where they start with a few people and it suddenly does this huge spike of adoption around the world, you know, And that’s been repeated again and again. And I think we’re going to see a much slower development of electric vehicles. But I think you mentioned a really critically important thing, and it’s becoming very apparent here, and I’m sure it will be in other countries -I noticed in America- you know, it’s a slow and continuous rise of private electric vehicles. That’s happening. What we may be less aware of is companies that use vans and trucks, particularly delivery companies, and they’re not buying one or two electric vans. They’re buying 20,000 at once.[laughs] And that, the impact that has on… this really I’ve learned this from the engineers that run the national grid in this country. So there’s all these discussions about we’re going to melt the grid and the grid can’t take it with all these electric vehicles, and they’re going, “No, the grid is fine. Don’t worry about it. It’s absolutely fine.” But they are admitting that in local areas now, where before there were 50 electric cars that charged at night, [laughs] there’s now 10,000 electric vans charging a night, [Klaus laughs] and that makes a difference.
Robert: Slight difference. I mean, if you think that Amazon ordered 100,000 Rivian delivery vans -well they’ve increased that now to 150,000- Amazon here have got something like 25,000 electric vans on the road in the UK now today, they are charging every night. You know that’s going to be much… because they only do… You know you’ll have your own delivery company in England and you look up the road and Amazon have got all these electric ones, and then you find out from their head of logistics how much money they’ve saved in the first year. [laughs] And it’s not 50 quid. It’s £7,000,000 less on fuel than they spent the year before. You know, that it’s a colossal change, and that means that you’ll buy electric vans very quickly and we know a couple of big delivery companies in London have hundreds, literally hundreds of electric vans, and they’re developing… And what happens then is really exciting because they then developed a technology that can charge them all overnight and also bidirectional charging. So they’re selling the electricity in the vans that aren’t being used, they’re using those batteries, and they make money out of it. You know, it’s a… and I think we’ll see that happen much, much faster than private vehicles. I mean, I think we will see a big uptake, a certainly huge increase this year in electric vehicle sales and everything else, every other car, sales have dropped. I mean, diesel sales have dropped 80% in the UK, new diesels, which is quite a big drop, [laughs] and electric cars have increased by 312% the last time I saw. I never understand how things can be more than 100%. But anyway, I don’t understand mathematics well enough.[laughs]
Klaus: Well, you have to have a sort of… probably you have to have a lot of…
Robert: …have to have a lot of pens in your pocket. [laughs]
Klaus: Yes. Then it works out fine. The German Postal Service has developed and co-developed electric cars for their fleet. They introduced that around five years ago, I think?
Klaus: And they have also built it themselves. And I think they have sold it now to Ford or something. Not sure not sure about that.
Robert: Right. I do remember when that was announced.
Klaus: The big movement is fleets, the big movement is buses, maybe even small public transportation items units, right? If they are autonomously driving, then the cost is very cheap further for these things. That would give us freedom and it would… combined with a smartphone with a very powerful mobile phone network with all these apps and cloud computing.This is where many things come together. We actually have a chance to establish that as a new technology, as a new way of moving around, I think.
Klaus: I had to think of an experiment that was done in the Lake Constance area in the 70s. It was called “The Call Bus” and that was a bus with no fixed route but you could call it from the bus station.
Klaus: There was sort of a telephone built in. And the idea was that you’d get to the bus station in this rural area and then you would call the bus and you would wait for X minutes, and then the bus would come. Probably it would take it two hours, normally. So that didn’t work out, but we didn’t have the mobile phone at that point of time, right?
Robert: Right. Right.
Klaus: So that’s a complete game changer, I think, in that thing.
