The fleets electrifying now — the ones in the trenches — have the answers to what is working and what isn’t. Let’s learn from them.  -  Photo: Chris Brown

The fleets electrifying now — the ones in the trenches — have the answers to what is working and what isn’t. Let’s learn from them.

Photo: Chris Brown

Can we finally get straight on one major aspect of fleet electrification? No organization is electrifying because it makes financial sense — at least not right now. But “electrify, it’s cheaper” was the message pushed relentlessly to fleets over the past five years.

How many times have we seen a marketing message or listened to a speaker at a conference talk about electric vehicles’ favorable total cost of ownership? The oft-repeated line was that EVs’ higher initial costs would be overcome by a lower spend on maintenance and electricity, so by year three you’re in the black.

I was sitting next to a fleet operator at one such conference, where on stage, the speaker was pushing those talking points. The operator had just received a quote for an electric van from the speaker’s company. The cost of the EV was nearly double that of the same internal combustion engine van.

How much do you spend on brake pads and oil filters on one van after two years? I’m sure it’s not $40,000.

There is the argument that the considerable costs for site upgrades and installing charging infrastructure should not be amortized as part of vehicle TCO. Fair enough. But you’re creating a completely new expense category for charger maintenance, charger networking fees, and the added monthly telematics costs automakers are forcing on fleets? What about paying the personnel to manage it all?

And let’s talk traditional TCO: How do we account for the largest vehicle expense, depreciation, when there is virtually no secondary market yet for EVs?

As electrification has moved from theory to reality, we’re understanding how hard this evolution is, from figuring out how to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid and creating the charging infrastructure to creating viable secondary markets for used EVs, batteries, and recycled parts.

There has been a lot of negative press about EVs over the last six months. Most of it is justified, some a bit overreactive. But what do you expect, after five years of sunshine getting blown from below? No one should be surprised by the blowback.

This negative press has helped feed the naysayers who are pushing half-truths or outright falsehoods about EVs. Who’s going to check them? It’s a lot easier to throw stones at the people trying to make you change than to confront the people who say it’s okay to stay the same.

The industry is, hopefully, reassessing the message. But how to move forward? Here are some suggestions on messaging that might help all entities better collaborate on a workable path forward:

  • No, this won’t be easy. At first, it’ll be hard. But the sooner you start, the easier it will get.
  • Transportation accounts for the largest portion of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. We must do better, and we can.
  • Incremental change is meaningful — but still incremental.
  • Regulations are never perfect, but pointing fingers and shaking fists at them are not the answer. Take the steps to comply.
  • Decarbonization can’t be done on paper or in a computer simulation. We have to go through the growing pains by actually doing it.
  • Through telematics and AI, we can more definitively show the harm that greenhouse gas emissions are doing to communities and the correlation to rates of asthma, pulmonary disease, and respiratory tract infections. Use this data to show how decarbonization can help — or hurt if we do nothing.
  • Let’s learn from the fleets that are electrifying.

That last bullet point speaks to the first point of the blog: True, no organization is electrifying because it makes financial sense. But they are electrifying.

They’re electrifying with varying rates of urgency based on state mandates, impending federal regulations, organizational ESG initiatives, and commitments to EV100.

This week, the EPA laid out its roadmap to reduce vehicle emissions in the U.S. over the next eight years. It’s a more realistic target than initially proposed, but still a stretch goal.  

The fleets electrifying now are coming up with solutions on how to get there. They can speak definitively about infrastructure planning and timelines and how to plan routes within the ranges of the EV models in their fleets. They know how to work the rebate and incentive systems.

Let’s celebrate the fleets in the electrification trenches, and with their help, we can move forward.

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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