As corporate social responsibility remains top-of-mind for many organizations, we continue to see a growing number of businesses exploring a variety of sustainability initiatives. For fleet operators, this often means evaluating the feasibility of electric vehicles (EVs), hybrids, and other alternative fuel options to align with your organization’s overall sustainability strategy. These vehicles continue to generate significant interest across the industry and as more OEMs begin to produce electric/hybrid versions of popular truck and van models, it’s safe to say it’s no longer a question of if EVs will play a role in fleet operations but more so, the speed at which it happens.
With that in mind, determining the best way to integrate EVs into your fleet can be a challenge for even the most seasoned fleet professional. With a variety of vehicles now available as EV/hybrid models as well as several charging options – at-home charging, centralized charging depots, public infrastructure, etc. – determining the best solution for your fleet and developing a “best practice” strategy can certainly feel overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be.
To get started, it is often helpful to determine if your fleet is more of a retail/sales fleet where your vehicles are used simply for transportation or if your fleet plays a vocational role for your business with the vehicles serving as tools of the trade.
In a typical vocational fleet, vehicles (class 3-8 GVW) often return to a centralized “hub” at the conclusion of the work day. In these applications most organizations can benefit greatly by investing/building an onsite charging depot to ensure vehicles are able to fully charge after a day’s use and be ready to hit-the-road the next morning.
In a centralized charging depot, the most efficient – and most economical – way to recharge these units is with a level 2 charger. Level 2 provides the most control over how the vehicle’s battery is charged, helping to prolong battery life, provide the longest range possible, and minimize charging costs. However, it is important to keep in mind that if your fleets duty cycle does not allow much downtime for charging (i.e. terminal tractors or drayage vehicles), you may want to consider a level 3 charger (DC fast charger). Level 3 chargers repower vehicles very quickly but typically are most costly and over time, if not used properly, can negatively impact battery life.
In some cases, public charging may be an option for your fleet (depending on the infrastructure in the region(s) in which your fleet operates) but there are some important drawbacks that need to be considered. Most often, the use of public charging is likely for emergency use only and the availability of public charging cannot be guaranteed (it may already be in use or not operational). Additionally, public chargers will likely cost more per kWh (up to 3 times the cost of level 2), hamper productivity due to the downtime while charging, and often vocational trucks/vans may not fit within the parking spots for these chargers.
If your fleet includes a large number of passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, crossovers, etc.), in all likelihood, your drivers are taking the units home with them at the end of the day rather than returning to a central hub. In this scenario, at-home charging is typically going to be your best option.
An at-home charging solution will be the most efficient and cost effective method for charging your vehicles. In terms of the charging device itself, there are a wide range of options available and most are sufficient to charge your typical passenger vehicle. However, from a fleet operator’s perspective, it is important to think of the big picture, which shines a spotlight on data collection.
For fleet operators, it’s helpful to view the electricity needed to charge your EV/hybrid vehicles just as you would the gasoline or diesel fuel used in your traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. You need visibility to this fuel spend to accurately monitor and measure your fleet’s operating costs and overall total cost of ownership (TCO). With that in mind, I recommend utilizing “smart chargers” that capture charge times and report this information back to a centralized data warehouse for reporting and integration with the rest of your fleet data. Not only is this information vital to determining your TCO calculations, it will also streamline the process of reimbursing your employees for the cost of at-home charging. Telematics is also a viable solution and can often complement a smart chargers capability.
It is also important to keep in mind that at-home charging is not without its share of challenges. Two of the most common challenges are that not all employees will have access to off-street parking and not all employees own their home. In both of these cases, installing an at-home charger may not be feasible. If that’s the case, these drivers may need to rely on public charging infrastructure and it may be more costly and present a slight inconvenience to the driver.
One final consideration – and this applies to both vocational and passenger fleets – you’ll also want to implement some type of charge management software. Most of these platforms will help to optimize charging efficiency and avoid expensive electricity demand charges which can quickly add up if not properly controlled.
While the transition to electric vehicles won’t happen overnight and we’re likely still years away from EVs being a substantial portion of a fleet’s mix, it’s clear that many businesses are ready now to embrace EVs. Today, this transition is a bit easier and more beneficial for fleets with mostly passenger vehicles but with many OEMs poised to introduce electric versions of popular truck and van models, the transition for complex commercial fleets will become much easier in the years ahead.
The good news is that you don’t need to wait to start your transition to electric vehicles. You can begin with an initial pilot program or perhaps a small portion of your fleet. You can then build on this initial success, gain some momentum, and make the overall transition much easier. And as always, remember, you don’t have to navigate this road alone; we’re here to help you make the integration of EVs into your daily operations as seamless as possible.