Robert: Yeah. I mean, that is… when you think of it is, you know, we’ve just been talking about the cars, and I think that’s always the point I try and understand and try and make is that the connectedness of that, the technology we’re developing now is what is, in a sense, the bigger change and what that would facilitate. Quite a painless transition from owning a car, to driving, having access to one. And it’s a hard thing to… I mean, I find it hard. I’ve grown up with cars, my dad had a car, you know. It’s all about having a car. And the idea for me to not have a car but be able to get one when I needed it is frightening. You know it is.. because I might need it now! [laughs]
Robert: And you know, that’s a difficult thing to change. But certainly a generation, I mean, my son and daughter. My son now owns a car but he really… he’s in his late twenties, doesn’t want to. He wishes… he did use, you know, car club cars for a long time, but eventually he kind of succumbed and got one. But they would much prefer to do that. They don’t… their whole thing is not about owning things, it’s about using them when you need them and not having them. You know, because my son rang up and said, “What’s an M.O.T.?” Which is, you know, the safety test. Yeah, but he didn’t know that. He never had to, you know. He had never… This is when he had the car about six months and I’ve got to get in there and “What’s an M.O.T? [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] But that brings us to an interesting thing or different perspectives that we have around the globe, originally, in say, and I don’t want to sound patronising, but in very developed countries, you just talked about very developed countries, which is the UK, Europe -I personally think the UK is Europe, but you can have different opinions, right?- the US. And so on.
Robert: I’m afraid I agree with you [laughs] totally. If you look at a map of the world, we’re in Europe. It’s a hard thing for some people here to accept. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] The car is a means of transportation and a means of putting yourself out there and showing off, in a way, also, and there’s many, many, many different things in between. But in a developing country in one of these rising countries, I’ve heard that it is very normal to, as soon as possible, buy the biggest car you can afford at that point of time, because it shows the status that you have reached in these past few years and that shows the progress that you’ve made in life.
Robert: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, China is the best example of that, really. I mean, that’s a very big example. But even in India. So I was filming in India three years, four years ago for the BBC, and you could tell it was on the cusp. I was in Mumbai, which is very developed, and it has lots of cars and lots of traffic problems, and it’s absolutely [laughs] terrifying to drive over there. But it’s still, you know, it’s a very kind of elite. It’s the elite that can use, that can own cars, and, you know, it’s still a minority thing. But when you go out into the -we went to a few more remote towns- I’ve learned very quickly white European tourists don’t go there because [laughs] in Mumbai no one looks at you twice because there’s loads of Europeans there, but you go to these small towns in the middle of India, and everyone stares at you [laughs] because they can’t understand why you’re there. You know it’s not a it’s not a coastal holiday resort. It’s an industrial town. And there, it’s still rare to see cars, you know, there are very few… fewer cars there. There were still ox carts, bicycles, mopeds, everyone on mopeds. You know, lots of smoke from all the mopeds, they were terrible. But you could tell it was a desired thing. And I was there, thinking, “This is going to be such a difficult thing to manage because there’s a lot of people, they’re now starting to have more money…” We were on trains. The train service in India is magnificent. It’s amazing. The trains are extraordinary. But, you know, they’re going to want cars. And that there’s no roads [laughs] as we would have… You know, they have roads, you know, but there’s no… if you think of the autobahn, the autoroute in France, the motorway network here, the roads in the Netherlands… the amazing road networks that we’ve spent the last 100 years making, and that does not exist. But then, if you also think of the impact that those roads have had on the environment, you think of the valleys in Germany that used to have some cows, a stream, a little village, and it’s now a six-lane motorway. You know, a six-lane autobahn that has totally transformed that environment, you know…
Klaus: Or the home of one of these world market leaders that’s just in the boondocks out there, connected to the rest of the world by other autobahns.
Robert: Yes, yes. I mean, it’s a huge change, isn’t it? And we’re kind of… you know, we were born with that already existing so, therefore, it’s just normal for us. But when you see a country that will do that, like China… My wife worked in China in the 1980s and there is a photograph of her on the street in Shanghai and Eliot, who does our shows in Shanghai, sent him that picture, and she’s standing on the side of the street, towering over everyone else –[laughs] because she’s white Australian- and there are tens of thousands of bicycles on the street and Eliot fan, he worked out where that street was and showed us that’s completely different, cause there’s huge tower blocks everywhere, and it’s jam packed with SUVs and one bicycle.[laughs]
Klaus: It was a development that we can’t imagine in oversaturated southern Germany. It’s just not a possibility, I think, in the mind of many, many people.
