Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

It must seem, at times, like we’ve gone “back to the future” in the auto industry. The excitement, 100 years ago, of the invention and production of the first cars and trucks changed the nation’s transportation history forever, as gasoline-powered transportation replaced horses as the primary means of transport, both commercially and personally.

Driven in part by concern for the environment and by the possibility of power that is cheaper than gasoline, alternative-fueled cars and trucks of several types have begun to make their way into our transportation needs. At the top of that list of alternatives have been electric vehicles and in the fleet world they’ve begun to make serious headway into commercial use.

Following are 10 major factors to consider before making the jump to introducing more EVs in to your fleet operations.

1. Charging Infrastructure

One of the most important things to consider before adopting EVs for commercial use is that, in comparison to ICE (internal combustion engine) powered vehicles, the charging infrastructure for EVs is still in its infancy. 

There are, including so called cardkey (private) locations, close to 200,000 gas stations in the nation. Drivers, both personal and commercial, of ICE vehicles are confident that, when that needle approaches empty, they can stop right down the road, at the next intersection, or at the next freeway exit, and fuel up.  

Conversely, there are fewer than 30,000 public charging stations for EVs, sometimes making it problematic for drivers to charge EV batteries while on the road.

The solution? More than anything else, it’s planning. Making certain that drivers know that they must consider round trips, rather than just one destination, along with battery range, before heading out on the road. Fleets can also install, at relatively low cost, Level II (220v) chargers both at the company locations as well as in drivers’ homes.  Yes, infrastructure can be a challenge, but with the right planning, this issue can be minimized or even eliminated.

2. EV Range

It was only a few years ago that the few EVs on the market had battery ranges of 100 miles or less.  Not a very good range, say, for a pharmaceutical rep who drives 25,000 miles per year.  Ranges, however, have increased, but compared to ICE tank ranges approaching, and sometimes exceeding, 400 miles, range remains a challenge for many fleet applications.  

While range remains an issue for many fleet mileage applications, there are ways fleets can train drivers to get the best range out of EVs:

Extremes of heat and cold can really impact EV range; using heat and AC can reduce range by as much as 30%.  Train drivers to “pre-heat” or “pre-cool” the vehicle while it is plugged in, charging, thus using power from the grid rather than the battery. This way, heaters and AC won’t be needed as much as heading out with a cold or hot vehicle.

“Opportunity” charging.  It isn’t likely that drivers will be headed somewhere where there isn’t a plug. EVs come with Level I (110v) chargers; train drivers that, when they see a plug, plug the car in. This helps to pick up precious range miles while they’re in with a customer or on the job.

Not unlike ICE engines, “punching” the accelerator will use more charge, as it uses more gas in an ICE engine.  Steady acceleration, as well as braking (most EVs have regenerative braking, which adds charge when the brakes are applied) can help extend range.

3. Vehicle Performance

Like any other electrically powered machine or tool, as the battery charge gets low, performance suffers. Many EVs have what is sometimes called “turtle mode” where the vehicle doesn’t accelerate as quickly as when the battery is charged. 

A simple solution to this would be to not let the EV battery charge below 20% before charging up, for example. Sometimes, though, this may not be possible.  Traffic, road closings with longer routes, and other unforeseen circumstances can force drivers to stay on the road longer than planned. 

In such a case, refer to previous best practices; using many of the similar principles for extending range can reduce battery usage, such as opening windows rather than using the AC, and limiting heater use when it’s cold. Both can help not only extend range, but reduce battery usage and keep performance closer to peak charge.  

4. Infrastructure, Part II

We’ve already covered charging infrastructure, but there are other aspects of vehicle support infrastructure that should be considered. It’s true that the typical ICE vehicle maintenance schedule - such as oil and other fluid changes in particular -  are not needed with EVs. But where does the fleet take an EV when repairs unique to the electric/battery system are needed? 

ICE vehicles can hit the local tire retailer, or independent repair shop for repairs beyond simple preventive maintenance. For the most part, an EV must return to the dealer. And though the larger OEMs have thousands of dealers nationwide, the network of potential repair locations for ICE vehicles is much, much larger.  

Meeting this challenge isn’t all that difficult. Beyond oil changes, the basics of preventive maintenance for EVs is the same as it is for ICE-powered vehicles. Tire rotation, wheel alignment, brake service, and replacement; all are no different. 

And as it is likely that your ICE vehicles won’t have major mechanical breakdowns, it is equally unlikely that an EV will have similar, serious issues. Yes, it will be advantageous for EV fleets as more and more non-dealer locations train their technicians to handle EVs, but this lack of infrastructure is less daunting than the charging infrastructure we’ve covered.  

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

5. Vehicle Cost

Another factor to consider is the price of an EV versus and ICE vehicle. The price of an EV compared to an ICE equivalent can be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 greater. Much of this can be overcome, if the vehicle qualifies for various federal, state, and even power company incentives and tax credits.  

But for the most part, an EV requires a larger upfront investment.

Indeed, the price difference is fairly stark, however the combination of the above incentives and lower maintenance costs bring it much closer to the ICE equivalent; it is also true that electricity, on a per-mile basis, is cheaper than gasoline at even the lowest pump prices we’ve experienced in the past decades.  

6. Resale Value

Depreciation, as any fleet manager knows, is the No. 1 fixed cost of owning a vehicle; it is the difference between the original cost and the resale proceeds from its sale. 

Even if it is assumed that the original cost is roughly a wash (after application of incentives), there simply isn’t the data to know what depreciation will be for most EVs, and for those that have been around for years, resale prices haven’t kept up with their ICE counterparts.

