Electric Vehicles

To EV or Not to EV? Top Fleets Answer the Question

November 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Cover Story

by Grace Suizo - Also by this author

Are electric vehicles (EVs) right for your fleet? Fleet managers from some of the top commercial and public sector fleets spoke to Green Fleet about why and how they went electric, and the benefits and challenges they met along the way.

Making a Match
Investing in new technology only makes sense if it’s a right fit for the fleet. First things first: Which fleets do well with electrification?

Frito-Lay North America’s Mike O’Connell, senior director of Fleet Capability, knows a thing or two about vehicle electrification. The fleet test-piloted 15 EVs in 2010, and now has more than 175 all-electric trucks in service. According to O’Connell, “Any fleet that has local delivery components should be able to integrate electric vehicles into its operations.”

Rolf Schreiber, Google’s technical program manager of Electric Transportation Initiatives, agreed. Google operates 50 plug-in vehicles in its GFleet car-sharing program and has had such an “overwhelmingly positive” experience that it’s hoping to electrify more of its fleet, especially with food delivery and service trucks and shuttles providing intra-campus transportation services.

“Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are best suited for fleet operators with somewhat modest daily mileage requirements,” Schreiber said, citing as examples delivery services with local fixed routes, the U.S. Postal Service, colleges and universities, and cities and counties.

Counties definitely make the list, according to Dave Head, fleet manager for Sonoma County in northern California. The County operates 242 hybrid and electric vehicles, including nine neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) used around campus-type locations throughout the county.

“We have a lot of applications where vehicles are used every day, but only go 20-40 miles, so they don’t travel long distances — the perfect application for hybrid or electric vehicles,” Head said. “For our fleet, probably half of our vehicles could be replaced with a plug-in type vehicle and meet our needs. If you’re driving 200 miles per day right now, a plug-in vehicle is probably not your best bet.”

Using hybrid-electric vehicles for local travel has also worked well for Comcast, which operates a total of 250 hybrids.

“The Ford Escape Hybrid fit into a category where we had technicians that needed AWD/4WD capabilities, but not significant cargo or payload needs, and travel significant distances occasionally, but primarily were local,” said Bud Reuter, director of procurement & fleet.

Pete Silva, senior director of fleet procurement for PepsiCo, shared a similar perspective, noting “moderate mileage operations with urban use seem to achieve great payback.” PepsiCo has been using hybrids since 2008 and currently runs a total of 263, along with one all-electric vehicle. Silva also recommended EVs for “small fleets with driver commitment and good management span of control fleets,” lightweight payload operations, and traveling multiple stop routes and congested highway travel with stop-and-go traffic.

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