Robert: Yeah, it is extraordinary.
Klaus: I think with the show you use these perspectives in a very interesting way. Somehow, it appears that Fully Charged is oftentimes mostly British, right?
Robert: Yeah. Which I’m desperate for it not doing. But you’re right. Yeah.
Klaus: Is it due to you? It’s the charm of the Cotswolds, the charm of London?
Klaus: [laughs] I mean, the rest of the world… you sort of, are watched everywhere in the world, I suppose, as a global thing, but you talk about miles per gallons, working like pounds, brake horsepower and stuff like that. So, yes, you have people in China and everywhere around the world, but there’s still that feeling, that cosy feeling of Britishness in Fully Charged.
Robert: I’m so ashamed. Yes. Because I’m desperate for it to be… you know. I mean, well, statistically, 27% of our audience is in the UK, so that means the majority are outside and are… the way it breaks down is UK 27%, then it’s America, then it’s Australia and New Zealand -that’s quite a lot of people there- and then it’s Germany. I mean, we have a lot of people, a lot of people watch us in Germany, and, you know, we should be doing more, you know, we should cater for that and do German episodes in the German language. I’d love to do that.[laughs]
Klaus: Well, maybe maybe I’m not sure if that… if you might lose the appeal, but I think that’s interesting, right? You have to sort of do a decision of where you are located at and what you’re connected with, in a way. because… and English is the international language. There might be some discussions around French, Spanish, maybe Chinese soon, but it’s still understood everywhere, and it…
Robert: It certainly is. I mean, certainly in Europe. And I’ve just been in France and Spain and I’m always disappointed by the fact that when you hear maybe an Italian speaking to a Spaniard they very often speak in English and the same I’ve experienced that with Germans and French people or Dutch people. You know, that it is the common language, which is I think it’s just historical, and it’s due to… If New York was actually still called New Amsterdam, we’d all learned to speak Dutch. But, boy, that would have been hard.
Klaus: [laughs] And that is not for us.
Robert: Dutch people always tell me, You know, if you get.. the reason we can speak English is because Dutch is so -and then they use expletives- hard to learn. [laughs] But yes, that’s true. It is… and that is a big advantage for us. Without question, the fact that we can do an English language show that can be watched… you know, to watch it all over the place. I mean, it is extraordinary where we hear from. What I’m staggered at is we have four subscribers from Chad in Africa, and I think, “Wow, you live in Chad. You’re watching this!” Why? How? I didn’t know you could. You know, that’s my ignorance, you know, they have the internet and computers in Chad. But yes, so that is one of the joys, in a way, from me coming from a British broadcasting background where you made a show and it was shown here, once, you know, and that was it. Making a show that is seen all over the world is… or can be seen all over the world, is remarkable, I know. But, I mean, I’m concerned about that. But, I mean, if the cosy British cup of tea in the village doesn’t put people off, then I guess I have to live with it. But for me, it’s always been a… I think I’m not comfortable in my British skin. You know, if you look at my three girlfriends in my life and my wife: Swedish, French, Australian [laughs] I think I’ve never been with a British girl or I never had an English girlfriend: they were always from somewhere else. And I think that I only realised that later in my life. I think that shows a discomfort with my own country, which I think is common around the world. I think it’s not unique.
Klaus: Yes. I think so, too. Only the ignorant don’t see or love their country without any…
Robert: …without any thinking. Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve learned… I think, you know, historically… -and this is my problem with the B-word, which I don’t want to even mention [laughs]– but, you know, the fact that we’re here, but that nationalism generally ends quite badly when it gets out of hand. We’ve got plenty of evidence that it’s not necessarily a good call. And it’s so remarkable. I spent a lot of time in Metz in northeastern France, which was also… which half the people there speak German. The history of that area, from World War One, World War Two, the foundation of the European Union is fascinating. You know, it’s absolutely… which is a shame, because no one in this country has any knowledge of that at all and never has it. I didn’t know anything about it. It was a complete revelation to me. But that’s a whole other topic. We don’t need to go there.[laughs]
Klaus: There is a wonderful video that I use to show why things are changing, why innovation is necessary because things change all the time.
