Electric vehicles and new mobility solutions are touted to transform the fleet sector, but what will be their real-world impact?
Four leading fleet decision-makers debated the issue at the Fleet News Mobility Conference.
Fleet News: How applicable and viable could Mobility as a Service (MaaS) be to your fleet?
Stewart Lightbody, fleet director at M Group Services Plant and Fleet Solutions: I like the concept of mobility packages where one app can be used to arrange and pay for different modes of transport, but can I see it happening and is it viable for everybody?
Not in the short- to medium-term. If it’s an app-based transaction, if it’s made easy and if there’s something in it for people such as it’s cheaper, then they will probably give it a go.
It also depends on where you are going and what you are trying to do. If I am trying to get to London and move around, I think it is an absolute no-brainer. However, if I have to try to get an engineer and a digger to Cromer, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge.
So where it fits, I think, is logical and travel is definitely heading that way. But we are a long way from making it mainstream.
David Oliver, procurement manager, Red Bull: We’ve got a young workforce and they are asking more and more about mobility options. The generation that comes into our business now is quite used to tapping on a phone and then food turns up, or tapping on a phone and a car takes them somewhere.
Our workforce is based in Covent Garden in central London, so no one ever drives to the office and two steps from our front door they have probably got four or five bike options, a number of ride-sharing options and so forth.
As Stewart said, it’s about the sweet spot around convenience and cost. If the operators can keep it easy, then I think MaaS has a future, but we are playing wait and see for quite a lot of it.
We’re probably in the situation where our traditional field-based guys will have company cars for the next cycle at least.
Ryan Coles, group travel and fleet manager, Aviva: If our employees are going out to see customers, clients or suppliers, we need to give them a range of solutions, but it is very much driven by what our millennials expect from what they are experiencing in their personal life. They are our future.
Fleet News: What steps are you taking to reduce emissions from your fleet?
Justin Laney, partner and general manager at John Lewis Partnership Central Transport: We have around 500 vehicles, everything from cars up to maximum weight trucks.
We have a strategy to convert all the heavy trucks to biomethane by 2028. We also have a strategy to achieve a zero carbon fleet by 2045 and, certainly for the vans and trucks, we expect to get there a long time before 2045.
There are challenges in doing that and one of the things is the vehicles are mostly easy, the infrastructure is a lot more difficult.
Ryan Coles: Two years ago, our company car programme had two alternative fuel vehicles on there, but now about 45% of my company fleet in the UK is non-pure internal combustion engine vehicles.
That’s purely through drivers being given the choice but also being educated and being able to find information.
In November, Aviva’s group board issued its climate change targets and I was asked if I could commit that every single vehicle on my fleet would be electric by 2040. And I said ‘no, I can guarantee they will be there by 2025’.
Fleet News: How can you encourage driver take-up of electric vehicles (EVs)?
Stewart Lightbody: Give people the chance to try the technology. Some won’t get it, some will fight against it, some will probably adopt it far more readily than you think they will.
It’s a personal choice, whether it’s financial, emotional or logical, everybody will have a different reason for doing something. It’s just a case of tailoring your messaging and getting as many of those messages across to as many people as you can.
David Oliver: We took a Volkswagen e-Golf to our sales conference and let everyone sit in it and drive it around the car park, not because we were worried about the range, but just because we were surprised by how many people wanted a go in it.
That, I think, debunked a lot of myths and gave them the chance to ask a few questions of the guys who were there with the vehicle.
That kind of warmed them up to the idea and, as Stewart said, you might struggle to get people in an EV initially, but 10 minutes in and they are driving it and enjoying the pleasant, quiet cabin.
The more you tell them about the future benefits like the benefit-in-kind (BIK) taxation and running costs, the stronger the sell.
Justin Laney: We’ve pre-qualified some drivers who are due a vehicle replacement in the next year for EVs. We are a fairly small (car) fleet and can look at the mileage data to find out what drivers’ journey cycles are like which helps us identify the ones who won’t have issues with home charging.
We do our best to take away some of the barriers to taking on an EV, as well as showing them the advantages of what’s coming down the line, including the new BIK rates in April.
We are trying to personalise the process. It’s an investment in time, but I think the drivers appreciate it because they can see the financial benefits of an EV and that most of their trips will be fine.
We can give them 30 days of backfill of daily rental for those trips an EV won’t work for, cost that in as well and maybe that goes right, maybe that goes wrong, but we will do it and then see what that brings us.
A couple of our drivers have agreed to do a video case study which will help because our drivers are more likely to believe it from somebody who has got the vehicle than me telling them they should an EV because it looks good on paper.
Fleet News: What challenges are you encountering with adding EVs to your fleet?
Stewart Lightbody: We run just over 7,000 vehicles, pretty much split between cars and vans, but with the number of vans we run and the kind of work that we do in the utility world it’s just not feasible to convert to electric now. I’m struggling to see any time in the future when it will be.
Our core vehicle will be a 3.5-tonne panel van with a mini digger on a trailer and that’s going to take one hell of a battery pack and it won’t go very far.
Perversely, we have already electrified the digger on the back, but in order to get it to the site I’ve got to stick it behind a diesel and then tow it into a clean air zone where it’s not welcome.
Ryan Coles: Part of what we do in terms of moving people around is looking at out-of-hours emergency solutions for our out-of-town call centres, so if it is a Saturday or Sunday or late at night, where we are not tapping into an existing bus network and we need to move people, then we will partner with zero emission taxi firms.
This is great, but replacing a 25-seater minibus with a fleet of zero emission taxis means you are going to have five vehicles on the road instead of one, which is more congestion, which means more petrol or diesel vehicles sitting in traffic burning fossil fuel, and then you’ve got the extra particulate matter from disc pads and tyres and so on.
Justin Laney: One challenge we can see with charging points at work is that people want to park in one place and stay there all day. If they are on a charging point you probably want them to move on and let someone else charge their car up.
At our office in Bracknell there is a very active community which acts in a co-operative way and they make it work.
But there is no doubt that as the fleet of electric cars grows – as it will do – that is not going to work any more and there needs to be something that is a bit more formalised, but that certainly is something that can unlock more use out of an electric charge point.
Stewart Lightbody: We had exactly the same issue at Anglian Water when I worked there. As part of the development programme of putting the charge points in, we had to create a charter on how people were going to behave in relation to who got priority for parking.
For example, if somebody came in with a plug-in hybrid and someone followed with a fully electric car, who gets priority?
This sort of process is deliverable in an office infrastructure, but you don’t need too many EV drivers and a limited number of charging points and very quickly you will get to a point where there will be fighting in the car park.
If I had a PHEV and a friend of mine had an EV, I’d go in in the morning and plug-in for a few hours, and by the time he got into the office I would move and I would take his car parking space in the traditional car park, so neither of us lost out.
While that is easy to do between two people, if you try to do that with 2,000 it’s going to be chaotic.