Electric Vehicles 101 for Fleet Organisations

Electric car plugged in outside house on street with a sunset
Electric car plugged in outside house on street with a sunset

You just ordered a last-minute item that must arrive by its estimated delivery date. Without a fleet manager, your delivery would either be delayed or not even delivered- as managers are responsible for planning the logistics of their fleet’s transportation. There is a lot more responsibility in being a fleet manager than ensuring items get delivered on time and are in charge of anything and everything in a fleet, so let’s break it down.

What are electric vehicles?

The Evolution of Electric Vehicles

An electric vehicle receives its propulsion from one (or more) electric motors. These motors pull their energy from large, generally lithium-based, batteries housed within the vehicle. The first electric vehicles emerged in the 1800s when Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian priest, built a rudimentary, but operable electric motor which he used to power a tiny car shortly after. Despite catching on with some consumer appeal in the late 1800s in a variety of applications, they were ultimately dwarfed by the major improvements in petrol and internal combustion engine (ICE) technology. As a result, electric vehicles (EVs) sat by the wayside until the 2000s, when companies like Elon Musk’s Tesla decided to shine the light on the missed opportunities in the EV market in America and soon other countries. By driving their appeal with sleek looks, environmental benefits and early adopter perks, Musk carved a path that auto manufacturers and governments wanted to adhere to. As a result, mandates and policies came out about how to keep emissions down, and incentives appeared for consumers purchasing EVs.

This market and cultural surge toward EVs was largely possible thanks to advancements in the technology of the batteries used to power these vehicles. In addition, charging an EV can now be accomplished at many charging sites across the country or world, linked to major companies like Tesla, ChargePoint, Volkswagen and more. While petrol prices are largely dropping or in flux at the time of writing, EVs are still catching on and grabbing more of the market share in the consumer auto market. Where does that leave fleets?

Electric Vehicle Considerations and Fleet Management Organisations

When it comes to fleets, purchasing managers have a lot of factors they have to consider:

  • What is the up-front capital investment?
    What is the total cost of ownership?
    Are replacement parts available?
    Can my technicians be trained on this, or is it outsourced maintenance only?
    Are charging stations readily available? Are they safe?
    The questions really start to pile up when a disruptive new technology is considered for widespread adoption. As a result, some vehicles have really started to become favourable to many fleets.

Vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt or Nissan Leaf are competitive in this public fleet space. They come from established manufacturers, feature adequate range estimates, are compact, generally affordable and claim high safety ratings. Vehicles from Tesla will often boast exceptionally high safety ratings, long ranges, “lightning”-fast charging and more, but it comes at the cost of trusting a newer manufacturer, outsourcing your maintenance and paying more upfront. Consequently, these fit into the high-middle-class to luxury consumer market, more so than they apply to the public fleet industry.

Challenges with Electric Vehicles

Regular access to charging

Because of partnerships with extensive charging organisations like ChargePoint, fleets are able to install charging stations right on their property. These can be configured for specific user-access, smart charging, multiple vehicle charging (in a variety of modes, like first-in first-out or round robin), as well as functional reports, anti-theft measures and much more. In fact, the systems can be integrated with modern fleet management systems, like FleetFocus, that can treat it as you would normally expect from fuel purchasing and reporting.

Ownership Costs

While EVs boast higher up front costs, their total cost of ownership tends to be less than their ICE counterparts. This is good news for fleets that value longevity in their assets. However, it can create a stumbling block for smaller scale fleets with tighter budgets, or even prevents large fleets from transitioning a large quantity. This is a minor challenger, however, as it does not completely prevent the transition to EVs. In fact, the purchase price of EVs is expected to continue its downward trend, making them more affordable. The next section looks at these costs in more detail.

Short and Long-Term Benefits of Electric Vehicles

Overall, it is believed that EVs offer a much cheaper total cost of ownership when compared to ICE vehicles. Besides the obvious savings in fuel costs, EVs features significantly fewer moving parts, no exhaust system, no oil changes, regenerative braking to extend the lifespan of the braking system and higher safety ratings, along with advanced safety features, helping to prevent the likelihood of accidents. That being said, the datasets from users who have owned an EV for a long time (8 or 10+ years) is still relatively small compared to ICE users. Some critics have raised doubts about the longevity of the batteries in these vehicles. The batteries are the single highest cost for EVs, so the concerns are worth listening to. Many manufacturers, however, have insisted that with proper treatment of the batteries, they have noticed no significant decline in usability or durability. Some declination in maximum charge is to be expected over the years, especially in particularly extreme climates.

At the same time, EVs are notable for their improvements in air quality, especially in urban regions. Some critics would argue that EVs are no more efficient, or “clean” than their ICE counterparts – they are just moving the pollution back to the power plants. However, ICE vehicles are twice (or even thrice) ineffective: first the petrol has to be refined from its original petroleum product, then transported by trucks running on, you guessed it, petrol or diesel, and then burned rather ineffectively by the ICE engine. EVs, on the other hand, draw power directly from the existing power grid and consumer/residential infrastructure, which can invest heavily in sustainable and renewable sources of energy, and then is utilised within the vehicle. This process is more efficient when regenerative braking is used at a high threshold.

Simultaneously, these vehicles are considered zero emission vehicles, because of the fact that they have no exhaust systems and burn no fossil fuels. These vehicles are praised for fostering a culture of cleaner air and are often the subject of intense governmental legislation. Not only do they pave the way for cleaner air, but they are increasingly becoming required for cities and states to meet certain mandates and policies.

Electric Vehicles and Fleet Management: Where Do We Go From Here?

Electric vehicles are a rapidly changing and evolving industry. They are constantly innovating and building on top of each other to create safer, more efficient and more affordable technology for consumers and fleets alike. From zero emission standards to lower total costs of ownership, they are increasingly becoming hot items for public fleets. The day is coming when they will be more commonplace, if not outright required, in order to meet mandates or quotas, so it would be wise to read up more and more and to create a plan for how your fleet may invest in them soon.

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