When fleet operator Robert Gaskill first told his industry colleagues in 2016 that he acquired an electric vehicle fleet, they were skeptical and concerned he was making a mistake.
Five years later, Gaskill and his Los Angeles-based luxury fleet service, MOTEV, have mastered the newness and nuances of running an efficient and reliable EV fleet. In the EV fleet world, five years add up like dog years, qualifying a MOTEV as a mature young adult.
“Five years ago, people said we weren’t going to be relevant,” says Gaskill, the co-owner and managing member of MOTEV. “Now it better be one of your top pivoting business model ways of thinking. It’s validating companies like MOTEV.”
MOTEV reflects the vision of Gaskill and his co-owner and managing member, actor Morgan Freeman, who Gaskill has chauffeured for 26 years. The pair launched MOTEV to show how an electric fleet can match the comfort and service of a traditional petroleum-fueled one while advancing the cause of environmental sustainability. The company’s clients include celebrities and VIPs who populate the region’s entertainment industry.
As of April 2021, MOTEV runs four Tesla Model S sedans, seven Tesla Model X crossovers, and five Mercedes-Benz S550 hybrid electric plug-ins. MOTEV first ordered its EVs in March 2016 and entered them into its fleet three months later. It rounds out its fleet with a few internal combustion engine SUVs, vans and minibuses.
In sizing up five years of operating, Gaskill is a walking-talking seminar on how to get your EV fleet right, especially for private sector and corporate fleets looking to electrify all or portions of their existing fleets. MOTEV also proves how smaller business fleets can successfully electrify. He chose Tesla because it so far has been the most advanced and reliable EV on the market, although he closely monitors EV models coming through the automotive pipeline as the market since 2019 has exploded.
Review Your Fleet Facility
Before a fleet manager even considers ordering an EV, they must plan for and set up a charging infrastructure that can handle however many vehicles will populate the fleet, Gaskill says. The foremost priority in starting an EV fleet was making sure the MOTEV facility could charge 11 vehicles at once. “You didn’t want all of a sudden to think a wall outlet would suffice and have dispatchers 24/7 monitoring it and rotating the vehicles among wall outlets,” Gaskill says.
While the company could rely on Tesla’s extensive super-charger grid, a fleet operation needs to ensure uninterrupted charging access at its own facilities. MOTEV invested $70,000 in its charging access and equipment at its headquarters and garage in south Los Angeles.
“We had to swap out aluminum for copper wiring and completely install new wiring that could deliver that push amount of electricity from point A to point B for 11 vehicles,” Gaskill says. “We had to do that before we even had vehicles delivered.”
MOTEV’s location in the building was furthest from the city electrical lines, so having to install a conduit for that distance drove up the cost.
Managing Big EV Differences
EVs and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles may roll and look alike, but Gaskill emphasizes that EVs and petroleum-based vehicles differ more than users first realize.
“It’s not apples and oranges, but literally cucumbers and fish,” he says. “They are completely different. You have to get out of that petroleum-based vehicle way of thinking.”
You must think from the bottom up and act as if you’ve never driven a car before in your life, Gaskill says. “Its projected range is 200 miles. You can’t think ‘I have 200 miles worth of gas.’ Does range mean optimal peak, as in a flat road, a certain temperature, no lead foot, and regenerative energy in brakes? The normal individual without EV experience never considers those things. They look at it in terms of a normal tank of gas.”
Electric vehicle drivers must factor in weather temperature, hills and gradients, traffic patterns and available local charging infrastructure as factors that determine range.
“There are advantages to both EV and petroleum, but when you move to the EV mindset, you are now environmentally conscious and it opens up a whole line of questions,” Gaskill says.
Driving More Data
Whereas fleet managers base their mentality on mileage and usage for petroleum vehicles, with EVs they have to base it on the type and number of hours driven, not miles per gallon.
“You don’t have automatic fleet systems and can enter numbers that generate expectations you can live by. Individual vehicles have monitoring technology, but no system has been developed yet for the (EV) fleet manager,” Gaskill says.
At MOTEV’s fleet operation, dispatchers must go from vehicle to vehicle each day to write down hours driven and kilowatts used, and then input the information into a dispatching system to monitor. Gaskill calls it the “pencil and paper technique.” The operation communicates with the manufacturer and then enters updated information.
“We need some metrics and calculations in real time,” he says. “That’s what we are missing now. That would enable fleet managers to add vehicles and their diagnostics to the system.
“There’s nothing commercialized yet that’s truly out there on the market (for EV fleets). That needs to happen. It would be a big moneymaker.”
Training For New Routines
Fleet operations must thoroughly train drivers and employees first to succeed with EVs. “Learn about everything you possibly can,” he says. “You have to study other people’s experiences, get out into the vehicle and test it, deal with range anxiety, and understand the different between a motor vehicle and an EV.”
The operating mentality and maintenance differs sharply among ICE vehicles and EVs, Gaskill says. “If you’re not used to thinking in the EV world, you don’t know the pitfalls of things you can step into. It’s like having your first baby. You don’t know what to expect.”
When MOTEV started its EVs in 2016, fleets didn’t have as many training and educational resources as available now. He advises operators to take advantage of webinars, magazines, conferences, and other EV adopters to gain the knowledge needed to run EVs.
