As the UK fleet sector steps on the electric gas pedal - electric cars took 25.5% of the UK market in December - what lessons can be learned from the early adopters?
Automotive Fleet Editor Mike Antich assembled an online group of fleet managers - the Global Fleet Advisory Board operating in excess of 125,000 vehicles globally - to discuss some of the issues they were facing, to share experience and to learn from Stewart Lightbody, deputy chair of the Association of Fleet Professionals, a former Fleet Manager of the Year, and now fleet innovation and EV manager at DRiiVE Consulting.
As the meeting moderator, Antich opened proceedings by asking what was the driving force behind the fleet uptake of electric vehicles in the UK?
“Undoubtedly it’s been the taxation treatment that has encouraged fleet adoption,” said the AFP’s Lightbody. “The system allows me to have a £70,000 car sitting on my drive for less than the cost of a Starbucks each day. Hand in hand with this has also been a strong decarbonization movement among corporates, and electric fleets play strongly to sustainability as ESG (environmental, social and governance) considerations become increasingly important.”
The issue of charging infrastructure remains a hot topic in the UK and it’s one that the group was keen to explore. Was this still an issue in the UK?
Lightbody said that while there remained issues with infrastructure availability, he believed that over the course of 2022 many of these drawbacks would be resolved with new EV hubs opening at pace. This also included the rapid replacement of the old and poorly maintained chargers on the UK’s main highways with brand new rapid and ultra rapid chargers thanks to the buyout of the Ecotricity Electric Highway network by new owner GRIDSERVE.
Typical of this hastening change in infrastructure is fuel company Shell, which has just replaced all its gasoline pumps from a site in west London and installed nine high-powered, ultra-rapid 175kW charge points.
At this point, discussion turned to the provision of home chargers for employees switching to EVs and whether these should be company provided.
From a UK perspective, Lightbody said the savings in company car tax pay for the installation of a charger within a few months. “If you can save £500 a month in tax you’ll make it work for you,” he added, but said the proposition was different for eLCVs where it was worth paying the cost of installation “because there was little benefit to van drivers”.
Joe Lukacs, the global director of fleet operations at Sherwin-Williams, a paint supply company, said the business paid for home installation of chargers as a sunk cost. While Mark Peabody, global fleet manager at multinational conglomerate 3M Corporation, said that should an employee leave within a certain timeframe then there was a percentage clawback.
Jonathan Kamanns, the associate director, fleet & driver safety for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals added that his company was rolling up the cost of the EV charger as part of the lease cost in the US, but did not pay for actual installation costs. It’s electrification initiative was to have 50% of its fleet electrified by 2030, starting with six executive cars in the US. “They set the tone and pace for the organization,” he believed.
3M’s Peabody was just starting to roll out its electrification program in central Europe, with fleet part of the strategic plan in the company’s sustainability roadmap. The new policy only allowed users to choose petrol, hybrid (but not plug-in) or pure electric vehicles.
“Our sustainability remit is broad, and while diesels are good for lowering CO2 they have other pollutants we’re not so comfortable with. So it’s a much simpler approach.”
Overall the Global Fleet Advisory Board saw home chargers as part of the cost of electrification, and that in the long-term it was a fairly inexpensive investment in employees over the product lifetime.
Turning to the repayment of electricity used, the AFP deputy chair Stewart Lightbody said the UK was using an agreed pence per mile for business mileage reimbursement, although discussion with the UK Government was ongoing as to whether it sufficiently covered the cost of EVs with larger batteries - typically fleet cars.
“With commercial vehicles that’s more difficult, and some companies now pay the utility companies directly for the cost of charging the van at home,” he added.
Moving the discussion on, the moderator asked Lightbody about how drivers are on-boarded and how this was being addressed in the UK.
“It’s an issue,” Lightbody confessed. “There’s a reliance on the vehicle handover to explain the differences, particularly for vans and their potentially unfamiliar drive characteristics. There’s also a requirement to explain how to use the network of chargers. So it’s not always optimal.”
Finally, the moderator asked Lightbody what tips he had for fleet managers facing the fleet electrification startpoint.
“I advise you to pick the fights you can win. Go for the advocates first because they will happily explain the benefits of EVs to colleagues. So that’s the first thing to understand: you can’t do everything at once.
“The second is to use telemetry to comprehend how far your vehicles go. With this information you can counter any driver resistance to range anxiety - both perceived and actual.
“Finally I would say tackle your fleet insurance - there is a level of inconsistency in their approach to EVs, with a perceived higher cost leading to the loading of premiums. But all the data I have seen suggests this is not the case. For a variety of reasons, people drive EVs differently. And the lower costs should be reflected in lower premiums.”
Mike Antich finished by thanking everyone for their participation in what was going to be a leading topic for fleet managers in the years ahead, and one which the board would return to in the future.