Klaus: And in this YouTube video, it shows the changing borders in Europe over the last 1000 years.
Robert: Yes! Oh!
Klaus: And it’s very quick, right. It’s a two-minute video or something, and it shows that things were always changing, that there was always new governments, new laws, new rules, new languages, new whatever. And that is an interesting and, I think, a very good visualisation of why you have to sort of keep on moving and innovating.
Robert: Yeah. Absolutely right. And I mean, that was another… I don’t know if you’ve read any of Steven Pinker’s books. But he wrote… he’s an American linguist and academic… or he’s Canadian… He’s North American. Let’s keep it broad. But he wrote a book called The Better Angels of Our Nature, which is counter to the, you know, really common human response that we’re awful. Human beings have always been awful, and we’re always horrible, and it’s getting worse. And he shows, actually, it was awful, and now it’s got a lot better, and now it’s even better than that, and it’s getting better. Every day is a little bit better. So fascinating. But one of the things he does is pages and pages, which list all the conflicts in what we would classify as sort of Europe. So it includes a bit of western Russia. There wasn’t a day when there wasn’t a war somewhere for 1000 years. And I mean some of them had actually heard of: the 100 years war, the war with the Prussian, you know, the French, Spanish, French War. You know, there’s so many of them. And then in 1945 it stopped.
Klaus: At least in Central Europe.
Robert: And that’s the first time. And I mean, you could say that’s NATO, and that’s a lot of other things, but you go, “well, actually, I think it was a bit more.” It was a very unpopular view here, but it’s just true. You know, other than Bosnia, you can sort of argue that what happened in… after the Yugoslavia disappeared, you know, that was pretty nasty. Yeah.
Klaus: Terrible. I’m very, very aware of the advantages for everybody involved in what we call Europe, and there’s always ups and downs…
Klaus: …our upsides and downsides of things. And I’m not sure how the UK is organised, but in Germany we have 16 states, and these states are sort of having evolved over history, let’s put it that way, and they are formed around people, sort of languages, dialects and stuff like that. And people are different in the Southwest than in the Northeast, but they still managed to live together and form that country, which is called the Federal Republic of Germany and what we are working on. And that took ages until we got there and the European Union just will take some more ages. But it’s happening. It’s on the way, and that’s good.
Robert: Yeah, yeah. I agree.
Klaus: Okay. I think we live in very exciting times.
Robert: We do. [laughs]
Klaus: And probably, maybe everybody always says that if you go back 100 years, 20 years, 50 years from now, I’m not sure, but lots of things are happening right now. And I was wondering, Fully Charged evolved a lot over time, right? It’s, I think, a great example of innovation. You experimented a lot. You have started with a single or two items that you were talking about, ranting about, being excited about, right? And it was a one-person show, there were some people around that supported that in a way. Now it’s not an empire, right?
Klaus: It’s a bigger company. I was wondering how Fully Charged will evolve, because many car shows (car shows in parentheses) feature electric cars now. And some of your early Fully Charged videos, sort of were public service announcements turned into punk rock, right? [Robert laughs] There was sort of… now you have very informative videos with people that are very well behaved. And you add some quirks, yes, and it’s always very interesting, and it’s very special, and it seems very independent and stuff like that. But where do you see this developing?
Robert: No, you’re I mean, you’re absolutely right. And it is fascinating to see how many shows are appearing. I mean, there’s a show now on British Broadcasting Television that was an absolute classic, sort of like Top Gear, but with a smaller budget on another channel, and they’ve now gone 100… They only do electric cars, so they’ve changed completely. And that used to be exactly the same as Top Gear. That would be a sports car that was skidding around sideways on a runway, burning rubber, and all. None of that is now, just electric. So that is happening. And we’ve all… I’ve sort of been aware that that is very likely for a long time. And I think the thing that I want to maintain that focus on is the kind of innovation around the cars, and I think that at the moment I am not seeing other people doing that. For instance, we’re going to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, next week, because there’s a very big sort of citywide vehicle to grid charging network that they’ve installed. And these are not privately owned cars. It is a car sharing scheme. But when they’re plugged in they are bi-directional charging so they can send power into the local houses, they can be powered by the solar panels that are on the roofs of the houses they’re parked outside of. You know, that stuff is really fascinating and it’s not about “this is the latest model of this car and it’s faster than the old one and it’s got a different front and it’s yellow [laughs] or green or whatever” you know. It’s got nothing to do with that because the cars that are plugged in are all sorts of different cars. They’re kind of… they’re just… you know, there’s some Teslas, there´s Renaults, there’s Nissans, there’s Hyundais, all that sort of thing. And that I find fascinating, and the fact that Utrecht is kind of the world’s leading cycling city. So, you know, we’re doing a whole day’s filming about how you get around in Utrecht on a bike because there’s like “bike autobahns” [laughs] in Utrecht with flyovers and amazing infrastructure they have. And bike parks, not car parks.
