By Jasmine Glasheen
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the way of the future. Ninety percent of fleet owners have assessed, or plan to assess, the feasibility of incorporating more electric assets into their operations. While only one percent of current fleet vehicles are electric, this number is projected to grow to 12 percent by 2030. Electric vehicles are not just better for the environment, there are also tangible, fiscal benefits to electric fleet adoption. New York City, for one, found that maintenance costs for battery electric fleet vehicles were about 25 percent the costs of vehicles with internal combustion engines.
However, there are still a handful of factors slowing the adoption of electric vehicles in the fleet industry. Let’s delve into some of the benefits and obstacles to electrification, as well as what it will take to move this sector forward in the coming years.
The Next Step in Clean Transportation
You might think that lockdown would have helped eradicate air pollution in recent months. However, NPR says that air pollution in most areas has been reduced by only 15 percent. The fleet industry is largely to blame for the negligible environmental bounce-back in some urban areas.
“In cities such as Los Angeles,” NPR reports, “stubbornly poor air quality during the coronavirus lockdown underscored how vast fleets of trucks are a dominant source of pollution.”
The link between fleet vehicles and air pollution has long been a topic of study. The West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative report by electric utilities in Washington, Oregon, and California calls for the installation of charging sites along I-5 for medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks to reduce pollution caused by freight transport along the Pacific Coast.
Until more charging stations are implemented in high-traffic transport regions, it will be too time-consuming for most fleet agencies to move towards electrification. But change is coming, albeit arguably more slowly than necessary.
The U.S. Office of Energy’s Efficiency and Renewable Energies Vehicle Technologies Office reports that as car and truck OEMs are increasing their offerings of electric vehicles, their presence in fleets across the country have also increased.
“As medium- and heavy-duty EVs come to market, there is great interest from fleets who operate vehicles in those classes. However, currently the medium- and heavy-duty EV activity in the U.S. is mostly focused on demonstration projects and not widespread commercialization.”
Adoption will seem less a barrier to fleets as companies partner to expand the availability of chargers. For example, Tesla has been partnering with companies in its Supercharger network expansion, and convenience store and fuel-station chain Wawa has been one of its biggest partners in the U.S. In 2019, Wawa announced it was doubling its locations with Tesla Superchargers to over 30 stores. As chargers become more established and a common sight in the driving environment, the aversion to the technology should diminish.
Adoption Varies by Region for a Reason
Electric fleets are easier to operate in states or regions that are equipped for electric vehicle use. Urban areas, such as California and New York, are also leaders in providing electric charging stations along transport highways. Perhaps this is because the impact of air pollution is more tangible in densely populated areas.
Last year, the California Energy Commission approved a $95 million plan that aims to provide electric charging stations every 25 to 50 miles along the Pacific Coast. The biggest fleets are in New York, however, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently issued an executive order to make all 30,000 New York Fleet Vehicles electric and carbon-neutral by 2040.
However, electrification is still most effective for small vehicles and small fleets. The U.S. Office of Energy’s Efficiency and Renewable Energies Vehicle Technologies Office explains that it is important to understand the duty cycle of the vehicle (how much a vehicle is driven) and to determine which alternative fuel or advanced technology vehicle will be the most efficient and cost-effective.
Most electric trucks still aren’t built for long-range or cross-country trips. Extreme temperatures can also interfere with the performance of electric vehicles, which can complicate usage in certain regions. However, the long-term fiscal and environmental benefits of electrification should come to outweigh current short-term challenges.
“Generally speaking,” The U.S. Office of Energy’s Efficiency and Renewable Energies Vehicle Technologies Office reports, “electrification offers relatively low operating costs (compared to both gasoline and diesel fuel), so, for vehicles and fleets with duty cycles and vocations that align with current EV market offerings, electric vehicles can reduce operating costs.”
Long-range vehicles are not the only obstacle to widespread electric vehicle adoption. In a recent electrification study, the U.S. Postal Service found that:
55% of respondents said the initial purchase price of electric commercial vehicles was the top barrier,
44% listed an inadequate onsite charging infrastructure as a barrier, and
92% say their facility is not ‘very well equipped’ to accommodate commercial charging needs.
Electric Fleet Production Leaders and Laggards
Come 2022, new-car launches will nearly double, and half of them will be EVs or hybrids. Honda (91%) and Hyundai/Kia (90%) will have the most electric vehicle launches over the coming four years. Ford is talking about launching an electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup truck. Dodge has been “a laggard” in electric fleet production.
GM, on the other hand, is rolling out a “multi-brand, multi-vehicle” EV production strategy, which includes a collaboration with EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots to build out the biggest EV-charging network in the U.S.–– with over 31,000 charging ports across the nation. Volvo recently announced that it would try out 23 of its VNR battery-electric trucks in the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach.
Tesla is the industry leader in EV production and its CEO, Elon Musk, has been talking about building launching an electric pickup truck prototype since 2016. Tesla also unveiled an electric semi-truck last year, which Musk claims will be able to drive for 500 miles per electric charge and go from 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds with an 80,000 pound load.
Nikola is another pioneer in the EV industry, with a line of three fully electric and hydrogen Class 8 trucks, as well as an electric pickup truck. Unlike Tesla, Nikola’s EVs are already being sold and utilized across North America and Europe. Nikola’s website also lists plans to develop a “worldwide hydrogen fueling network.”
However, there’s a lot of rising competition in the novel EV trucking industry. From startups like Rivian (which sold 100,000 electric delivery vehicles to Amazon), Bollinger, and Atlis, to the more established Hyliion (which is going public in hopes of competing with Tesla and Nikola), it won’t be long before electrification becomes the new standard.
Looking Forward to Long-Haul Electrification
Although most of the current fleet EV vehicles are designed for short-haul trips such as last-mile deliveries and government vehicles, The U.S. Office of Energy’s Efficiency and Renewable Energies Vehicle Technologies Office warns NAFA readers not to be too quick to write off the potential for long-haul electric:
“It is important to understand the duty cycle of the vehicle along with the availability of charging infrastructure. At the U.S. Department of Energy, many of our competitively funded projects are focused on technologies for first/last mile in terms of the movement of people and goods, and the role electrification can play on regional and long-haul trucking.”
Over the next two decades governmental mandates will call for widespread EV fleet adoption. Scientists are racing to create more long-haul electric fleet vehicles and, as more charging stations are built up around U.S. highways, it’s only a matter of time before EV becomes the new standard in the fleet industry.
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