If there’s one area where fleet and auction operations could use plenty of information, it centers on how to start electrification, step-by-step.
In May 2022, Ford Pro released a survey done for them by PSB — a global research insights consultancy — in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Germany among 1,250 corporate fleet decision makers. It found about 75% of those surveyed feel pressured to adopt electric vehicles into their fleets, while 60% consider the transition to EVs to be a “headache,” and 50% note infrastructure as a top concern in making this transition.
Even a year later, widescale fleet electrification is still more of a vision than a plan. By now, most fleet managers know it’s not a matter of plug-in-and-go for electric vehicles, despite the initial hype and future hopes.
Electrification Starting Points
Fleet electrification needs direction, steps, and accurate information, as one EV consultant for fleet operations and auctions could attest.
“With so much electric vehicle activity, many people don’t know where to start and need help getting started in the process,” said James Cade, the founder of Fleet Asset & Maintenance Insights (FMI) in Polk City, Iowa.
Lately, Cade has been focusing on the electric vehicle space, working with fleets and auctions on key aspects of electrification, such as purchasing EVs, developing charging infrastructure, training fleet managers and technicians on EVs, and forming long-term strategies electric vehicle handling.
Cade recently started a position as electric vehicle consultant at America's Auto Auction locations in Austin, Texas, Columbus, Ohio, Lubbock, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri. He also consults on EVs for Amerit Fleet Solutions.
Cade draws on his experience as vice president of fleet services for Ruan Transportation Management Systems and maintenance and leadership positions in other trucking and logistics companies. He spent most of his career in fleet management, including 25 years with Ryder, where he started as a technician and eventually became the vice president of maintenance for North American and European operations, managing large fleets.
He started introducing EVs to fleets about five years ago, helping them to adapt to the vehicles and get up to speed. He has learned 12 OEM training programs from different manufacturers, which helps him advise fleets on developing training programs.
Fleets Evaluate Electric Vehicle Options
Among FMCs, Cade has advised Amerit on the process of acquiring EVs. The steps to transition about 600 vehicles from gas or diesel models to electric models started three years ago. He also connected them with EV charging station providers.
“Some of their large fleet customers started asking them about recommendations for an ICE to EV transition,” Cade said. “We came up with a training program for their technicians and put a strong emphasis on safety and understanding high voltage.”
One of the key challenges fleets are facing is the lack of a readily available workforce to work on chargers when they fail. Amerit, for example, is training members of its workforce to troubleshoot the chargers, Cade said. “We can’t make electricians out of them or certify them, but they can focus on doing repair after installation and any diagnosis they need.”
Another goal is to find the right electric vehicle models matched to fleet duty cycles and usages, Cade said. Fleets must consider GVWR and payload capacities, given the weight of EV batteries.
Sometimes, a fleet operation will have to find models in higher vehicle class sizes to accommodate both GVWR and usage capacity. “Some fleets had to go up a rating to haul the [expected] payload and get the range they needed,” Cade said.
With mobile service units, fleet managers are aiming to find the “sweet spot” for electric versions, Cade said.
“They needed the ability to provide a driving range and the ability to provide all the power and tools that technicians would need to service a customer’s vehicle. Before EVs, they were using jar [air] compressors; now they are using more electric power to drive electric power tools. They must have the ability to provide enough power for eight to 10 hours of worktime for technicians.”
With AI now emerging in more predictive and generative forms, it could be applied to assessing the future durability and performance of a battery pack by reviewing the life and history of a vehicle, Cade said.
Auctions Must Update Procedures
Auctions face the challenge of expanding on their traditional operation model, where they take in a vehicle, refurbish it, and run it through a sales event.
“How do you charge the vehicles as their buyers are becoming more sophisticated in asking the right questions about battery health?” Cade asked. “Having a fully charged battery helps provide the buyer with a positive perception of the status of the battery pack. That determines most of the value of an EV. Quality revolves around status of the battery.”
Cade also connects auctions with local utilities to access rebates or grants for EV charging infrastructure.
One auction company with 40 locations is trying to figure out how to charge electric vehicles on their properties, Cade said.
“They were surprised when they reached out to me that used EVs are already starting to show up in the auctions. The overall percentage may still be small, but there are a fair number coming in.”
The auction group was trying to get by on Level 1 chargers, but that did not work efficiently since it took 2-3 days to charge and the volume of EVs was more than they could handle, Cade said. He helped them select faster Level 2 chargers to meet the demand.
Cade also is talking with companies about providing more assurances to buyers on battery reports, developing information on charging patterns, and documenting the operation of the vehicle over time.
“They’re trying to figure out how to provide those capabilities to the buyers with higher confidence behind the purchase price.”
Extending such confidence applies to the sellers, too, which are often large consignors, banks, and FMCs.
“The auctions want to maximize ROI for the customers who are bringing in the EVs and who are buying them,” Cade said.
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