Klaus: You’ll find that in Denmark, in Copenhagen.
Robert: In Denmark, too. Yeah. Yeah. Now, it is a very… so that side of it, you know, I think is to try and keep giving that broader view. You know, I mean, one of the things that was so frustrating last year was I’d arranged to go and see the big wind turbine blade factory in the north of England that’s right on the coast -because these blades are so big, you can’t put them on a truck, they have to go straight onto a ship- and we could have gone to see it, and of course, covid happened and we couldn’t do anything. And we’ve now lost the momentum. We’re going next year. But, you know, those things, the big engineering stuff, I mean, particularly the offshore wind for wind turbines are so massive now. You know, the biggest ones they’re putting in next year are higher than the Eiffel Tower. When the blades are at the top you go, “That’s… That’s big!” I’ve stood on the Eiffel Tower. It’s quite tall. [laughs] But, you know, that stuff I find really exciting. So I think we would still do the cars because there’s so much happening in that area, but I think we’re going to have a lot more competition. And I think the way we can see that we’re not losing yet is the live shows. So the live shows -obviously we couldn’t do one last year- but they have grown so quickly. And doing one in America was a real experiment. I thought it was going to be a disaster and it was sold out and it was really popular. And I think it’s because of that wider take. So even at the one in America there were electric bikes, electric buses, trucks, the Rivian trucks were there, there were loads of Teslas, of course, everywhere you looked. But it was that broader spectrum, and we had amazing people from energy companies speaking there, as well as electric car makers and battery people, the people who put batteries in your home because, of course, you know, I have batteries in my house. When you go to an American house that has really gone the whole hog [laughs] it’s utterly breathtaking how much solar they have. You know, I’ve got… in a few weeks time, I’ll have 12 kilowatts of solar here. I’ve been to a house in America that has 100 kilowatts of solar panels. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] But they have air conditioning. They really use that.
Robert: They have air conditioning that uses gigawatts. Yeah, yeah. But you know, that stuff is so… I mean it is to try and cover… There was a TV show, a very popular TV show when I was a child called Tomorrow’s World on the BBC, and one of our editors said the reason he wanted to work on this. He said, “I want to make this Tomorrow’s World for today” You know, like Tomorrow’s World meets Top Gear. That was his thing. Because Tomorrow’s World was… if you look back at them -and actually there’ll probably be someone on YouTube– but they would talk about computers, and “in the future every home will have a computer” and they’d be sitting in front of this thing that was the size of two deep freezes with spinning tapes and a big keyboard, and “you type in here and the data is entered into the computer,” they said. [laughs] But they would see amazing scientific discoveries that were going on at that time and they try and explain. I absolutely loved that when I was like a 10 year old, 12 year old. It was fascinating to see that. So we’re sort of hoping to get into that niche. And, you know, we’ve got a couple of other bigger projects that we’re hoping to do with people like Amazon. So we can do some longer form shows that, you know, have a bit of a budget and a bit… you know, we’re always working on a shoestring, but, you know, it’s a better quality shoestring than I started with. [both laugh] A bit longer now, but it’s still a shoestring. So it is. Yeah.
Klaus: Yeah. Please move into water sports boats.
Robert: Boats. Right. Yeah.
Klaus: As one of the first guests on the show, I was talking to the builder of Domani Yachts…
Robert: Yes. Yeah.
