Panel of Experts: Transition to Electric
Our expert panelists examine the issues slowing the adoption of electric vehicles within fleets; from supply issues and charging concerns, to the specific challenges faced by van drivers. Together, they share their expert advice to help organisations smoothly transition to an electric fleet
Expert panelists: Simon Tate, Simon West-Oliver, Steve Beadle, Dean Hedger, Neill Emmett, Mike Strahlman, and David Butters - biographies below.
Ongoing global supply chain issues are continuing to delay the fulfilment of vehicle orders. According to the SMMT, the lack of semiconductors, made worse by Covid lockdowns in manufacturing, plus disruption caused from the war in Ukraine, has all affected supply into the UK new car market, leading to long waiting times for fleet operators.
The problem is causing some fleets to run their existing vehicles for longer. But what problems does that raise and how can it be resolved?
Steve Beadle head of 0Zone at the Grosvenor Group, comments: “Running existing vehicles for longer is, of course, challenging because the older the vehicles are, the less reliable they become. And after three years, vehicles require an MOT and often their warranties are due to expire, which adds to their downtime and running costs.
“However, if you can hold onto your existing vehicles then at least you can keep your business mobile and at Grosvenor Leasing we have extended the leases on over 500 vehicles to help our customers remain mobile during the semi-conductor crisis.
“The biggest headache regarding vehicle supply is not having a vehicle at all, and this is not just because of the lack of supply of new vehicles; fleets are also struggling with vehicles being off road for extended periods of time waiting for parts.
“That’s where we are finding the frustration is the greatest, where fleet operators are having to return a vehicle even when they don’t have another one arriving to replace it. Or they were given an estimated delivery date which fitted into their plans, to then be told by the manufacturer that it has been delayed.”
Don’t wait it out
Neill Emmett, head of marketing at LeasePlan UK says that despite the supply chain issues, which he believes are slowly improving, now isn’t the time to sit back and do nothing. He says: “The good news is that the supply chain issues are already resolving, albeit slowly. The situation is much improved when compared to that in, say, the middle of 2020. And most manufacturers expect that things will be back to normal in early-to-mid 2023.
“Here at LeasePlan, we are, of course, in constant dialogue with manufacturers; seeking updates that we then pass on to our customers. We will maintain these lines of communication until our customers are comfortable with the situation again – or, actually, beyond.”
In the meantime, there’s plenty that fleet professionals can do until the supply issues come to an end. Neill says: “Our general rule is that this isn’t a time to sit back. Quite the opposite. The government’s 2030 ban on new sales of fossil-fuelled vehicles is fast approaching, and organisations need to work out how electric vehicles can meet their daily business requirements. Even when those vehicles aren’t available, this means a lot of planning. What EVs could work for you? What about charging solutions? And driver training?
“What’s more, fleets that are actually waiting for vehicles to arrive have a range of alternative solutions to choose from. For example, flexible leasing products – such as LeasePlan Flexible – can deliver for businesses who need cars or vans for several weeks or months. There’s no long-term commitment, so you can simply extend, or off-hire, vehicles as needed.”
Running costs stack up
Simon Tate, sales director for the Fleet Services division of Mer, comments on the financial and environmental implications of running an older fleet. He said: “Typically, once fleet vehicles are over three years old, the running costs really start to stack up, as in most cases those vehicles are out of warranty by then. This is only going to exacerbate total ownership costs. Older vehicles also tend to have higher emissions, which can hamper fleets that are working towards CO2 reduction targets.
“What’s more, from an employee morale perspective, drivers are not happy having to stick with older vehicles for another 12 months. They are going to be impacted by Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax, so it hits them in the back pocket.”
Simon points out that this may be a good time to entice drivers into an electric vehicle. He explains: “One solution is to persuade them to switch to an electric vehicle (EV). Of course, EVs have been impacted by global supply chain issues, but often not to the same extent as diesel and petrol vehicles. Some automotive manufacturers have prioritised production of EVs in order to hit their own CO2 reduction targets, meaning certain models have higher availability.”
The trend of organisations holding on to vans for longer is backed up by industry research. Dean Hedger, new business development manager at the AA, explains: “In 2021, we launched our fifth annual Operational Fleet Insight Report in partnership with Rivus Fleet Solutions, involving more than 500 operational fleet managers in our collection of industry insight. The report revealed that 16 per cent of commercial users increased the lifespans of their older vehicles as a result of COVID-19. Commercial fleets are as affected by the semiconductor shortage as consumers. The average van is now a record 8.7 years old (SMMT).”
