What Small and Medium Size Organizations Need to Electrify Their Fleets
Last year was a transformative year for the electric vehicle (EV) industry. Despite a global pandemic, there were 2.3 million EVs sold around the world. For large businesses, including Amazon, UPS, FedEx, PepsiCo, among others, a commitment to fleet electrification picked up momentum with new orders.
As these large players continued their existing electrification efforts, small and medium size organizations — schools, transit agencies, delivery fleets, local governments — began to ponder the potential benefits of fleet electrification and the opportunities ahead.
In 2020, ZappyRide studied dozens of mid to small-sized organizations considering fleet electrification. One takeaway was clear: there is a lot of interest, despite a range of obstacles. They see the future of transportation is electric, even if they don’t yet fully understand how to achieve it.
As the market develops, fleets want access to information, including vehicle availability, incentive updates, operational planning, infrastructure costs, and much more. They are less concerned with where that data is located, as long as it is centralized and interactive and makes the process simpler. They also need help in combining that information into a well-articulated business case to their leadership, as a prerequisite to start their electrification journey.
Why organizations consider electrifying their fleets…and hesitate
Many small- and medium-sized fleets want to improve profitability, and electrification promises reduced operating costs and fuel costs. With included incentives, tax credits and grants, organizations also seeked to reduce acquisition costs along with long term operational costs.
Others are motivated by external mandates to reduce pollution.
However, many have taken their research and shelved it for now. They are waiting for the market to develop with additional vehicles and longer range. Some organizations we spoke with are waiting for increased incentive policies at the Federal or State level.
The good news on vehicle availability is that traditional automakers have committed to accelerating EV availability and production. This increase, coupled with new manufacturers entering the market such as Rivian, Nikola, Fisker, Lordstown, among others is fueling the overall EV market and will increase availability.
The struggle continues to be both from an operational and financial standpoint. Organizations are left to decipher their electric vehicle strategy mostly to themselves, and having to put together pieces such as:
- Operational considerations:
- Establishing real world vehicle specs and performance
- Calculating charging routes
- Determining adequate power for their electrification needs, and related impact on front-of meter and behind-the-meter infrastructure requirements
- Engaging stakeholders- e.g. when the fleet does not own the property where it is domiciled
- Planning for managed charging
- Finding or retraining technicians
- Determining project timelines
- Managing stakeholder delays such vehicle availability or utility Make-Ready programs
- Building in resiliency or disaster preparedness
- Financial considerations:
- Navigating incentives, rebates, and tax credits
- Calculating infrastructure cost
- Comparing diesel fuel with electric cost
- Calculating the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and break-even Return on Investment (ROI)
Most organizations lack a dedicated resource to assess and calculate the considerations and concerns highlighted. And often due to the complexity, decisions are held off on electrifying fleets. There is a need to bring resources and information together and utilities, automakers, and municipalities have an opportunity to play a large role in helping their customers understand and accelerate the process.
Fleet Electrification Best Practices
Below are a few observations on best practices we noticed with organizations planning and executing fleet electrification projects.
Best Practice #1 – Getting support from leadership – Top down management and leadership support was the prime mover for starting the discussion on fleet electrification. Many organizations considering fleet electrification had leadership or managers that drove an EV. This made them already familiar with the cost advantages, and wanted to bring EVs to their organization.
Best Practice #2 – Setting expectations and clear timeline – Identifying and setting expectations to a timeline that took into account outside stakeholders, helped define a clear path and prevented loss of motivation towards electrification. For example, knowing that the preliminary design may take 3-5 months and final design and implementation can take another 6-9 months is an important part in sharing expectations.
Best Practice #3- Mitigating risks and uncertainties – Defining risks early with plans to manage those risks such as breakdowns and range anxiety were crucial. The decision often resulted in deciding to go slow, leasing vehicles to mitigate maintenance concerns and choosing to electrify the vehicles that would meet the expected range with recharge options if necessary.
Best Practice #4 – Understanding the incentives process – Navigating incentives is a daunting process that many we’ve come across struggle with. Those who know where to apply and the timeline are empowered and are less likely to give up in frustration.
Best Practice #5 – Thinking carefully about range – For many that we spoke with, driving range is not as large of an issue as we anticipated. Many small to medium organizations often stay within city limits and don’t have long haul trips. The sweet spot for a vehicle range appears to be 250 miles.
Best Practice #6 – Fitting vehicle availability into the electrification timeline – The demand for electric vans and electric trucks is high among small and medium size organizations. However, for ride sharing, taxi vehicles for hire, food delivery, package delivery, among others, passenger vehicles fit into their model very well. Many organizations we spoke with are actively looking, but also want to prevent any disruption to their current operations and thus are taking a slow and steady approach. They are actively looking for information on vehicles, incentives, and real world studies.
Best Practice #7 – Considering off-road vehicles as a starter – For other organizations, there has been an increased emphasis on electrifying off-road vehicles. Including forklifts, ground support equipment at airports, bucket trucks for utilities and electric contractors, electric bicycles and motorized scooter for urban food deliveries.
Best Practice #8 – Engaging OEMs/Dealerships/Fleet Management Companies- We’ve seen organizations stay in contact with their OEM or dealer to ask if a vehicle is available and if they can test drive it. In fact, many are looking for loaned vehicles to test. For example, Fleet Management Companies (FMCs) are seeing an uptick in requests for loaned or leased electric vehicles from small and medium fleets.
Best Practice #9 – Consulting with the electric utility early – Electric utilities play an important part in helping organizations understand electrification. Many fleets we spoke with reached out to their utilities early and have built a relationship with their utility. This has helped them get support in understanding charging infrastructure, permits required, managed charging with different rates, calculating the time, effort, cost associated with designing and building their infrastructure.
Best Practice #10 – Connecting with other organizations considering electrification – We’ve seen the topic of electrification come up during local business or community gatherings. Businesses who are considering electrification often share data at local business affiliations and local government meetings. This has been helpful in sharing information and resources.
Best Practice #11 – Clearly understanding TCO and ROI – Once all the fixed and operational costs are factored into an equation, and organizations can see how clean transportation benefits their bottom line, electrification is no longer an “if” but a “when”. Helping organizations achieve this is an important part to accelerating adoption.
Best Practice #12 – Leveraging real world operating data – Due to the early growth stage of fleet electrification, there is a hunger for independently validated operational specifications — in the form of case studies, results from pilot projects, and independent reviews.
Best Practice #13 – Considering bundled solutions – There is an increasing amount of fleets who look for packaged approaches.They ask their vendor ecosystem — utilities, startups, FMCs, automakers, EVSE vendors, or hybrid solution providers– to bring various components of electrification (vehicles, infrastructure management, site design, planning, financing, implementation) into holistic and simplified solutions.
Boosting access to information and analytical capacity will boost fleet electrification
As we reviewed the planning process and motivations, we learned organizations took a systematic approach to research. While many did not know where to start, what they did do is search online and browse utility sites to learn about permits and rates, automaker/dealer sites for specs and availability and state and federal sites for incentives and grants.
On occasion they did go onto consulting sites, but mostly for information to understand how to organize their search and help reduce complexity involved in the search process. What was missing was a single trusted source of information available in one location, which organizations could reference.
Success will be different for different organizations, but those that have access to the resources and tools to review up-to-date interactive data will provide a robust approach to engaging interest in electrification.
Bringing together the EV ecosystem is important, because any of the decisions made towards electrification need to consider the various stakeholders. Organizations that can guide their customers through that journey will be able to have a major impact upon their operational efficiency that they can pass onto their customers.