Klaus: …and they do electric boats and sailboats, electric drives and I think that’s a fascinating thing that is happening on the water right now. We also talked to the founder of Evoy, where they build electric propulsion systems. And this is where things happen that were happening in the car industry, say, 10 years ago.
Robert: Yeah. Yeah.
Klaus: Right now, the pace might be a bit slower, but it’s still very, very… a lot of things are happening.
Robert: Well, we’ve got a show in Amsterdam next year, in April, which is a big exhibition centre, but at the back of it is a canal, and on that canal, we’ve got some very impressive electric boats of all sizes. So you know, it’s the first time we’ve been able to do that because… Yeah. And I think the other one, which was an amazing moment, it was a real… you could feel that air change. We did a panel of Fully Charged live here, earlier in September, and I did a panel about electric flight. And I’d met these people before. They were, you know… and there’s a company called Vertical Aerospace who are doing kind of big drones, and there’s ZeroAvia, there is Electroflight. There’s quite a few companies. Rolls…
Klaus: Volocopter. They are just around the corner from me.
Robert: Volocopter. Yeah. Right. So that’s happening very rapidly. Rolls. But it’s also Rolls Royce and Airbus Industries. You know, the big people are putting a huge amount of time, effort and money into electric flight. But when we did the audience questions at the end of this panel, a member of the audience said, “Will you have an electric plane at Fully Charged 2022?” I went, “Well, that’s a good question.” I didn’t think to ask that and I was too rude. Yeah. And I asked these people and they went, “Yes, and it will be flying.” So two of them again, they said, “We’ll have flying. They won’t have… You won’t need to go in them, but they will have them on demonstration.” Because we’ll hold Fully Charged in a big airfield. Farnborough is a massive airfield, anyway, so they would have permission, they would be able to get permission to take something up. Not high, you know, 50 metres up in the air. But, you know, to actually see electric flight in action for the exhibition will be a real big plus. So well, I’m actually at a conference next week, chairing a conference about electric flight here, and we’re hoping to film some more planes. So we filmed a lot of stuff about the development of these planes, but we haven’t filmed them actually flying yet. [laughs] We’re waiting for that moment. But of course, now the weather is not so good, so it’s harder to do. But, I mean, it’s one of the few electric machines that I want to wait for other people to have a go in a few times before I do. Normally, I always want to be first, but I’m happy to wait. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] Volocopter is just around the corner from here…
Robert: I know that. I’d love to go.
Klaus: …and they had their first official drone cargo flight with DHL.
Robert: That’s right. I saw that. I saw a little film about it, yeah.
Klaus: And, well, it’s a big thing, right? It’s a very… it can carry lots of cargo, but it was initially developed as a thing for people, it transports people, and that’s sort of the other line that they’re working on. And the very first prototype was just crazy because it was one of these gymnastic balls, these giant bouncy balls…
Robert: All right. Yeah, yeah…
Klaus: …as a seat, [Robert laughs] and sort of also as a cushion, to help cushion the landing…
Robert: …the landing, yes.
Klaus: …and then there were lots of, sort of, outreach things with these giant fans, and somebody was flying that thing…
Robert: Oh my God!
Klaus: …on, I think, a football pitch. And, that’s also one of these things where I thought, “No way.” [Robert laughs] I mean, I really, really admire the courage of that person.
