We’re on the cusp of an e-mobility revolution that is likely to be the biggest change in how we use vehicles since the introduction of the automobile.
Fleets will be at the very heart of this revolution, adopting electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to help with the smooth running of their business, and at a lower cost.
Here we address the biggest questions about how e-mobility will affect fleets.
What kinds of vehicles qualify as e-mobility?
Essentially, any vehicle that is powered by electricity, whether completely or as part of a mix of power sources, is an e-mobility vehicle.
Perhaps the most well-known are battery electric vehicles (BEV), which use an electric motor to drive the wheels (sometimes two, one on each axle, or even four, one on each wheel) of the car. The motor draws its power from a battery pack, which is often positioned in the boot or, more frequently now, under the floor of the vehicle. The battery (usually lithium ion) takes its electrical energy from charge points, which have different power ratings that affect the time it takes to charge the vehicle.
Electric motors are also used in hybrid vehicles, which also have a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE), the two power sources work in conjunction with each other, the electric engine reducing the environmental impact of the petrol or diesel engine by replacing it at low speeds.
The latest innovation is the fuel cell vehicle (FCV) fuelled by hydrogen (which is available from filling stations that have hydrogen tanks). The hydrogen mixes with oxygen in the fuel cell to create electricity, which powers a motor.
Why is e-mobility so important?
Concerns over climate change have prompted governments to introduce legislation to reduce CO2 and other emissions. As e-mobility vehicles have no tailpipe emissions (although that’s only the case of hybrids when in electric mode), they are seen as one of the viable long-term solutions to environmental concerns.
Colin McKerracher, lead advanced transport analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Futures explained how e-mobility vehicles would be increasingly important in the future: “Somewhere between 10 and 15% of total vehicle sales in places like the US and Europe would need to be electric, depending on the mix of plug-in hybrid and battery electrics, in order to meet the existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) target and some targets in Europe.
“If political pressure rises and environmental concerns continue to rise up the agenda, you may see politicians opt to push those even further, also looking at things such as quota systems similar to those California and other US states have introduced – where you have a specific quota that you have to hit for EVs and a share of the total vehicles sold.”
What are the benefits of e-mobility vehicles?
In addition to reducing their impact on the environment, users of e-mobility vehicles also receive a number of other benefits.
Perhaps the benefit that is most important to fleets is a reduction in operating costs. The costs of petrol or diesel are eliminated with BEVs, for example: while charging does have some associated costs, they’re a fraction of what fleets spend on fuel. At the same time, electric motors are far less complex and cheaper to maintain than internal combustion engines, so maintenance and servicing costs are also reduced. In addition to this, electric motors are more reliable, which will lead to less vehicle downtime for fleets.
When is e-mobility likely to be a major aspect of fleet mobility?
Sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and BEVs are rising sharply (globally, sales rose by 42% in 2016), but they still constitute a small proportion of total vehicles.
Their relative high purchase cost compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles has been one barrier, but this is likely to come down in the next few years.
McKerracher told us: “You’re seeing battery costs decline precipitously. We started tracking the market in 2010 for EV lithium ion battery prices: prices have come down from $1,000 per kWh to about $270 last year and it will be closer to $200 per kWh this year on average. Some manufacturers are already well below $200.
“Once you add all that up in our models, electric vehicles become cheaper – not just from a total cost of ownership basis but on an upfront basis, beginning around 2025 or 2026.”
How can fleets integrate electric and fuel cell vehicles into their fleet mix?
Fleets will have to integrate e-mobility vehicles into their fleet mix sooner rather than later, according to a recent report from Sewells Research and Insight, called Electric Vehicles: Why fleet operators need to start planning for the transition to zero emissions vehicles in 2017.
Report author Mark Sutcliffe said: “At some point before 2020, the majority of fleets – especially those operating vans predominantly in urban environments – will need to formulate an emissions reduction strategy that will see them replace a proportion of their fleet with electric vehicles.”
How fleet managers do this is the big question. Gradually seems to be the best method, as Mike Vickers, fleet manager at Portsmouth City Council, explained: “With electric vehicles, there’s a temptation to just buy a dozen or so without any experience of how they operate. But if you start small and understand where those vehicles will be the most successful and introduce them there, you’ll avoid having egg on your face later on.”
Knowledge is key for fleet managers dipping their toes into e-mobility. Researching the market and arming yourself with information will give you the understanding as to what vehicles will work best for your fleet needs, helping you stay one step ahead of the motoring curve, as mobility shifts away from the combustion engine.