“You’ve got to train employees on EVs as if something never touched before and not compare to petroleum-based vehicles,” Gaskill says. “You have to create an EV mindset. It’s hard. If you translate between the two and compare, you can’t. You have to stay in the EV lane.”
For example, when feathering the accelerator in an EV, the driver needs a light touch or else you can get motion sickness from rocking, he says. When you release the foot from the brake and don't acclerate, the EV eventually will stop even when going downhill. An ICE vehicle will do the opposite and coast. Going downhill in an EV, you have to keep the foot on the accelerator to maintain desired speed.
“In and EV, you brake and it will stop. You tap the accelerator to release the brake and it goes. You have to put your foot on the accelerator to go. Coming down a hill, in a gas vehicle you can coast and stay at a constant speed downhill. In an EV coasting downhill, you have to keep your foot on the accelerator to maintain speed. If you don’t, it regenerates power and slows down.”
The advantage is that “EVs are so much safer; you can get used to the fact that the car doesn’t do a lot of things on purpose,” Gaskill says.
“New people who have not had experience with EVs will make mistakes in the beginning,” he advises. “You need to make sure you point out these are normal things that happen in transition of learning new equipment.”
ROI and Savings
In calculating the energy savings on an EV, the amount depends on the range, weight and loads of the vehicle, the cost of the vehicle, and how and where it’s driven.
On average, it costs MOTEV $7-$10 per day to completely pay for the electricity that would recharge a battery from 0 to 100%, providing a range of more than 200 miles in a Tesla Model S sedan. That’s enough range for three round trips between downtown Los Angeles and LAX. In an ICE vehicle with an 18-gallon tank, premium gas costs about $80 for six to seven round-trips on one tank.
MOTEV still uses the Tesla supercharger network around the region, although usage has increased with the rising popularity of EVs, so operators need to factor in time spent waiting and charging.
“How much is your time worth as well? Is it better to sit for 30 minutes and charge your EV during the day when you could be more productive? You have to start factoring all of that. It’s not like stopping at a gas pump where you spend three to five minutes to fill up your tank and then be on your way.”
Gaskill also likes the flexibility of the Mercedes-Benz hybrid electric plug-ins, especially as charging infrastructure is still limited compared to the widespread availability of gas stations.
“You have the choice to be fully gas engine or fully electric for a short distance,” he says. “Or you can have the engine running, supported by the electric function, or have the electric function be the primary source supported by the gas engine.”
Determining Duty Cycles
In managing EV duty cycles, Gaskill points out a fleet manager needs to more closely monitor distances, routes and ranges to optimize usage. “You will have to cycle an EV sooner because you need time to recharge, regardless of fleet usage. If you know routes are shorter distances and you have to come back to the office to restock on product, then you load up that vehicle with product, do the run, and then return and plug in. You can use time for recharging while reloading or restocking a vehicle. It shouldn’t delay or change dispatching or drivers’ routes in any drastic way if you train drivers and dispatchers to pay more attention to the EV, knowing the range is lower.”
As to the ever-present range anxieties, Gaskill advises fleet managers to just accept it and manage it by becoming more familiar with an EV’s capabilities and idea trips and runs. “If you know that, you don’t stress about it as much when you get in the vehicle and take those trips. You become more comfortable over time and that anxiety depletes a bit.
EV Advantages Abound
One area where EVs closely resemble ICE ones is in replacing tires and brakes. But you don’t have the constant oil changes. “It all comes down to training and hands on experience with that vehicle,” Gaskill says.
One maintenance aspect unique to EVs are their constant software connections that require frequent updating, like a computer. For MOTEV, most of the downloads transmit from Tesla overnight.
“These vehicles are more like a smartphone or a computer than a motor,” Gaskill says. “They get service updates via Wifi. But you are aware of it and have to click a button to do an update. If there is a glitch in the upload or download, you might need the signal reissued or reinstalled by the manufacturer for the vehicle to update correctly. You might not be able to have that vehicle in service for a few hours as it takes in the download.”
The growth of federal and state rebates and incentives proves how purchasing power is moving toward EVs while making them more affordable for fleets.
“The government is really trying to dangle incentives,” Gaskill says. “It seems to benefit us as company owners to move in that direction. Tax incentives change year to year. It’s amazing the amount you get back.”
However, as more fleets and consumers get into the EV market, the incentives could be dialed back. Likewise, every major OEM and independent EV upstart manufacturer are launching more EV models in the next few years. That means there’s no better time than now, Gaskill says. “The sooner a corporation moves into the EV market, the better the incentives and rebates will be in their favor.”
Despite the challenges of being an early adopter, Gaskill appreciates the upturn in the EV market during the pandemic period as more fleet operations and consumers realize the potential advantages in electrification.
“Five years ago, people laughed at the thought we would rely on EVs as much as we do today,” Gaskill says. “Now companies are paying more attention to what people will use EVs for.”
And lest anyone miss the bigger picture, Actor Morgan Freeman emphasizes that EVs are a vital way to prevent environmental destruction.
“It seems much of what humans do is life threatening, planetwise,” Freeman told Charged Fleet. “The continued use of fossil fuels is literally choking the planet. We must stop. If we don’t stop ourselves, I believe Planet Earth, referred to as Mother Nature, will.”