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The Latest Vehicle Technologies May Soon Be Powering Your Fleet


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Release date: 6/4/2019

Many of the current and near-future vehicle technologies have significant low- or no-emissions factors to them and/or degrees of autonomous functionality – signaling where fleets will also be headed.  Plus, the pace of change is fast.

Yet, fleet professionals gearing up for this new technology should follow three key approaches, according to Bill Van Amburg, Executive Vice President of CALSTART, a nonprofit organization working both nationally and internationally with businesses and governments to develop clean, efficient transportation solutions.  He previewed some of the innovative fleet advancements at the NAFA 2019 Institute & Expo session, Advanced Vehicle Technologies and How You Can Prepare.

He noted that for fleet:

  • No one size fits all; there are many technology options emerging to take advantage of, depending on your usage and needs.
  • Reducing fuel use, or using cheaper fuel, saves money – and fleets can use this as a business case for launching emerging “beachhead” applications.
  • To successful adopt new technology, it’s essential to understand the products’ duty cycles, driving range, geography, infrastructure support, and how to work with suppliers on maintenance support.

Why are we seeing such fast change?  Van Amburg credits urban air pollution and the desire to reduce it in developing markets.  “Worldwide, this is a huge problem in the mega-cites of Asia, India, Europe and South America,” he said.

Aiding this change has been a decrease in electric vehicle costs. “Battery prices are coming down an incredibly steep curve,” he said, noting they are about three times cheaper now than five years ago.  Greatly increased lithium ion battery manufacturing allows vehicle makers to put more batteries in vehicles – in some cases tripling the range.

Van Amburg noted several advancements for fleet:

Zero Emission Vehicle Growth - With wider adoption of zero-emission urban buses, 10 bus makers now making them in the U.S.  Electric school buses are also emerging, partly supported by the Volkswagen emissions settlement.

The use of zero-emission, medium-delivery trucks is growing, too, and notably, UPS is extensively testing them. Additionally, zero-emission class 8 tractor trailers will be in cities by 2022, and they should see 150- to 250-mile duty ranges.  Multiple manufacturers are in this space, including Peterbilt, Volvo, Daimler, Tesla, and more.

There is a significant caveat to electrified vehicles: “You have to check if a utility has enough power available” for these larger vehicles. “You can’t just buy a vehicle.”

A potential option lies with natural gas or propane fuel use. “Renewable natural gas can be really attractive on a pricing standpoint,” Van Amburg added. “A lot of fleet people are checking it out because it can be a cheaper fuel.” However, renewable diesel is harder to source, challenging its practicality, he said.

Expanding Automation - “Our cars are wired for automation now and the truck world is pretty close,” Van Amburg said.  He noted that a Chinese firm, TuSimple, will run automated semis in Arizona this year, and just began trials in May to transport mail between Phoenix and Dallas.

Volvo is developing an electrified work site with autonomous vehicles operating in close-quarters environments, Van Amburg added, and ports in Shanghai, Germany, and Long Beach (Calif.) Middle Harbor are all testing automation. Notably, Long Beach Middle Harbor is just partly automated, due to concern not about the technology, but about layoffs.  Existing workers there are being trained to staff control rooms, he said, and the port is reducing the headcount through attrition.

The hurdles for autonomous vehicles are still significant. “Automation is really expensive technology,” he said, as it must work like human eyes, ears, and brains.

A Ride-Sharing Trap - Ironically, ride sharing is creating more vehicle miles traveled than passengers driving their own cars. The culprit?  Drivers waiting for or meeting users. “One passenger mile in one of these (Transportation Networking Company) vehicles is generating three miles for delivery,” Van Amburg said. He advises being cautious when considering implementation.

However, there is a viable way to implement it. “If automation allows us to just drive more miles, that’s more congestion, energy use and emissions. But, these technologies that are shared AND automated will be more efficient, rather than just cruising around and looking for riders,” he said.

Note: NAFA and CALSTART have collaborated on the NAFA Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program, which aids fleet professionals in adopting new technologies. This program defines what it means to be a sustainable fleet by setting objective, meaningful standards and guidelines to achieve.  For more information on this program, click here.