GreenFleet’s new expert panel assess the current challenges standing in the way of electric vehicle adoption, explain how to determine whether electric mobility is suitable, and offer best practice advice on getting the most out of a plug-in vehicle
The government’s Road to Zero Strategy says it wants ‘one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world’.
The statement is encouraging, but currently, challenges remain with the public charging network. One of the biggest complaints it gets, aside for the limited number of charge points, is that it can be difficult and inconvenient for drivers to use. This is because there are different costs, payment and access methods for different points, and the networks are not interoperable.
Explaining some of the problems, Terry Mohammed, CEO of BMM Energy Solutions commented: “The current charging network certainly couldn’t be described as being user friendly. Drivers are often forced to join so many different schemes, they end up travelling around with a multitude of different access cards, and trying to understand how all this works is quite daunting, particularly to new EV drivers. Fortunately, steps are being taken to simplify this situation and hopefully, one day, accessing any public chargepoint will be as simple as offering a single payment card or via an App.”
Picking up on the point of payment, ICFM director Peter Eldridge said: “There is the issue of how much it costs to charge and how payment actually functions, with tariff rates and modes of payment varying – including the possibility of needing to pay a signing-on fee with some providers. Consequently to ensure a driver-friendly, safe and reliable charging network, those issues need to be resolve.”
Tony Greenidge, business development director at IAM Roadsmart raises the issue of different plug types: “Drivers need to be confident that all chargers will work with their own vehicle’s charging plug type and the charging characteristics of their battery, and charging points should ideally cater for the variety of connectors currently used by different manufacturers, although it remains to be seen whether a universal standardised fitment emerges for the UK market.”
Highlighting other challenges, Peter Eldridge adds: “There are also regular reports of chargepoints not working or not being easily accessible because of where other vehicles have parked.”
Working on solutions
To address these issues, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill has recently become law and aims to ensure chargepoints can be easily accessed and used.
It also states that charge points need to be available at motorway service areas and large fuel retailers.
For those in charge of installing charge points, having the right knowledge in terms of safety is vital. Terry Mohammed explains: “Probably the most important factor regarding safety whilst installing chargepoints, is having a comprehensive knowledge of current wiring regulations and understanding the risks associated with powering up a large piece of metal or carbon fibre whilst it is in contact with the general mass of earth.
“Electrically speaking, this is a relatively unique situation and one that comes with a unique set of rules and regulations in the form of a Code of Practice from The I.E.T. Our technical director sits on the I.E.T Advisory Panel and is constantly striving to improve electrical safety and ensure chargepoint installations are carried out correctly.”
Range – a real issue?
GreenFleet’s own research into fleet EV adoption, done in partnership with E.ON, showed that fifty per cent of fleet managers polled cited range as a reason for not adopting electric vehicles. However, the same survey revealed that the average distance travelled was 106 miles. This fits quite comfortably into the capability of modern electric vehicles, with the the new Renault Zoe said to be able to achieve 186-miles and the Nissan LEAF 168 miles.
This suggests that perhaps fleet managers do not know how far modern EVs can travel, or are mistrustful that they will actually get the stated range in the real world.
“The range that most EVs can cover on a single charge is much greater today than it would have been in the past, but even so, drivers of EVs should take the manufacturer’s claimed range with a pinch of salt and begin by familiarising themselves with the real-world range that their vehicle can actually cover on a single charge,” advises Tony Greenidge.
Echoing this thought, Terry Mohammed from BMM Energy Solutions says that drivers need to understand that the quoted range of EVs, like quoted mpg figures in ICE vehicles, are created in optimal conditions, and are unlikely to be achieved in real world driving, especially when there are different factors that affect range.
“An EV will be at its most efficient when it reaches full operating temperature, so longer journeys will return a better overall range,” Terry explains. “Other things drivers need to consider are that using power sapping items such as the heater will drain the battery more quickly, and of course, cold weather has an adverse effect on the battery as well.
“Making drivers aware of these things helps them to understand more of what to expect, and not to think there is a problem with the car when they don’t achieve the same range in the winter as they did in summer.”
Stressing the importance to consider journey patterns when it comes to range, Peter Eldridge says: “Battery range is one of the most frequently repeated myths, so it is critically important to analyse own journey patterns. It should also be noted that battery range on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis is increasing all the time as manufacturers’ introduce the very latest technology into their newest models.
“Furthermore, Go Ultra Low research shows the average commute in the UK is less than 10 miles, so the majority of plug-in cars are able to charge entirely at home or work, only occasionally using public chargepoints as a back-up or additional top-up for longer journeys.”
The best thing to do to address any EV concerns, is to give them a go, believes Terry. He says: “I would always advise people to try an EV for a day or so, as range anxiety gentles once people understand their driving habits and route in more detail.
“On-line forums for EV drivers are very good for gaining an insight into the pros and cons of going electric as they give a real world view of what to expect from the people actually driving EVs on a daily basis,” Terry adds.
Getting the most out of an EV
It is important that drivers know that there are things they can do to get the optimal range from an electric vehicle.
Peter Eldridge says: “The more aggressive the acceleration and braking are, the greater the impact on range. Therefore, the best approach is to anticipate traffic flow and cruise without aggressive acceleration and braking - known as smart driving. Most electric vehicles also recapture energy lost when slowing down, so gentle, sustained deceleration helps improves range more than hard braking.