However, this problem should eventually take care of itself over time, as EVs become more commonly used and the data sample widens. It’s just too early to know what resale values will be, as many EVs are relatively new models. In addition, infrastructure will continue to grow (particularly for charging). 

And while the depreciation component of TCO (total cost of ownership) will probably exceed that of the equivalent ICE model, variable costs will also probably be lower, since scheduled maintenance costs will be lower.

7. Are EVs Really Green?

While there are plenty of good reasons to consider EVs for fleet use, fleet managers often are reacting to a corporate directive to go “green” to run a “sustainable” fleet.  

A deep dive into whether or not EVs are as green as proponents say they are can bring pause. For example, current EV batteries are massive, and at some point will need to be disposed. Recycling of EV batteries is in its infancy (primarily because relative to the overall auto industry, so are EVs).

While EVs are certainly green due to a lack of emissions, they aren’t so if one includes the production, charging, and disposal of both the vehicle and its components.  

Perhaps so, but if state emissions testing for ICE vehicles is performed at the point of emission, it should be no different for EVs - zero emissions.  

And the production of ICE vehicles isn’t green if one judges, too, from the production to disposal. They have batteries (albeit much smaller) that must be disposed of, the mining of iron ore for metal components is no more green than for lithium, and vehicle wrecks sitting rusting in junk yards isn’t very green either.  

The answer, then, is that the sustainability of EVs should be judged in the same manner as that for ICE vehicles, at the point of emission. And if that’s done, EVs are the clear winner. 

8. Vehicle Safety

Are EVs safe? Or, better put, are they as safe as ICE vehicles?  Let’s face it, cars and trucks are dangerous. More than a ton of metal, plastic, cast iron, and more, even traveling at moderate speeds, can be very dangerous to occupants and pedestrians.  

EVs have brought a relatively new factor to the safety equation:  huge battery packs that are not only extremely heavy (important factor in collisions), but because they pack an immense amount of power into their bulk, they can be serious fire hazards. 

We’ve all seen stories of lithium-ion batteries in cellphones and computers spontaneously combusting, even exploding, and the same is true for EV batteries. Add to that the impact of a collision, and the safety challenge is a real one.

First of all, not only are EVs subject to the same safety requirements overall as are ICE vehicles, but they also have specific battery safety requirements as well. 

The OEMs that produce EVs have been innovative in developing safety protocols for their batteries. Don’t forget, ICE vehicles carry gasoline, which can be every bit as dangerous in a collision as a lithium-ion battery pack in an EV. Safety should be no greater a concern for EV users than it is for any ICE vehicles they may replace.  

And when was the last time anyone hesitated to use a cellphone, fearing it might catch fire or explode?

9. Driver Acceptance of EVs

EVs are new relative to the ICE vehicles the vast majority of the population have come to know and use. There is a serious lack of knowledge and understanding of electricity, how it works, and how it impacts the vehicle a fleet driver uses. 

That lack of understanding can lead to drivers’ hesitation to accept being put behind the wheel of an EV. Fear of a lack of charging infrastructure leaving him or her stranded. Frustration with the perception of long charging times. 

Fear of charging, fear of an EV battery catching fire while sitting in a parking lot, and that most common fear, range anxiety.  A driver who isn’t confident in the safety or the ability of the EV to help them do the job can impact productivity. 

The answer is education. Drivers should know that, first, EVs are perfectly safe in charging mode; any problem will cause the vehicle to “refuse” to accept the charge, and that is highly unlikely. 

Finally, as one OEM has done, use the term “range awareness,” rather than “anxiety.”  Make sure drivers, and their managers, understand that the company has done careful analysis of the various data and determined that the vehicle can do the job.  

Charging times?  The OEMs and the EV industry can do a better job of presenting charging times, to wit, a Level I charge doesn’t take 18 hours, as is often believed, unless the battery is completely dead.  

If the driver ends the day with a half charge in the battery, an overnight charge will start the next day fresh with a full charge. 

Wherever possible, install Level II chargers on site, and even at the driver’s home if possible.  If drivers are educated before being assigned an EV, they’re far more likely to accept the vehicle.

10. Fleet Application

Can EVs be applied to any and all fleet usage? No, not at present. An EV with even a 200 mile range cannot effectively replace an ICE vehicle for, say, a pharma rep who drives 30,000 miles per year.  

And though charging times aren’t as long as many believe (18-20 hours at Level I, 6-8 hours at Level II), they do take longer than a stop to fill an ICE fuel tank. However, there are some applications for EVs in just about any fleet, but how does a fleet manager find them, and educate drivers to accept them?

The fleet industry is on it. One of the great technologies of the past several years is telematics, which provides fleet managers with more data, often in real time, than ever before.  Geotab, a worldwide leader in the IoT and connected vehicles has a great feature, EVSA (Electric Vehicle Sustainability Assessment).  

Geotab’s EVSA solution “identifies which electric vehicles meet range requirements, make the most financial sense and will ultimately help make electrification as seamless as possible for fleets.” 

Based on telematics data, fleets are provided with a report which provides: lifetime cost and financial analysis, range assurance with best fit analysis and an environmental impact analysis that calculates fuel and CO2 emissions reductions. This and other such solutions make finding applications for fleets simple, firm data based decisions.

Challenges and Solutions

The electrification of the auto industry continues apace, becoming more and more acceptable both to the retail and fleet markets. 

Yes, there are challenges, some of which will take time to overcome. But more than ever before, EVs are an exciting, new option for the right fleet, and the right application, one which will continue to grow