‘Seismic changes’ needed for fleets to lead uptake of EVs
The fleet sector requires a seismic shift in the uptake of electric vehicles if governments are to meet their pledges to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 or earlier.
Sales of battery electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles are rising sharply, but the high growth percentage is a reflection of the very low base from which they have started. In absolute terms, their sales volumes are tiny beyond Norway.
Across Europe as a whole, petrol-powered cars accounted for 59.5% of sales in the second quarter of 2019, diesel accounted for a further 31.3% of sales, while hybrids had only 5.1% of sales and pure electric enjoyed a market share of just 2.4%. Despite internal combustion engines representing the lion’s share of the new car market, and almost all of the light commercial vehicle market, governments have stills et boldly ambitious targets ofr the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles.
In the UK, for example, the Government wants to see 50% to 70% of all new car sales and up to 40% of vans to be ultra-low emission models by 2030, a decade before the sale of conventional internal combustion engines are due to end, said Phil Killingley Deputy Head, Office for Low Emission Vehicles, at the Cenex LCV show.
Seismic changes required
With plug-ins still accounting for less than 1% of the cars on UK roads, “If we just carry on as we are, looking at the small trials and the sweetspots, we are not going to get there. We really need some seismic changes,” said Chris Chandler, Principal Consultant, Lex Autolease.
As the UK’s largets leasing company, Lex Autolease runs a fleet of 360,000 vehicles, of which 18,000 are plug-in EVs, about 6.5% of its fleet. Add standard hybrids into the mix annd about 9% of Lex’s fleet is now alternatively-fuelled, despite the fact that it was the first company in the UK to lease the Nissan Leaf, way back in 2011.
“Like others, we are suffering with limited electric vehicle supply,” said Chandler. “There are some models available today, but the ones that hit the sweetspot of 250+ miles [400km] plus real world range that are affordable as typical company cars are few and far between. We see new models being announced and we’re really positive about that, but for the next few years those delivery numbers are going to be quite low.
“At the moment we are not able to meet the demand that we have. Customers are now moving very quickly from trials of five or 10 vehicles to wanting 20% or 30% of their fleet to be electric by a certain date.”
It won’t be long before houses need two charge points for families with two electric cars.
The charging infrastructure and national grid also need to up scale in order to meet this increasing demand, said Chandler. Domestic addresses will have to double their capacity to charge two cars, rather than one, in typical two-car households, while the pressure on businesses is even greater.
“We have customers now who instead of having one or two chargers at their offices are now installing 30, 40 or 50 and that is a different scenario when you are going to those scales,” he said.
“It’s not a case that we cannot do it and I passionately believe we can make massive inroads, but we have to stop looking at cherrypicking the sweetspots and really start focusing on how we get everyone into this zero emission arena.”
Industry-wide cooperation required
Chandler said fleets are best placed to lead the transition to electrification, and called for industry-wide partnerships between leasing companies, major fleets, vehicle manufacturers and charge point operators to accelerate mass adoption of EVs and hit government emissions targets.
“We are getting some of our largest customers together who want to go electric and we are going to look at where their vehicles are operating and where geographically they have problems with charging so we can provide data back to other people within the industry so we can start to build the right network in the right place to support mass adoption,” he said.
“And we are working with manufacturers and giving them ideas of the sort of volumes we might require so we can secure supply of the very best ultra-low and zero emission vehicles.”
Barriers to uptake for 5,000-vehicle fleet
With 5,000 vehicles operating in London, private hire and chauffeur drive firm Addison Lee fits the profile perfectly of a large fleet that wants to go electric, but has not been able to for practical reasons, despite making a corporate commitment for its fleet to be zero emission capable by 2022.
Catherine Hutt: Addison Lee’s 5,000 vehicles in London will be zero emission capable by 2022.
“There are two factors that have held us back,” said Catherine Hutt, Mobility Innovation Lead, Addison Lee Group. “One is vehicle availability; we are offering a premium service and we need the right tool for the job. The second is charging infrastructure; it’s good enough for us to operate a small scale pilot but there are still some challenges to overcome before we can roll this out at scale.”
A study carried out by Addison Lee two years ago calculated that London required over 8,500 rapid chargers just to support its taxi and private hire fleets, a total that dwarfed the city’s current plans to install 300 rapid chargers by 2020.
She said fleets are ideally placed to lead the mass adoption of electric vehicles, and not simply because of the immediate scale they can offer. With a total cost of ownership mindset, fleets can overlook the higher acquisition costs of EVs if the wholelife costs are lower than internal combustion models. Fleets also understand their vehicle movements, and so can identify the proportion of vehicles that could switch to electricity immediately.
“We could make a change very quickly and coupled with our three-year replacement cycle, it means we can bring in the new technologies when they come to market, which is beneficial in the short-term. And it also accelerates the secondhand market because those vehicles are released into the secondhand market very swiftly. We really want to work with OEMs and many other partners to make this work at scale.”