At a Glance
In 2009, AT&T announced it was dedicating up to $565 million toward purchasing alternative-fuel vehicles for its fleet. Some of the company’s recent program highlights and future goals include:
● The saving of 49 million gallons of gasoline by 2018.
● Greenhouse-gas reduction equivalent to removing 38,600 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.
● Have up to 8,000 CNG-fueled vehicles in its fleet, by the end of 2013
In 2009, AT&T made a commitment to fleet sustainability by announcing that it would commit up to $565 million over a 10-year period to purchase alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) for its fleet. AT&T reached several milestones on its way to its 15,000 alt-fuel vehicle goal this year, having purchased its 4,000th alternative-fuel vehicle (now totalling 4,661 units) and its 3,000th compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle (now totalling 3,196 units). The company’s total fleet size is currently more than 71,500.
Early during this initiative, AT&T’s Chief Sustainability Officer Charlene Lake reached out to the Center for Automotive Research to discover the impact of its investment in AFVs. AT&T learned that its plan will save a total of 49-million gallons of gasoline over the course of the 10-year deployment period. In addition, the plan will reduce carbon emissions by 211,000 metric tons. The company said this is the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 38,600 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.
The natural gas vehicles in the fleet are Ford E-250 and E-350 vans, Honda Civic GXs, Ford F-250s, Ford F-450s with LEEP aerial technology, Ford Transit Connects, and Chevrolet Express Vans. The company said its recent deployments are the latest in its planned 10-year investment of up to $565 million to replace 15,000 fleet vehicles with AFVs by 2018.
AT&T said it estimates it will have up to 8,000 CNG-fueled vehicles in its fleet by 2013, at an estimated cost of $350 million. The company said it expects to invest an additional $215 million through 2018 to replace approximately 7,100 fleet passenger cars with AFVs.
To find out AT&T’s strategy for its fleet, and the benefits it has seen from this initiative, Green Fleet interviewed Jerome Webber, vice president of fleet.
“AT&T has a pretty large fleet of over 71,500 vehicles,” Webber said. “Our strategy of applying a more sustainable approach to our fleet came as part of an overall AT&T-wide initiative to embrace sustainability across all areas of the business.”
Webber said the $565-million investment is a shift in the company’s capital spend, rather than additional funds being dedicated to fleet. This shift will have a major impact on AT&T’s business, though, and help spur development and interest in AFVs.
“We truly believe that we’re driving the market for cleaner vehicle types,” Webber said. “As a large fleet, we believe that when we make commitments to invest up to $565 million in clean vehicles, the announcement we made back in 2009, it sends a strong signal that this is not a passing trend or a company that just wants to ‘green’ a couple of vehicles. We’re serious about this commitment.”
The type of fleet application is a key factor influencing the AFV models AT&T is purchasing. There isn’t necessarily an AFV available to meet all of the company’s fleet needs, but overall AT&T is making significant progress in finding vehicles that will work.
“We are making sure the vehicles fit into our fleet,” Webber said. “Our strategy has always been to take a mixed approach to alternative fuels, leveraging not just one but a combination of different technologies.”
These different fleet needs stem from the company’s diverse operations, from sales to servicing the systems that allow the company to provide its telecommunications services.
“Our fleet, and the usage of vehicles in our fleet, is diverse,” Webber said. “This gives us the opportunity to look at our fleet in a diverse way and select vehicles that will be successful in the areas where they make the most sense. One size does not fit all, and one technology might not be applicable to every aspect of our business.”
One of the major changes that’s part of AT&T’s strategy is its commitment to using alternative-fuel passenger vehicles, but commercial vehicles are a somewhat different story.
“Many of our managers drive passenger vehicles to do their daily work, and we decided back in 2009 that we would only purchase alternative-fuel models going forward,” Webber said. “This has been a very manageable focus for us. Now, the [automotive] industry has plenty of vehicles to select from in the passenger vehicle category. For the commercial service fleet category, it’s a different challenge. In some cases there are no alternative-fuel vehicle choices for the work we do. Through careful selection and thorough trialing, however, we’ve been able to hit the mark in several applications and exceed our planned expectations in a positive way.”
With natural gas running at 30- to 40- percent less than unleaded gasoline or diesel, the company is seeing savings in fuel costs.
Lower Maintenance Costs
Beyond fuel savings, one pleasant surprise for AT&T is reduced maintenance costs for its AFV fleet. Webber said the company looked at the conventional vehicles it purchased within the last three years and the AFVs purchased in that time period to ensure the comparison was accurate. Based on this comparison, Webber said he’s seen significant results.
“We do track the performance of our alternative-fuel vehicles compared to our conventional-fuel vehicles, and we are seeing much better performance and fewer repair opportunities,” Webber said. “We have been pleased to see that the repair rate for our alternative-fuel vehicles is running significantly lower than that for our conventionally fueled vehicles.”
[PAGEBREAK]Running a Pilot Program
AT&T didn’t make the decision to focus on AFVs without doing its research. Webber said the company tests vehicles in different environments to ensure they can run in all types of weather and road conditions without issues. When asked about specific examples, Webber offered the all-electric Ford Transit Connect and how the company decided to test it in the U-Verse segment of AT&T’s operations.
“For example, we bought several gasoline versions of the Transit Connect,” Webber said. “We deployed them to the segment of our business that would be using them to make sure we understood that the fit and function made sense. Once we were sure that was the case, we decided having an all-electric version also made sense. In the area of the business to which they’re deployed, there aren’t any issues with regard to disaster recovery or first responder responsibilities, and this helps overcome the initial range anxiety that often comes with driving an electric vehicle.”
For AT&T, Webber said focusing on local sources of energy for its fleet will ultimately give the company better control over its fleet operations.
“At the end of the day, as we continue to look at our fleet, we’re constantly reminded that whatever we can do to increase our focus on domestic sources of energy will give us a better chance of securing how we’re able to move our fleet and our business forward,” Webber said. “We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting there.”