Electric Vehicles

What Is the Future of Electric Vehicles in Fleet?

September 2013, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

Perhaps no vehicle technology has captured the public’s imagination like the electric car. And, this goes for fleets as well, with companies such as FedEx, Frito-Lay, and Coca-Cola Refreshments in the process of testing or implementing the technology.

While there is still some technological and logistical issues facing fleets that want to go electric, there is one thing for certain, according to Jonna Hamilton, vice president of policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Electrification Coalition, fleets are increasingly adding electric vehicles to their product mix.

“Businesses are going to play a big part in the adoption of electric vehicles, and businesses are doing a lot to move the industry forward,” she said.

Barriers to Adoption

A white paper authored by the Electrification Coalition, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit group of business leaders committed to promoting policies and actions that facilitate the deployment of electric vehicles on a mass scale, noted that plug-in electric and battery-electric vehicles have seen exponentially increasing sales since 2011. In fact, according to data from www.hybridcars.com, June 2013 was the best sales month to date in the history of the nascent electric vehicle market.

In less than two years, monthly plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales have increased from less than 1,000 per month to nearly 10,000, pointing to a healthy future.
In less than two years, monthly plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales have increased from less than 1,000 per month to nearly 10,000, pointing to a healthy future.

However, for fleets operating medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, adoption hasn’t taken off as expected.
Hamilton said that part of the reason has to do with availability of the medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles.

“A lot of the well-known OEMs in the fleet world are not making these vehicles,” she said. “So, if a fleet operator wants a medium- or heavy-duty electric vehicle, they have to go to a company that they don’t know as well, that they haven’t ordered from before, and they’re probably concerned about quality and reliability. And, I think that is an issue. Not that there is a problem with these smaller manufacturers; it’s a confidence issue.”

The other issue that is causing fleet managers, particularly of medium- and heavy-duty fleets, to pause is what Hamilton describes as the incremental cost of buying electric vehicles — that is the cost of battery technology.

“Incremental costs on some of these vehicles, because they need such large batteries, can be up to 100 percent,” Hamilton explained. “I do think the vehicle manufacturer issue is unique to the medium- and heavy-duty market, but I think the incremental cost is an issue for everybody. Cost is also going to be a problem for your local or municipal fleet that will want to buy or lease a Chevrolet Volt or a Nissan LEAF.”

This may be an issue now, but most likely won’t be in the future as battery technology becomes increasingly less expensive and lighter weight.

“As battery technology gets lighter and cheaper, which it will in the next decade or two, I think commercial and delivery applications will become easier for electric vehicles,” Hamilton noted. “In the meantime, long-haul and trash collection, for instance, are a really great fit for natural gas. In regards to the passenger, light-duty segment, I really do think that electricity is the best alternative fuel right now.”

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