The days of the dirty diesel-fueled delivery or distribution truck may be numbered. Internal combustion engines (ICE) are still being made, but electric vehicles are on the line too. From big rigs to box trucks, and semi-trucks to delivery vans, there are many options for electric vehicle (EV) fleets. This article discusses ICEs and EVs, the advantages of electric vehicle fleets, and tips for switching to EVs, including how to implement electric vehicle fleet management.
The history of electric vehicles
You might expect an electric vehicle history to begin a few decades ago, but the first small-scale electric cars were developed in the 1830s. Robert Anderson developed the first rudimentary, electric-powered vehicle in 1832. It wasn’t until the 1870s that electric cars became more practical. Still, it took another 20 years for real interest in electric vehicles to take hold.
By the 20th century, electric vehicles accounted for “a third of all vehicles on the road,” according to the Department of Energy. Porsche developed the first hybrid electric car in 1901. In the next decade, the Model T emerged as the more affordable alternative. Gas-powered vehicles continued unchallenged until the 1970s when gas prices soared. The urgency to switch to alternative fuels slowed as fuel prices stabilized until the 1990s. Due to rising awareness of the impact of carbon emissions on the environment, electric vehicles became a cleaner, more attractive option for drivers.
What are commercial electric vehicles used for?
The early adopters of electric vehicle fleets were municipal and government agencies with a large number of sedans in service. More buses and public transportation vehicles are going electric too.
Now, as the national infrastructure evolves to support electric charging, electric vehicles are used for regional and last-mile routes. There is still a lot of room for electric vehicle fleet growth, as “the largest percentage of goods by weight and value” in the United States moves “relatively short distances,” according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. “Approximately 67.1 percent of the weight and 51.8 percent of the value of goods moved less than 250 miles between origin and destination in 2018.”
What are the benefits of electric vehicles in fleets?
Electric vehicle battery life
A key benefit for the fleet is electric vehicle battery life. When powered by regenerative braking, the battery recharges using the kinetic energy released with the vehicle brakes. Today, a lithium-ion battery cell can last 2,000 and 3,000 cycles and up to 10 years. The technology is only improving, so expect the battery cost and size to decrease and the longevity to improve.
Ease of maintenance is one of the many benefits to electric vehicles. Since electric vehicles are electrically powered, there’s no need to lubricate the engines, unlike a combustion engine.
At the same time, “charging infrastructure and after-sales services, such as the number of EV-trained technicians, are also improving,” according to Energy Saving Trust.
A big advantage of an electric vehicle fleet is sustainability. Vehicles with an electrically powered engine don’t release toxic gasses into the environment. Electric vehicles can reduce your organization’s carbon footprint, which means you and your drivers contribute to a healthier climate.
While we’re thinking about pollution, let’s mention that electric vehicle fleets also produce less noise pollution. Electric motors make for quiet, smooth-driving vehicles.
An electric vehicle fleet might be more expensive on the front end, but there’s a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) over the life cycle of the vehicle.
For one, fuel costs are a major drain on the fleet’s bottom line. It’s estimated that 30% of operating costs are attributable to fuel. With an electric fleet, the operator can power commercial vehicles with less costly electricity.
Electric vehicles have lower maintenance costs due to fewer service requirements including oils and filters and reduced wear and tear on brakes.
Your organization may also benefit from government incentives such as grants or tax breaks, which are intended to make an investment in this transformation more attractive.
Range of electric vehicle brands
Among electric vehicle brands, Tesla may be the best known. It has two semis: one with a 300-mile range and another boasting 300-500 miles. However, Elon Musk’s company isn’t the only one in the market. Electric medium-duty trucks, step vans, and pickup trucks also get a lot of coverage. Vehicles in these weight classes tend to travel less than 150 miles per day and return to base each evening.
Trucks with longer ranges remain in production. Nikola Motors predicts a range of 500-700 miles for its trucks. Amazon’s electric delivery truck from Rivian is now slated to launch in 2022, but the range remains confidential. Volvo is keeping its range under wraps too.
Of course, there are several variables that impact range, such as driving speed, vehicle, and weather conditions. The question of range will remain difficult to answer until manufacturers disclose more information.
Should you transition to an electric vehicle fleet?
More fleet and transit owners are exploring a clean transportation journey, according to Mortenson, a developer and engineering services provider. Based on a survey of 200 transportation professionals, the company predicts 48% of fleets will be clean in five to seven years and that “electric fleets are the preferred option.”
Organizational goals, emerging technologies, and environmental responsibility are the key drivers for the transformation to electric vehicle fleets. In fact, Mortenson’s research suggests 23% of fleets are already clean. Clean fleet owners cited “zero emissions, innovation, and customer preference” as the reasons they preferred electric vehicles.
Falling battery costs make electric fleet vehicles more affordable. At the same time, there are government incentives and mandates for zero-emission trucks, so more manufacturers are rolling out electric vehicles in the United States.
Self-driving trucks, though,are still at least a decade away.
How to manage an electric vehicle fleet
The transition to an electric vehicle fleet will be gradual for most organizations. While you’re working with a mix of fuel-powered and electric-powered vehicles, it’s key to treat the two the same as far as record-keeping and management.
An electric vehicle fleet management software can help your business track at a transactional level the fueling and charging activity of both types of vehicles. By digitizing your operations, you can get greater visibility into the billing, maintenance, and driver records for the fleet, regardless of power source.
Telematics let you monitor key data points for electric vehicles such as state of charge or charging history.
What to consider when buying electric vehicles for commercial purposes
There are several considerations for buying electric vehicles, including:
- Top speed
- Battery recharging time
- System for recharge
- Manufacturer’s intention for the vehicle (e.g., urban delivery, local distribution, last mile, long haul, or heavy duty)
When deciding if an electric vehicle is right for your fleet, you’ll also want to ask specific questions about where the manufacturer is in the development process.
Why choose Motive for electric vehicle fleet management?
The key concern for electric vehicle drivers is range anxiety. With electric vehicle fleet management, you can keep a close eye on the charge state. Remote visibility into your current and historical charging can help inform workflow and ensure efficient fleet dispatch.
Telematics can help fleet managers see where assets are in relation to charging stations and their charge state. This can help with route planning and ensure that vehicles are available on the road at peak hours.