Steep Climb Ahead — How Fleet Managers Can Prepare for the Coming Wave of Electrified Vehicles offers a comprehensive assessment of how major US fleet managers are approaching the electrification of their fleets, according to a recent press release. It is based on RMI’s survey of 91 fleet managers operating large fleets, as well as 18 in-depth interviews conducted with fleet managers representing a cross-section of fleet types, including cities and states, utilities, universities, corporations, and delivery services. The report also explores the current landscape of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, and identifies what will be required to scale up EV adoption.
“Electrifying fleets represents the biggest near-term opportunity to drive EV adoption with large buyers and cut transportation emissions,” said Britta Gross, the managing director of RMI’s Carbon Free Mobility program. “And the sheer size of these fleets can be leveraged to remove market barriers and drive down costs that are hampering electrification across all transportation sectors. In Steep Climb Ahead, our aim is to prepare these fleets for the challenges ahead, because their success is key to the widespread adoption of EVs.”
The survey found that most fleet managers expect to adopt electric models for the majority of their light-duty cars, trucks, and SUVs over the next decade. Most organizations have committed to reducing their carbon emissions by preferentially choosing EVs for new vehicle purchases where they are deemed to be suitable for a given use case and duty cycle. Light-duty passenger vehicles are ready for electrification now. Suitable electric models of pickup trucks and heavier vehicles will be available in the next two to five years.
However, few organizations are currently equipped to understand and account for the actual costs of owning and operating EVs, or to compare those costs accurately to their existing fleets of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles.
Although many fleets have already implemented pilot programs, electrifying a fleet at scale involves much more than just adding more EVs and chargers incrementally. For many organizations, it will mean restructuring their internal business processes, including procurement, accounting, long-term capital project planning, fiscal budgeting, operations, and more. It will also require a more extensive relationship with their local utilities, more proactive involvement with city and county officials, and a cohesive, integrated strategy across an organization, from the C-suite to individual organizational units.
Other key findings from the survey and interviews include:
- Procuring EVs is the easy part of electrification. As fleets begin to operate more EVs, scaling up charging infrastructure to accommodate higher rates of charge from more expensive chargers in far more complex installations will quickly become the most significant organizational challenge.
- Fleets must engage with their local utilities as early as possible, especially for charging infrastructure at large fleet depots, truck stops, and fleet yards with medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The power requirements of these vehicles can be substantial. Installation may require planning by both the utility and fleet operator years in advance.
- Fleet managers may have unrealistic expectations about being able to use public chargers opportunistically or install only slow Level 2 chargers. At scale, many fleets will need to deploy direct current fast charging (DCFC), which is much more costly to build and operate.
- At scale, managing the charging of vehicles around their duty cycles takes concerted effort and is not a trivial task. Fleet managers should expect to prepare detailed operational plans for building charging infrastructure and managing charging, or consider outsourcing this to “charging-as-a-service” providers.
- Many organizations must also consider how to prepare for grid power disruptions. Depending on the fleet, backup power requirements could be very substantial, and installing the requisite capacity could be complex.
Ultimately, the RMI researchers find that fleet electrification will be worth the cost and effort. Done right, fleet electrification can result in significant cost savings for all fleet operators and across all vehicle classes, and be the primary pathway for organizations of all kinds and sizes to significantly reduce their carbon footprints and use energy more efficiently. Done badly, it can be a series of very costly errors. But avoiding electrification isn’t an option. Thanks to increasingly stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions, as well as the ongoing retooling of the global vehicle manufacturing industry to produce electric vehicles, electrification is coming to all fleets, whether they are ready for it or not.