Almost half of businesses expect to increase their number of electric vehicles yet less than 10% feel well equipped to do so, according to a survey by Fleet World magazine and Shell.
With charging points growing across the UK and current tax breaks for electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles still in existence, the argument for adding electric to your fleet is more and more enticing. But there are some important considerations before you get started, a panel of experts told delegates at the Fleet World Show.
Battery improvements are adding to the interest in fully electric vehicles, particularly as they extend the vehicle driving range on one charge. The official range of the new Renault Zoe small car is 250 miles, which gives a real-life reach of about 180 miles. The next Nissan Leaf is rumoured to have a similar range, said Alex Grant, editor of Fleet World.
Battery life is also proving to be longer than the three years of earlier days, with seven-year warranties on some matching the warranty life of the car, said Ian Goswell, academy manager at Kia Motors. While this is reassuring for the buyers, as with all emerging technologies, a subsequent leap in battery technology could render old models less interesting, Grant added. This may affect residual values, and the enthusiasm of leasing companies to hold electric vehicles on their fleet.
It is important to understand the different technologies, said Grant. There is a whole new world of terms and technologies out there, which can be hard to get your head around, particularly for those who are used to dealing with petrol and diesel.
Choose the right uses for going electric or hybrid, said Ian Featherstone, fleet advice manager for the Energy Saving Trust. Look at the constituent parts of your fleet to then identify where it is worth transferring to electric or hybrid. Plug-in hybrids are becoming more realistic for commuting, as the driving range extends beyond the average commuting distance, said Goswell. “When it becomes realistic to do 200 miles and stop and charge for half an hour, it becomes a very easy thing to adopt,” Grant agreed.
Good opportunities for electric vehicles come in a driving range of about 120-150 miles at the top end, said Featherstone. But look at the bottom end too, he said. “If they only travel about 25 miles a day, you won’t actually get much of a reduction in the running cost. But 50 or 60 miles a day, you save a lot of money on refuelling.” It is such a fast moving area, in terms of charging structure and vehicles, so keep checking, he added.
You must educate the drivers too, said Goswell. If you have electric and hybrid vehicles on your fleet, make sure that they are being used properly, or it can cost the company dearly. “There is an education needed there,” he said.
Some fleet managers have found that drivers order hybrid vehicles because of the low tax benefit, but then just drive them as petrol cars. One solution is to monitor miles per gallon and if the hybrid drivers fail to meet an acceptable rating they are banned from choosing another hybrid vehicle.
As soon as you start to think about buying electric vehicles, you need to think about charging facilities, said Featherstone. With a pure electric vehicle you are reliant on public charging services, such as service stations, where you can be charged, or other facilities where you have to be a member. With plug-in-hybrid, you can charge at home and at work. Get a site survey at the office or the depot to see if you have adequate power, or if your electricity consumption will be limited, he added. And for hybrid vehicles, think about company car policies – do you really want people who can’t or won’t charge at home?
There is a growing range of small electric and hybrid vans, and enthusiasm for their use will increase as clean air policies in cities pick up, and congestion charge exemptions exist, the panel agreed. However, a high daily mileage and limited downtime is likely to be a problem for some. It may be a couple of years before there is a good choice for 3.5 tonne vans, said Featherstone, but the vehicles are coming.
Electric vehicle types
100% electric vehicles (EV) otherwise know as “battery electric vehicles” or “pure electric vehicles”, are wholly driven by an electric motor, powered by a battery that can be plugged into the mains. There is no combustion engine.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PIH) combine both a plug-in battery pack and an electric motor with a traditional internal combustion engine. Both the electric motor and the internal combustion engine can drive the wheels.
Extended-range electric vehicles (E-REV) have a plug-in battery pack and electric motor, as well as an internal combustion engine. The electric motor always drives the wheels, with the internal combustion engine acting as a generator to recharge the battery when it is depleted.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, also known as Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), have a fuel cell stack which uses hydrogen to produce electricity, which then powers the wheels of the vehicle. Refuelling of hydrogen can be done at an initial network of 12 stations across the UK.
GoUltraLow, government and motor industry campaign to promote electric vehicles
Energy Savings Trust, independent organisation promoting energy efficiency