“Electric vehicles operate best in urban areas and range is impacted most on motorways, driving up hills will also impact on range as will carrying a lot of weight in a vehicle.”
Getting to know your vehicle and what system it has in place is also vital for getting the most out of range. Tony Greenidge says: “There are various kinds of regenerative braking systems fitted to EVs and hybrids, meaning that drivers will need to develop an understanding of the particular system fitted to their vehicle in order to use it to best effect. Eco-driving training can make a huge difference to drivers’ ability to do this, by giving them expert insight into the operation of their vehicle’s battery optimisation systems, combined with coaching in long-established efficient driving techniques.”
Tony Greenidge shares his experience from the latest MPG Marathon, which challenges competitors to find the most efficient route between set checkpoints over 300-miles. He said: ”In preparation for the recent MPG Marathon, IAM RoadSmart offered an eco-driving course to a first-time competitor who went on to take part in the event in the latest Hyundai Kona EV. This car has a claimed range of 300 miles.
“By applying eco-driving techniques, the driver covered 337 miles on just 89 per cent of one full battery charge, representing a theoretical range improvement of 26 per cent over the manufacturer’s own estimate.
“It is also important to point out that applying these techniques does not involve driving slowly, but involves using observation skills to allow for longer stopping distances and reducing harsh acceleration and braking.”
Change in mindset
Plug-in vehicles can be suitable for many fleets, but does require a slight change in mind set for those used to driving petrol or diesel vehicles.
Terry Mohammed comments: “Apart from enjoying the comfort and the silence when driving an EV, you are always more conscious of the range left in your battery. Planning your journey is key to allow most charging to be done at home or work and top up (opportunity) charging done on longer journeys on Rapid Chargepoints.”
Tony Greenidge believes its about getting into the right habit. He says: “Drivers will need to establish a charging routine that works for them. This may involve fitting a wall box at home for faster charging. Encouraging their employer to allow charging at their place of work will also provide a huge amount of additional convenience.
“Drivers will also need to locate convenient charging points elsewhere; there are some useful smartphone apps to help with this. In addition, there are small lifestyle changes that can help.
“Instead of jumping in the car for every little trip to the shops, planning ahead and incorporating errands into longer journeys will help reduce overall mileage, and reduce the need to keep unplugging the vehicle when it should be on charge.”
If however, after journey analysis, it is concluded that a plug-in vehicle is not suitable, it is not a problem, as “not everyone is in a position to be an early adopter”, believes Tony Greenidge. He explains: “The most practical thing that drivers and business fleets can do currently is to analyse the type of motoring that they do and, if they carry out a lot of high-mileage motorway journeys or visit remote locations for example, then they may be better off sticking with petrol or diesel for the time being, at least until the technology and infrastructure is in place to support their working lifestyle. There are many business drivers and employers who have been keen to adopt PHEVs in the hope of benefitting from tax incentives, only to find later on that the electric-only range is too small to offer any fuel-saving benefits when used for high-mileage motoring.”
Mass-adoption of EVs
There is clearly some way to go before there is mass adoption of electric vehicles. But what are the main things that have to change to enable it to happen?
With regards to the vehicles, Terry Mohammed believes there are two obvious areas where vehicles need to improve; battery technology and price. He says: “As battery technology improves, we will see smaller, lighter batteries being fitted to cars, thereby reducing weight and improving range. Currently, most EVs cost more than their ICE equivalents and can also suffer greater depreciation. As production accelerates and they become more mainstream, we should see these differences gradually reduce.”
Clearly, the amount of charge points needs to increase rapidly. But for Tony Greenidge, “these need to be located at sites that are convenient and highly visible, if only to provide reassurance that they do exist.
“Home charging is not practical for many of those who live in city centres, where having your own off-street parking is a rare luxury, but it’s in these kinds of areas where zero-emission vehicles are to be encouraged most. Workplaces need to be encouraged to install more charging points, and this could potentially be achieved through government subsidies.”
Tax incentives can also help the EV cause. Peter Eldridge says: “From a ‘green’ perspective fleet decision-makers require encouragement to introduce plug-in vehicles with powerful financial arguments essential to drive environmental policy changes - vehicles and the recharging infrastructure can be perfect, but if whole life costs and the tax burden do not make sense then other issues pale to insignificance.
“That’s why the recent government decision to cut the Plug-In Car Grant for pure electric vehicles and axe it completely for plug-in hybrid models was, to be blunt, stupid. Similarly, despite widespread industry calls, the recent Budget Statement failure to cut company car benefit-in-kind tax on plug-in cars - and not to increase it in 2019/20 and 2020/21 - defies logic.
“As the ICFM has repeatedly said tax drives behaviour, alongside whole life costs and vehicles being fit for purpose.”
Drawing out the concern over residual values, Tony Greenidge adds: “Both fleets and private owners still have concerns over whole-life costs of EVs due to current uncertainty over residual values. Much of this is down to uncertainty about the service life of batteries and their cost of replacement. EV batteries will need to become less expensive, both in terms of the cost of the batteries themselves, and the ease with which they can be replaced or upgraded.” L