business transport

Electrifying the fleets

Electric vehicles are increasing their market share, slowly. In the UK at least, ordinary drivers are still cautious. They are unsure about range, the ease of charging, or the expense. The really rapid progress is in businesses and the public sector, where it’s someone’s job to crunch the numbers and see what will be most cost effective. When you do that, EVs often win hands-down.

Every week I have a couple more emails in my inbox with press announcements about new EV fleet purchases. The big one this month was the Royal Mail, who have ordered 3,000 new electric vehicles on top of the 300 they already run. They are also using gas-powered heavy trucks, which are dramatically cleaner than diesel trucks and a useful stepping stone on the way to proper low carbon. Last week it was DPD making similar headlines.

What’s interesting is that this shift covers businesses of all sizes. Amazon have ordered 1,800 Mercedes-Benz electric vans for its European operations, 10,000 electric rickshaws in India, and a bonkers 100,000 vans from Rivian by 2030. On the other end of the scale, Drinks Cubed are the first customer of electric van start-up Volta, and piloting their zero emissions vans.

It’s not just businesses either. Councils are ordering EVs, including bin lorries, with EVs on the rubbish collection routes in Nottingham, Sheffield and several other places. Oxford and Cambridge appear to be racing each other to transition to electric. Police forces are choosing to buy electric when replacing their vehicles, with London and Gloucester operating the largest fleets of electric police cars so far. I’ve covered public transport elsewhere, but that too is seeing slow but steady electrification.

There are a handful of reasons why fleets are going electric before private cars. One important factor is that fleet managers know exactly what their cars, trucks and vans are doing, how far they’re going, and how much they’re used. They know what the savings will be and how long it will take for new vehicles to pay for themselves. They have the data and can make informed decisions, whereas private car drivers are known to overestimate the distances they actually travel in their cars, and underestimate the cost benefits of driving electric.

Fleets have advantages on charging as well, because they can fit the infrastructure they need at the depot. Deutsche Post, for example, has 20,000 of its own charging points. Routes are planned with charging in mind, and working vehicles can charge overnight. They are not dependent on the public networks that many prospective EV owners find intimidating.

Thirdly, if you’re a car owner, it’s likely that your car spends far more time parked up than it does on the road. Working vehicles, on the other hand, are used all day long. The more driving a vehicle does, the bigger the savings from switching to electric and the faster those benefits will be realised. Big fleet operators, such as the delivery and logistics giants, are saving millions in fuel. Electric vehicles also pay lower tax rates and need less maintenance. There are commercial forces at work that aren’t there for private motoring.

Finally, there are a lot of options for electric vans, ebikes and micro-vehicles such as the Norwegian Paxter pictured at the top. Because they are ordered in large numbers, commercial vehicles seem to be getting to scale faster than electric cars (or at least, that’s my perception of it in the UK, where the EV market is tilted towards luxury cars). As costs fall, fleet managers looking to optimise efficiency are more likely to choose electric, which reinforces the trend.

Electric cars will follow their own trend in due course, though private motoring still has plenty of problems associated with it, whatever powers it. Active and public transport remain the priorities. Electrified commercial fleets are less controversial, and I think we would all welcome silent electric bin lorries on the early morning circuit.

2 comments

  1. Sadly, the main factor when considering the change to EVs is still cost. The purchasers you have listed have, relative to the man in the street, unlimited budgets. Until the price is substantially reduced, despite our wish to change, it remains a pipe dream for a concerned many.

    1. Yes, financing is another factor here, and one I didn’t list. Businesses are able to plan for this kind of expenditure as part of their investments, in ways that the general public can’t. However, it’s easy to overestimate how expensive an EV is, because the up-front cost is offset by dramatically lower running costs. It’s cheaper than a lot of people think – though having looked into it in detail, not cheap enough for me just yet!

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