Fleets are under pressure to contribute to lower emissions and sustainable methods of transportation. Will going electric provide the answer, or are there challenges putting EV fleets out of the running?
Earlier this year, the UK government announced plans to ban new petrol cars and vans by 2040. If, as the BBC claims, less than 1% of the cars on the UK’s roads are currently electric, that’s a big ask in little more than 20 years.
With this in mind, should fleet owners be considering a wholesale scrappage and shift over to electric vehicles (EVs) today?
Well, for a start, electric power isn’t the only option for fleets, particularly in larger and heavy-duty vehicle fleets where liquid hydrogen and compressed or liquid natural gas are both alternatives on the market today. But for urban fleets in particular, electric is certainly a viable alternative to the diesel or petrol-driven engine.
There are indeed many arguments for EVs. Emissions are low to non-existent from EVs at the point of use, they are much quieter and are lower cost to charge than the equivalent mileage in fuel.
However, the infrastructure to create and maintain EVs is less widespread than that of standard fuelled cars. EVs are more expensive to buy in the first place as a result and components, particularly their specialised batteries, can be expensive to replace.
Range anxiety has historically been a particularly big negative of EVs for fleet managers. They need vehicles that will travel consistently for most of the day with only brief stops for refuelling, changing drivers or loads. The drawback of the EV had been that it could only travel short distances (compared to standard vehicles with large fuel tanks) before needing to charge and that charging time was significantly longer than a stop at the pump.
These issues still haven’t been fully resolved but there are growing numbers of EV models that can travel in excess of 300 miles on a single charge, as well as rapid charging points that have drastically reduced the original eight hour full charging time. Long periods may still be needed to go from zero to a full charge but topping up between service stations is now a speedy possibility.
The reality is, however, that the EV market is still stuck in something of a chicken and egg position. The charging infrastructure simply isn’t widespread enough for EVs to be a uniformly nationwide alternative to traditional fuels. Infrastructure will come when more EVs are on the road – but arguably consumers will buy EVs en masse only when they can be sure the infrastructure will be there to serve them.
For fleet managers in urban hubs, this time has already arrived. In most developed urban centres there are a range of charging stations to choose from. There is also the potential to add EV charging facilities at the fleet depot where having a traditional fuel stop would otherwise be impractical.
Fleet managers looking to the future and making decisions about EVs should be asking themselves a series of questions before deciding to make the switch:
- How soon must I replace my fleet?
All fleet vehicles need to be refreshed at some point. Would it make sense to switch to EVs now or does your fleet have several fuel-based replacement cycles to go before any future legislation like the one mentioned in above? Would it suit your business to wait?
- How well suited is my fleet to EVs?
Running EVs today requires a different driving style. Instead of refuelling bottom to top, EVs charging availability is more about topping up where possible. Routes are planned around charging points and the time needed to charge to full power.
- What incentives will help me run an EV fleet?
With the French and UK governments already behind EVs, it is to be expected that there will be some kind of incentive to businesses to move towards electric power. Is it worth taking advantage of scrappage schemes or grants today?
Electric vehicles today are not a one-size fits all solution. There are pros and cons to being an early adopter of EVs that every fleet manager needs to examine before they decide if it’s the right move for them.