As electric vehicles grow in profile and visibility, experts in the USA say a revolution is coming in a place most people overlook – corporate and municipal fleets, and that is likely to be where the revolution takes off in Australia.
In America the scooter company Lime is the latest firm to announce that it plans to completely remove petrol and diesel powered vehicles from its fleet and power its new electric work vehicles with renewable energy.
Lime is famous small battery powered scooters which have popped up on sidewalks across the United States, and as the world’s largest scooter company, it promotes itself as an eco-friendly alternative to driving, however some gas-guzzling is still hjappening behind the scenes.
“All of our scooters and e-bikes are already electric, already powered by renewables,” says Andrew Savage, the head of sustainability at Lime. “We’re going to take the vans and the vehicles used to manage those programs and transition those to zero emissions as well.”
Lime’s fleet isn’t large — a few hundred vehicles for now. But the company is not alone in plotting the switch.
Lime, along with companies such as Ikea and Unilever, is joining the EV100 initiative committing to an all-electric fleet. Other large companies, such as DHL, Amazon and AT&T, have committed to “accelerating” the transition to electric fleet vehicles.
At the moment in the USA, less than 1 per cent of the millions of vehicles on the roads are electric, in Australia the figure is even less.
However in a decade, predictions are that 12 per cent of US fleet vehicles will be plug-in electrics. That will mean a rise from about two million electric fleet vehicles now to more than 70 million in 2030.
Given the life span of vehicles, 12 per cent of the vehicle fleet will require a significant portion of new vehicles sold being plug-in electric vehicles.
Interest in sustainability will drive some of that growth. Companies such as Lime that market themselves as climate friendly or have made climate pledges to investors and partners need to reduce the emissions from their fleets in order to restrain emissions. Around the world, particularly in Europe and China, government pressure is spurring investment in electric vehicles of all types.
There are however other factors as well, and in some ways, selling electric vehicles to companies is easier than selling one to an individual car owner.
Experts say that electric vehicles are going to have a higher purchase price, but a lower maintenance and lower fuel cost. Where an individual might focus on the sticker shock, a company is more likely to consider the lifetime cost of the vehicle.
The other challenge is range anxiety. It takes longer to charge a battery than to fill up a fuel tank, and some people, particularly those who have never owned or leased an electric vehicle, worry that they’ll go on a long trip and run out of power. The concern is common even for drivers who very rarely drive long distances.
Fleet operators think differently; they know how far their vehicles will go in a day, says Steve Burns, the CEO of Lordstown Motors, a start up electric vehicle maker base in Ohio in the USA. Lordstown is building a pickup truck specifically to sell to fleets.
“We are catering mostly to people that stay local — whether that’s a florist, a landscaper, a police officer,” Burns said. “Our truck can go 400km on a charge but most of these businesses need to cover around 100km to 120 km a day.”
There are of course some logistical challenges, for instance fleet operators have to set up charging infrastructure in their garages or parking areas.
There is another obstacle, the choice particularly in commercial vehicles is still not overly abundant. In fact, Lordstown Motors’ truck, the Endurance, isn’t available yet.
No mass-production electric pickup has yet arrived on the U.S. market and in America, options for vans and other work vehicles are similarly slim. It is even thinner pickings in Australia.
So companies are expressing their interest in electric fleets partly as a signal to automakers — that they need to catch up with demand.