Robert: Yes. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. But I mean, I think it’s I must say that, you know, 10 years ago, I would have thought about maybe talked about or met engineers or people developing, you know, shipping, you can sort of see… or boats, maybe electric, and didn’t even I didn’t even discuss or imagine or fantasise or think about electric flight. And then you talk to the engineers at Airbus and they were in a long… I mean, we’re not going to see it for a bit, but I know for a fact they are developing, you know, 120 seat passenger planes that will jump do European cities. So that is 400 or 500 miles or 600 kilometres -sorry, I’m doing mpg, British stuff- [Klaus laughs] you know, that sort of distance, but vertical takeoff and landing, but not a little plane, a passenger plane with 100+ people on it, which is extraordinary, you know, that they’re planning that now. So it’s going to take, I think, 10 years. But I just hope that I can live long enough to, you know, fly to Paris in a vertical takeoff and landing electric aeroplane. It would be an extraordinary thing. I mean, the discussions around, you know, trans-ocean, like transatlantic flight isn’t… you know, no one is saying we’ll be able to fly to New York in a battery powered electric plane, [laughs] you know, in early time soon, But I mean some of the discussions I think were really interesting about… it suddenly makes out when you realise that there’s an economic drive there. I’m sure it’s the same in many airports in Germany, but you can’t take off after about 10:30 or 11 o’clock at night in London, and you can’t land until about 6-7 o’clock in the morning. And they’ve done, sort of, you know, the whole point is that you would have a huge airliner with a jet engine, but it has electric propulsion that gets it to 10-15,000 ft, and that’s all it has to do. So an enormous amount of energy to push it up there, and then it would use a tiny fraction of the jet fuel it now uses to push that plane across. Once it’s up that high, it’s much easier. Just that’s when the jet… and you fly to New York and, you know. And they were talking about the re-gen, the regeneration you can get from ducted fans in the wings so that you actually use that as air-brakes to slow you down. And when you come into land and you’re generating a huge amount of power, [laughs] you’re gonna need a bit more when you’re on the ground. But it is that… you know what they’re talking about is gigawatt hours of energy to get something like a 747. That’s gigawatts. You know, there’s nothing at the moment that… I mean, a gigawatt hour battery is the size of a small town.[laughs] It’s huge. So there’s a long way to go before that. But, I mean, that was quite an interesting notion that they… also the idea that you might not need a runway that you would have… They would always take off straight up. So you’d basically have an airport that’s the size of a football field, really, and that the plane comes in, it lands there, it takes off, and goes away again, you know, much… you know, which could be far nearer the centre of the city. I think that’s… you know, some of those… there’s a lot of economic pluses for airline manufacturers and the companies that run those planes. You can sort of imagine they’ve got PowerPoint [laughs] decks that they’re going, “This is the future. This is how we see it. We’ll have an airport on Trafalgar Square.” [laughs]
Klaus: Yes. Give it to me.
Robert: Unter den Linden, right in the middle. Boom. There you go. [laughs] That’s where you land.[laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] I think that’s great. I don’t really want to have all these air taxis flying around…
Robert: That’s kind of hob, yeah…
Klaus: …and creating traffic jams in the air, right? But it’s not the solution. But if you look at some South American large cities, megacities, it is very normal for, say, rich people to travel by helicopter instead of travelling by cars.
Robert: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Klaus: So it’s an option, or it’s already real to do something like that.
Robert: Yes. Yeah, yeah. No, and I mean it is… Well, there’s the one in Dubai. There’s an air taxi that’s flying constantly. It doesn’t have people yet, but they’re testing it out. That’s flying from the roof of a hotel to the airport and back. And it’s done it now thousands of times, faultlessly. So you know, they’re testing out the safety of it, and how do they charge it and how… you know. And that’s, I think, a six-seater drone that they’re trying. I mean, I’ve been asked to go out and film it. I just don’t want to. I don’t want to fly it [laughs] yet.
Klaus: Send Jack.
Robert: I can very happily send Jack. He can go and have a ride. Well, we’ve also got Andy Torbert, who has done a few episodes about bikes and boats and things and he was in the… he was an ex-military guy, who was a stuntman, who is a remarkably similar build to Daniel Craig. That’s all I’m saying. [laughter] He’s been in a few James Bond films. But the two things he wants to do, is one, he wants to… so he does: he’s very good at parachuting. He’s done a lot of extreme parachuting, so he wants to be the first person to jump out of an electric plane at 20,000 ft. [laughs] I’m very keen for him to do that. But the other one is, yeah, he would go in a drone like that and have a go in it, you know. So I’m very happy to watch him do that. [laughs]
Klaus: [laughs] So no worries about the future of Fully Charged. There will be even stunts and whatever.
Robert: I think so. Well, I mean, the one thing we really want to do -we’re trying to get to that- there is a… you may have mentioned it, I can’t remember the name, but they have built these big solar yachts very like luxury yachts, but they’re purely solar.
