Plan Now for Fleet Electrification
Brian Marshall, Transportation
May 31, 2022
The transition to battery electric vehicles in the U.S. is picking up speed after years of a steady uphill climb.
Electric vehicle (EV) sales jumped 76 percent in the first quarter of 2022, representing 5.2 percent of overall new vehicle sales, according to Kelley Blue Book. For comparison, the EV market share was 2.5 percent just one year ago.
EVs offer long-term cost and environmental advantages over internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. For the fleet owner, however, transitioning to EVs won’t be simply a matter of ordering a dozen zero-emission Ford Lightnings to replace aging F-150 diesel pickups.
Because of operational considerations related to EVs, fleet transition will require careful planning to ensure key elements are in place. In our view, the planning process should begin now.
Making the Case for the Fleet Transition
For a fleet manager, the reason to transition to battery EVs ultimately comes down to cutting cost – both to the environment and the bottom line.
- Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Nearly one-third of GHG emissions in the U.S. is tied to the transportation sector. Academic studies indicate lifecycle GHG emissions of EVs are less than half the emissions of ICE vehicles.
- EVs cost less to own over time. Although battery-powered vehicles are projected to become more affordable, they are currently priced higher than traditional fuel vehicles. EVs – sans engine oil, spark plugs, timing belts, etc. – are less costly to maintain and are three to five times cheaper to fuel than traditional vehicles. Scheduled maintenance of light-duty battery EVs costs 4-cents a mile less than ICE vehicles, according to a technical report issued by Argonne National Laboratory.
- Maintenance costs less for heavy-duty EVs, too. Costs were reduced by 60- to 70-percent in comparison to diesel-powered terminal tractors, according to The North American Council for Freight Efficiency report titled “Electric Trucks Have Arrived: The Use Case for Terminal Tractors.”
More EVs to Market
Lack of model availability has curbed the rollout of EVs in the past, but several factors are approaching a turning point in battery electric transportation. Consumer choice ranks at the top of the list.
The days of choosing between a Toyota Prius or a Nissan LEAF for light-duty use are quickly fading into the rearview mirror. There are also more options available to meet medium- and heavy-duty fleet applications as well.
Dozens of battery EVs are scheduled to be released to the light-duty/passenger market in the next two years. Legacy manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, and Volkswagen are investing billions of dollars to offer new electric production models, while announcing goals to phase out ICE vehicles within the next couple of decades. Tesla continues to dominate the passenger market, but myriad startups are jockeying to merge onto the EV freeway.
Meanwhile, the medium- and heavy-duty commercial fleet is undergoing its own EV transformation. Most traditional manufacturers now offer electric delivery trucks alongside startups like Arrival, Rivian, BrightDrop, and XOS. Volvo, Daimler, Navistar, and Peterbilt have also released heavy-duty electric trucks to the market in recent years.
The key takeaway is this across-the-board commitment to retool the vehicle manufacturing industry will help accelerate the widespread adoption of battery EVs.
EV Acceptance Growing Among Fleet Managers and Consumers
A majority of fleet managers say they expect electric models to make up most of their light-duty vehicle purchases over the next decade, according to a 2021 survey of 91 large fleet managers by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate the clean energy transition. The growing acceptance of EVs as a viable transportation solution is also reflected in surveys and purchasing behavior of consumers.
These trends are being reinforced as pilot EV deployments have demonstrated the anticipated maintenance cost savings and environmental benefits. Furthermore, many professional drivers have given high marks to the quieter operation, excellent performance, and, frankly, the cool factor of battery electric cars and trucks.
Improving Technology and Infrastructure
Even with increasing availability and acceptance of battery electric vehicles, full-scale implementation is hampered by limited availability of and access to charging infrastructure. Simply put, there are not enough chargers deployed to support the growth of EVs on the road.
To help overcome this barrier to EV adoption, auto manufacturers and charging station providers are working together to deploy more and faster charging technology. In addition, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 includes more than $7 billion to help fund more charging infrastructure.
But the initiative to expand public charging infrastructure will not significantly impact fleet operations in the short term. In other words, fleet owners will need to develop their own charging infrastructure to support their operations.
Start Planning Now
Fleet operators need to consider several factors as they move toward the transition to EVs. A plan is essential, and this is where a trusted consultant who has experience and training in EV transportation planning can help.
Planning starts by setting long-term objectives, evaluating the total fleet vehicle numbers, and focusing on vehicles and transportation tasks that are best suited for EVs. For example, vehicles that see a lot of stop-and-go use or that idle in traffic throughout the day are prime candidates for EV replacement.
The planning process also evaluates charging needs, including the number, type, and location of charging units and the number of transformers that must be installed. It must also evaluate the availability of power supply at the fleet charging sites and whether additional power can be delivered.
There are clear advantages to starting the planning process now. Procuring equipment on a tight time frame can be a challenge as some infrastructure components require lead times of a year or longer. Supply chain challenges, chip shortages, and tight supplies of raw materials all contribute to the need for long-term planning.
So, when it comes taking those initial steps to prepare for the EV revolution, fleet managers should charge right in.
Brian is a subject matter expert on zero-emission mobility strategies. He has more than 15 years of engineering experience developing electric vehicle solutions and leading strategic growth initiatives in the global vehicle industry. Reach Brian at 816.377.3027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.