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Step by Step: How Partial Fleet Electrification Can Smooth the Transition to Electric Vehicles

Step by Step: How Partial Fleet Electrification Can Smooth the Transition to Electric Vehicles

More and more fleets are embracing electric vehicles, but even though the technology is evolving rapidly, only a tiny number of fleets have made the switch to 100 per cent electric vehicles.

Fleet managers need to be ready for the transition, because senior management will soon be demanding it. The incentives may not be purely financial, but will more likely be a combination of cost, environmental, reputational and – in some cases – operational.

Even for fleets that are ready to make a wholesale switch within the next couple of years, there are distinct advantages to replacing just a small percentage of the fleet initially – before making a wholesale commitment further down the line.

A partial electrification pilot project involving just a few vehicles will provide fleet managers with practical experience of overcoming the challenges of home and workplace charging and insights into how company car policies need to be altered to incorporate EVs.

Switching just a handful of vehicles to electric power allows fleets to monitor actual usage and charging patterns by using the latest telematics technology to identify the optimum point to make the switch – together with projected cost savings.

At Konetik, when working with new clients, we make extensive use of telematics to monitor operational demands of conventionally fuelled vehicles before making any recommendations for electrification.

We use this data to identify which vehicles may be suitable for electrification and once the switch has been made, we continue to monitor the EV usage to ensure utilisation patterns are optimised.

A pilot electrification project will provide data to inform a longer-term electrification strategy which takes into account both current and future EV model availability and takes into account the expiry of existing lease contracts.

This approach generally allows us to identify a handful of vehicles which may be suitable for replacement with electric alternatives in the near term, without any ongoing commitment to replacing the rest of the fleet.

But the lessons learned from these trials provides a rich source of valuable operating data upon which future decisions can be based. There is nothing like a comprehensive data set that conclusively demonstrates cost savings and operational efficiencies for persuading the board of directors that to invest.

The electric vehicle market is evolving rapidly, and as new vehicles become available on the European market, operational viability improves. This dynamic environment makes it vital that fleet managers review their electrification plans on a regular basis.

While the time may not be right for most fleets to start operating electric vehicles just yet, that situation could change quite dramatically in just six months’ time.

Fleet managers need to build up a matrix of their driver’s vehicle needs and usage and constantly benchmark this against what is available on the market. The choice of electric vehicles will expand rapidly over the next three years and the tipping point at which to switch some vehicles to EVs makes sense could arrive earlier than anticipated.

In addition to the next generation of EVs offering increased ranges and faster charging, a wide range of variables need to be factored in – such as changes to rates of diesel duty, the introduction of urban road pricing and the growth of the charging infrastructure.

In some European markets, EVs are already more cost-effective to operate than conventional vehicles. And over the next three years, a combination of congestion or pollution charges, SMR savings and a strengthening of used EV residual values is likely to increase their cost benefit over conventional vehicles.

Essential users

It’s often easier to trial EVs within an essential user fleet because drivers are generally more accepting of the vehicles a fleet operator provides as work tools.

The ppm fuel cost of an EV is typically around a third of a conventional van so any initial investment in additional charging infrastructure will be rapidly recouped by the fuel savings. Consequently, more and more city-based fleets are finding they can switch to EVs.

Perhaps the biggest revelation is that once they get behind the wheel, essential user drivers really like EVs. They highlight the quietness and smoothness, agility and acceleration and the ease of using what is essentially an automatic transmission in the city. 

In the longer-term environment, electric vans with regenerative braking systems are significantly more efficient than diesel vans and are likely to be exempt or charged less to enter Ultra Low Emissions Zones which could be introduced in many European capitals over the next few years. 

Benefit car drivers

For benefit car drivers, the key question is whether they are able or prepared to charge their car at home. This is the key barrier to switching to an electric vehicle. If a driver can’t start work each day with a fully charged battery, their ability to do their job effectively may be compromised. 

Job role, mileage profiles and usage patterns all need to be factored into the equation. Currently, there are some drivers who clearly won’t be able to switch to electric vehicle in the short term. These include:

  • Those covering 40,000 km PA (E.g. international sales representatives)

  • Drivers who spend sustained periods in excess of 80kmh on motorways (e.g. operations directors overseeing multiple locations)

  • Drivers whose journeys are unpredictable and time-sensitive (e.g. emergency field service engineers)

The other aspect to consider is the length of a company car driver’s commute. If the driver lives a long way from the office but their car then spends most of the time in the company car park, then workplace charging should address any range concerns. 

Electric vehicle ambassadors

Some drivers will remain sceptical about EVs but at the other end of the spectrum, it may be possible to identify some ‘early adopters’, who would be keen to try out the new technology.

A data-proven pilot electrification project can also help minimise drivers’ concerns over range (range anxiety) and access to recharging networks and provide fleet managers with real world information on the actual percentage of driver journeys which could be undertaken by an electric vehicle.

Identifying drivers who are positive about electric vehicles can be a great way to win the rest of your company car drivers over. Invite them to switch to an electric vehicle and it’s only a matter of time before they are telling their colleagues how much their electric vehicle is saving them in fuel and benefit in kind tax!.

And if these EV ambassadors happen to occupy senior positions with status and influence within the organisation, then encouraging them to lead by example can be an effective technique to raise awareness of the option of electrification across the entire company.

IMAGE CAPTION: Upmarket department store Harrods first began using electric vehicles to deliver to customers more than 100 years ago. A century later, the famous London retailer is expanding its delivery fleet with Nissan e-NV 200s.

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