Klaus: Silent Yachts.
Robert: Silent Yachts. And so we were going to film with one of those and we were gonna do a range test and Andy was going to… he’s got a suit that’s called a re-breathing suit, a diving suit, so you don’t have to have a tank. You can stay underwater for nine hours, something like that, and it’s got one of the little things you hold it -I never know what they’re called- but like James Bond uses, but you get pulled through the water by a sort of electric torpedo thing. And he wanted to do a range test to see how far you could go, because normally they use them to dive and they go into a cave or whatever, but they don’t try… So he’s just going to go in a straight line, and we would follow him in the electric boat until he ran out. [laughs] He wants to see how far it will go. Of course, we’ve got to film him underwater as well, and I’ll be on the yacht with a martini, you know.
Klaus: Ah, that sounds like a terrible job. [Robert laughs] Really, really terrible.
Robert: I want to stay on the nice yacht and have a lovely, delicate salad and a glass of rosé. [laughs]
Robert: Chilled. Beautifully chilled. Chilled by a solar powered fridge. That’s very important.
Klaus: Definitely, without the carbon, without the thing that destroys the atmosphere.
Robert: Yes, hopefully, we’ll get to do some of those crazy ideas because he’s very gung ho. He does throw himself around, and he’s extraordinary.
Klaus: [laughs] That sounds great. Well, slowly coming to an end. Robert, amongst us, who is your favourite, Fully Charged presenter?
Robert: [laughs] I can’t have a favourite. I feel that I’m now of an age where they could all be my children. Just about. In fact, they all could, easily. I think they all fulfil very specific roles. So I’m a huge admirer, and I’m slightly frightened of Helen Chesky. So it’s Dr Helen Chesky, who is a physicist, who’s done a lot of stuff with us about batteries, about particulates, about bicycle, -she’s a very keen cyclist- and she’s a dive. She dives and swims and does all terrifying things. But she is so… I mean, I’m so honoured and flattered that she is prepared to work on Fully Charged. She loves it, and she’s great. But she does stuff on the BBC. She’s, you know, a very skilled scientist and science communicator. So the kind of… the sort of between her and Jack… Jack is such a find. He’s such a genius. Oh, he’s lovely and he’s like the same age as my son, so, you know, I could be his dad quite easily. In fact, I think I’m older than his real dad,[laughs] so that’s always a shock when you find that out. But then, you know, they’re amazing. Elliott, in China, has just been an absolute… you know, it was such an extraordinary moment, too. I saw he had made a little video for his own show, and I went, “That guy is brilliant, you know? I want him to come to work on Fully Charged,” and that’s one of the joys of having set this up. It’s I asked someone like Elliott, “Would you consider doing something for Fully Charged?” And he’s very keen and says yes. That is a really fulfilling moment, you know, rather than you going, “Oh, I don’t really want to. I think Fully Charged is rubbish.” [laughs] You know, that’s why I always expect that, you know, But anyway. So no, I don’t think I have a favourite. I think that would be very hard. Yeah. [laughs] That would be very unfair. [laughs]
Klaus: Robert, that was a real treat. Thank you. Thank you very much for taking the time for this conversation. I think what you have started is something really exceptional. It has transformed… It has a big percentage of… The transformation that we are going through right now is a big percentage or some percentage owed to what you started, what you and your crew are doing. And I mean that really seriously…
Robert: Oh, thank you.
Klaus: …because you need somebody crazy enough, [Robert laughs] weird enough to start something like that, and in a way that other people like to, sort of, be part of. And on another level, I think your life gives us average Joes out there the hope that something crazy could happen in the next phase, in a possible other face. And I’m very thankful for the time. Thank you very much for this conversation.
Robert: Thank you. It’s been a real joy. Thank you very much.
Klaus: Thank you for listening to The 2pt5 – Conversations Connecting Innovators. You can subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. The transcript of this episode and additional information is also available. The link is in the show notes. My name is Klaus. I’m an innovation coach in Baden Würtemberg, in the southwest of Germany. This is The 2pt5.