Fleet News

Is now the right time for fleets to consider electric vehicles?

Fleet managers want to reduce CO2 emissions, but are the alternatives ready?

The continually-rising cost of fuel, coupled with the forthcoming legislative changes to vehicle pollution, has led many commercial and government fleet-based organisations to seriously consider hybrid and electric vehicles as a way to manage fuel costs and lower CO2 emissions in their fleets.

Across the globe, the appetite for a greener, cleaner fleet is growing, with industry trends forecasting growth in the fleet market for hybrid and electric vehicles in the coming years.. These findings were also validated by Sewells, whose recent Fleet 200 research, found "reducing CO2 emissions" and "trialling EVs and hybrids" were among the top priorities for fleets in 2012.

With board level pressures surrounding sustainability growing, and with the incentive of substantial government grants available, is now the right time for businesses to consider electric and/or hybrid vehicles for their fleets?

The electric option
So what is the future for green fleet vehicles? Well the recent launch of the Hiriko electronic car has pushed electric vehicles back into the spotlight. The cars are not only environmentally friendly, but also claim to be a 'social innovation' as local authorities can purchase and own a fleet of Hiriko cars which can then be rented to people as and when they require the use of a vehicle, for a small fee. So while they may be suitable for use in large cities where mileage range may not be an issue, and charging points are widely available, these, contemporary electric vehicles, are yet to offer any real advantage in the business world. While electric vehicles offer unrivalled green credentials, at present they can simply be too expensive and impractical for those frequently driving a significant number of miles.

A typical field or service engineer, for example, travelling an average of 500 miles per week, carrying around 40kgs of equipment, would find a contemporary electric vehicle to be entirely unviable, due to the limited vehicle types currently available and battery life restrictions.

One electric vehicle manufacturer's manual states that drivers are required to charge their vehicle every 50 to 75 miles. With a current dearth of charging points across the country, engineers would find it almost impossible to reliably travel unpredictable distances between appointments; a wholly impractical offering for the field services industry.

Additionally, the initial purchase costs involved with electric vehicles can be around £10-15,000 higher than the average current conventional petrol or diesel car.

The hybrid option
Whilst electric vehicles are arguably not yet suitable for the business world, macro hybrid vehicles could be the answer. They aren't priced significantly higher than conventional vehicles, but with combined electric and internal combustion engines they can make a strong contribution to the environmental cause.

A key advantage is that they can be filled up at any service station as well as being charged at available power points, offering an average saving of 20% on annual fuel costs.

The reduction of fuel use has been a key area of consideration in the improvement of fleet management, and the deployment of electric and hybrid vehicles will undoubtedly mean this concern will lessen over time, however, as hybrid and electric vehicles continue their progress into mainstream markets, issues such as battery life, breakdown and vehicle range become will become more significant.

The road ahead
Back in 2010 Trimble were appointed by Cenex, the UK's first Centre of Excellence for low carbon and fuel cell technologies, to provide the telematics and diagnostic technology for the government's Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme. Together, the aim is to test whether there is a sustainable, long-term market for low carbon vehicles and, ideally, to provide evidence of the potential for this technology to reduce CO2 emissions.

This is a landmark project that could catalyse the market as the results are released and with hybrid vehicles already providing a green alternative for many fleets, the research could offer the first step in laying the foundations for electric vehicles to offer the same value in the future.

By Andrew Yeoman, managing director of Trimble UK

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