Plug-in electric vehicles are here

Driving an electric vehicle (EV) is different than driving a conventional vehicle. EVs are quieter, peppy off the line and they provide a smooth response to power demands from throttle pressure.

But the differences go far beyond the driving experience. EVs have less moving parts and are more efficient at converting energy input into the vehicle system, to propel the vehicle forward.

These differences all translate to potential operational savings for EV owners over the service life of the vehicle.

But if you’re fleet is thinking about integrating electric vehicles into its portfolio, what else should you be considering?

Right Application

In a recent study conducted by research firm Frost and Sullivan, 81 percent of fleet managers said they expect to purchase more efficient vehicles in the future. However, most of them were concerned with the higher acquisition costs, range capabilities and charging times associated with plug-in electric vehicles.

And, why wouldn’t they be? Integrating EVs into a fleet’s portfolio requires an understanding of the particular applications that would realize the greatest ROI, and if these vehicles will be available to end-users when required.

So, how can fleets know whether an EV is right for their particular application and if it will perform as intended?

Moreover, how can fleet operators determine if EVs are good financial investments over the service life of the vehicles?

All of these are valid questions that are being addressed by OEMs, service providers and green fleet programs across the industry.

EV Terminology

Because the terminology associated with EVs is different from what we are used to, it is helpful to get familiar with it. Just like conventional vehicles in the past, no two electric vehicles are the same, but there are generally three types that are available in the current marketplace:

  • Conventional Hybrids. These are powered by fuel combusted in an engine and electricity from a battery.
  • Plug-In Hybrids. These are similar to conventional hybrids except the battery can be plugged into a charging station.
  • All-Electric Vehicles. Sometimes called battery electric vehicles, these types are completely dependent on the electricity provided from the grid.

Fuel consumption ratings for electric vehicles are more complex, too.

Currently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that the all-electric Nissan LEAF gets 99 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe). This begs the question, what is a gallon of electricity?

If you called up the local utility company and asked for the rate of a gallon of electricity, they would probably think that it is a prank call.

The EPA label for the plug-in hybrid electric Chevrolet Volt estimates a fuel economy rating of 37 mpg in “gasoline only mode” to 98 MPGe in “electricity mode.”

So for fleets wanting to reliably calculate fuel costs of a Volt, what number does one use: 37 MPG, 98 MPGe or something in between?

EV TCO

Fleets have unique buying behaviors and circumstances that give them the promise of becoming a key early adopter segment for plug-in electric vehicles in North America.

Fleets have higher utilization rates than consumer buyers, which translate to quicker payback from the fuel savings offered by EVs. They also more rigorously evaluate the total cost of ownership (TCO) of EVs before they are purchased.

However, TCO has historically been difficult for fleets to implement and to get accurate results.

This challenge is further exacerbated when it comes to electric vehicles because the real-world fuel economy of EVs is much more sensitive to driving behavior and duty cycles. In the case of plug-in hybrids, the real-world mileage will be highly dependent upon the amount of times that these vehicles can recharge after a day’s work, without requiring the use of gasoline at all.

Fleets that want reliable cost forecasts for EVs are analyzing real-world duty cycles of current vehicles rather than using the estimated fuel economy ratings from the EPA. These generic ratings relate to very specific drive cycles that rarely translate into real-world driving circumstances and usage patterns, and the “mileage may vary” problem is a particular issue when considering EVs.

EV Capabilities

Range anxiety refers to the concerns of EV drivers that worry about completing a round trip without getting stranded with a drained battery. It is a term that only applies to electric vehicles relying 100 percent on grid power.

In recent case studies of fleets in Toronto, Ontario, range anxiety has been successfully mitigated with proper planning and driver training. However these successes began with fleet managers assessing their vehicles’ duty cycles and range requirements to determine which EV, if any, would be appropriate for them - and in what particular application.

Similarly, charge capabilities and infrastructure have been another concern of potential EV buyers, yet these have also been addressable by fleets wanting to go electric. The deployment of standard charging technologies have allowed fleets to better assess whether their “charging windows” will be sufficient for each EV option on the market - and which one of these EVs makes the most sense for them.

Despite the initial concerns regarding EVs, fleets have become a vital gateway for their adoption.

With the right tools and pre-purchase analysis to integrate them cost effectively, fleets will have opportunities to realize operational efficiencies offered by these vehicles.

Eric Mallia is the strategic business development manager at FleetCarma, a company headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario. FleetCarma helps fleet managers make vehicle purchase decisions by data logging fleet duty cycles and modeling these data in computerized vehicle simulations. The models reliably forecast range and charge capabilities of electric vehicles and the total cost of ownership for each year of the vehicle’s service life. FleetCarma is a division of CrossChasm Technologies, a consulting company specializing in hybrid and electric powertrains.

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