If you’ve kept up with the news in the auto industry over the last year, you’ll know that the market for new and used cars is limited. Inventory shortages, supply chain woes, and manufacturing delays have led to empty car lots and frustrated buyers. Fleet managers are not immune from the challenges of purchasing cars, either. Some Merge Electric Fleet Solutions customers have shared that their vehicle orders have been abruptly cancelled or substituted for other models.
If you thought buying an internal combustion engine (ICE) car was difficult, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) present an even bigger hurdle. Many automakers are following the reservation model popularized by Tesla, where consumers who want to purchase a Ford Mustang Mach-E or Hyundai Ioniq 5 must place a reservation months or years in advance. It seems like a bygone era when you could go to your local dealership, walk through rows and rows of in-stock vehicles, and choose the color and trim level you want.
Fleet managers are under pressure to reduce their fleet’s carbon footprint, find new vehicles, and meet company sustainability goals. Electric vehicles are an obvious solution; they are both zero emission and popular with drivers. Medium- and heavy-duty EVs are on the near horizon, while light-duty passenger EVs are available today from virtually every automaker. How can fleet managers access EVs when cars of any kind are in limited supply?
There are three ways fleet managers can start down the path to fleet electrification. In this article, we’ll share how fleet managers can access electric vehicles, plan for future fleet electrification, and begin testing EVs in their fleets immediately.
#1: Be Selective with EV Adoption
This may sound counterintuitive, especially coming from the fleet electrification advocates at Merge. However, we think fleets should be thoughtful and selective about how they introduce EVs into their stable of vehicles. Even if every car in your fleet is a light-duty passenger vehicle, there are still drivers and routes that might be inappropriate for 100% electric driving given current limitations on vehicle range and public charging availability in many areas.
EVs are getting larger batteries, longer ranges, and faster charging speeds, but they do have limitations compared to ICE vehicles. With EVs being hard to purchase, we recommend initially converting the cars that will have the most impact for your fleet in the short term. Here’s an example.
Let’s say you have two employees who are both currently driving gas-powered 2020 Hyundai Konas, a small crossover SUV that averages about 32 miles per gallon in city/highway combined. Kona driver #1 regularly drives about 200 miles a day, as they live in a rural area but drive to work meetings all over the state. The second Kona driver averages about 80 miles per day; they drive to and from the office, with occasional meetings across town and a semi-annual road trip to a field office. Which driver is ready for an electric car?
If you were to replace the gas Kona with the 2021 or 2022 Hyundai Kona EV, your best bet for a successful transition is Kona driver #2. The Kona EV has an EPA range rating of 258 miles on a full charge, and while it might work for some of Driver #1’s days, due to the variability in their schedule they would likely need to charge during the work day occasionally to get home with a comfortable buffer, and unfortunately many rural areas currently lack adequate fast-charging infrastructure. Driver #2 is an easy choice and would likely have a seamless transition to an EV with the occasional need for fast charging on a road trip.
If fleet managers can only get their hands on a few electric vehicles in 2022, we recommend taking a selective approach as you introduce them into your fleet.
#2: Tap Your Vehicle Telematics
When you can’t get your hands on electric fleet vehicles, you can still prepare for the electric future by tapping your data. Many fleet managers are already tracking telematics data to find insights about driver behavior, vehicle efficiency, and costs. Merge recommends using the data you’re already gathering to put together a fleet electrification strategy.
Here are some metrics from your telematics that we recommend analyzing:
- Fuel costs and efficiency
- Average and peak mileage
- Driver routes and patterns
- Driving time vs. idling time
- Vehicle parking locations
You’ll want to look at these metrics on the vehicle level to determine which cars could be electric in the near future. You can plan ahead by mapping routes alongside public fast charging locations, and incorporating driving distances and potential cost savings.
#3: Launch an EV Pilot
Getting fleet vehicles in volume is a big challenge right now, and an even bigger one if those cars are BEVs. That’s why a smaller scale pilot program is a great way to “try before you buy” an electric fleet. Fleet managers can use a pilot program to deploy EVs with a few select drivers, install minimal charging infrastructure, and get a sense for how the EV transition will work for their company.
Merge is helping its customers trial EVs in real-life operational settings through its unique Electric Vehicle Pilot Program (EVPP™). One such customer is Solace Pediatric Healthcare – Merge’s team of experts met with Solace’s leadership team to plan for a six-month trial of four fully-electric Volkswagen ID.4s within their current fleet of over 180 vehicles. These 4WD vehicles are capable of traveling approximately 250 miles when the battery is fully charged.
Solace selected clinicians to participate in the EVPP based on a few factors:
- Their daily driving routes (some with more dispersed patient visits, some with compact routes, and others with mixed routes and schedules that vary from day to day)
- Access to home charging options
- Willingness to participate in the pilot and drive an electric vehicle
Merge worked with local electricians to install temporary home chargers for each participating clinician, and provided drivers with access to public DC fast charging stations. Over the course of the six-month pilot, Merge and Solace will monitor telematics data, survey the drivers, and determine the real-world operational impacts of electrifying Solace fleet vehicles. Merge provides the ID.4s as part of the program, so Solace is able to get the benefits of a small pilot without committing to vehicle purchasing. This strategy can help fleet managers plan for the future while waiting for additional EV inventory to come to market.