Barney Goffer, UK product manager at Teletrac Navman
Adopting electric vehicles is certainly an industry hot topic, with the Prime Minister recently turning his attention to the transition by pledging to speed up the ban of all polluting vehicles by 2035, or even earlier if a faster transition appears feasible.
Not only has the switch date been brought forward, but the phase out now also includes all hybrid vehicles and Government investment of around £1.5 billion in infrastructure.
This signals that electric vehicles are no longer a far-off technology of the future but a steadily growing feature of the UK transport sector, which currently accounts for about a third of CO2 emissions.
But what does this ambitious but necessary phase-out mean for fleet operators? Undoubtedly, there are challenging times facing the sector, with deep cost uncertainties, a small range of vehicles to currently choose from, and a limited charging infrastructure all causing concern for fleet managers.
It’s not only a seemingly lack of speed in regards to the installation of charging points that’s being questioned, but also their reliability, with reports of drivers arriving at charge locations to find the facility has broken down.
Others have faced long queues, which would obviously have bigger ramifications for an industry where delivery times often dictate success.
Another concern is the safety of electric vehicles due to their silent operation posing a risk to vulnerable roads users, including pedestrians and cyclists, particularly in urban areas.
But the top worry driving uncertainty is vehicle range – we’ve only seen some movement on long-distance electric HGVs from the likes of DAF, Mercedes and Tesla – and the current cost of acquisition, with the initial purchase price of an electric vehicle costing a premium in comparison to conventional types.
All of these factors are influencing the pace of transition.
But one thing’s for certain: change takes time. It’s not realistic to expect operators to overhaul their entire fleet at the touch of a button. Before making the move, businesses need to understand how feasible it may or may not be to electrify their fleets.
With many UK businesses now using telematics systems as a fundamental part of their operations, an overlooked opportunity is making use of the detailed GPS data available at their fingertips, which can be used to identify if their fleets are suitable to switch, as well as help pinpoint which vehicles to replace.
This is because telematics data has the ability to show a clear picture of fleet activity and usage, from journey history, including travel distance and the number and location of stop points, to the nature of work undertaken, and the type of vehicle that has been used.
In lieu of examples like this, it’s key that fleet operators utilise the data readily available to them when deciding when and how to start making the switch, thereby ensuring they make the right, most cost-effective decisions when it comes to making their fleet greener.
For operators who aren’t in a position to switch yet, the data can also be used to improve emission output by addressing issues like navigating around charge zones and congestion, excessive idling, speeding, harsh braking or acceleration, all of which contribute to increased pollution levels.
Ultimately, the transport sector has been powered by internal combustion engines for more than a century, so for the industry to shift to electric vehicles in just over a decade is certainly a tall order. That’s why it’s crucial that education around electric vehicles starts now, so operators can make informed plans and reinvest in their fleet of the future.
What’s more, for the transition to begin now, supply needs to meet demand and manufacturers need to offer fleets viable, working alternatives to diesel vans and lorries, while the government needs to continue working with industry to create a charging infrastructure that will ensure Britain keeps moving.