While operating an ageing fleet can be challenging, taking a focused approach to preventative maintenance could result in savings in the short term. Dean explains: “Prestige Fleet Servicing, part of the AA, recommends that managers pull together a maintenance schedule for every vehicle in their fleet to map out trigger points for maintenance. Managers should have a record of the maintenance history for each vehicle and parts replaced, as well as an inspection and service record and details of current mileage and fluid levels. Decide on a trigger point to schedule maintenance activity, for example, every 5,000 miles, and make software service reminders for each vehicle. Taking a proactive approach towards servicing will reduce vehicle off-road time (VOR), allowing managers to reduce the business funds as a result of fleet downtime.”
Commenting on the issue of keeping vehicles on fleet for longer, David Butters, general manager of E.ON Drive, said: “Having to manage older vehicles and the reliability and efficiency of those vehicles raises a host of practical challenges, as we know that older internal combustion engine vehicles have a higher probability of breaking down.
“There are also in some cases key decisions that must be made that could have a financial impact, for example where companies have lease agreements in place. Do they choose to extend those agreements and risk penalties if they back out when the market improves, or do they bite the bullet and wait longer than necessary to make the transition?
“In terms of how this issue is resolved, it comes down to that manufacturing element, we need more, and we need them faster. The slower newer vehicles are produced, the slower we’ll see vehicles entering the second hand market, which many companies might be waiting for, as opposed to buying brand new EVs outright.”
Fleet managers must keep an eye on life-cycle costs to prevent fleets getting too expensive to run, believes Simon West-Oliver, AssetWorks’ sales director. He says: “There comes a point when it costs more to maintain a fleet vehicle than it does to replace it. While a traditional replacement model may recommend something along the lines of 10 years/100,000 miles, your actual operational and maintenance costs may be sky-high well before you reach that point. To understand the best time to replace a vehicle, fleets must calculate life-cycle costs based off of fleet data like planned and unplanned maintenance costs, utilisation, and fuel usage.”
Slowing the EV transition
Mike Strahlman, director of EV at JustPark, points out some of the reasons why fleets are holding onto their vehicles for longer, and possibly delaying the switch to electric. He says: “The main problems that arise from the long waiting times are primarily the risk of not meeting electrification targets, both UK wide and for fleets.
“Secondly, there’s a heavier ‘burden’ on the existing charging infrastructure to support fleets that have already gone electric when it’s currently insufficient – for example in 2017, relying on the public charging network was easier, with only a 5:1 ratio of cars to each charger. In 2022 that is now 15:1.
“And finally, rising energy prices and the cost of living crisis adds weight to the existing inertia for fleets to electrify, making them stay in diesel for longer. We know fleets who are ‘postponing’ electrification decisions based on infrastructure, let alone because of availability and costs increasing.
“How do we see the issue resolving? Infrastructure solutions will need to get smarter, and not just ‘more prolific’ by adding more public chargers. Our FleetCharge product, for example, solves electrification charging issues for fleet drivers who cannot charge at home.”
With many electric vehicles capable of driving over 300 miles, range anxiety is not as much as a barrier than before. The issue now being raised is the ease and convenience of charging when a top up is needed on route. So what do our panelists view as the main problems with the public charging network and how can these be addressed?
Mer’s Simon Tate shares his observations: “Within the last 12 months we have seen some major improvements to the availability and quality of public charging infrastructure. The industry has made some massive leaps forward, but one of the biggest issues that remains is maintaining the infrastructure. Far too many of those charge points are broken or indeed are obsolete and need replacing. It’s no good having a pin in the map, only for a driver to navigate there and discover they can’t charge after all.”
Another big issue is the complexity of charging, believes Simon. He explains: “Firstly, fleets should make training on charging part of the handover process when a driver gets an EV. I’ve seen a van driver trying to use a Tesla charger before and getting frustrated that it wouldn’t work – his company clearly had not explained to him which chargers he could use.
“Secondly, the amount of charging apps and cards that an EV driver needs to access all the different networks is frankly ridiculous. We have got to make it simple and straightforward. The new ISO 15118 Plug and Charge Protocol will address this when it comes into play in 2025, but it would be great to see more co-operation between public charging providers before then.”
Simon adds: “Overall, public network coverage is improving and there are EV charging companies doing a great job such as Instavolt, Ionity and Fastned. They are investing in the 350kW chargers that are wanted and needed by EV drivers like me – and their sites are well lit, well signed and well maintained.”
David Butters from E.ON Drive points out that where you live or work has an impact on how good the charging infrastructure is. He says: “Growth of the infrastructure is still burdened by geographical constraints, and you’ll find a significantly lower number of chargers in the more rural areas of the country. We’ve called on the government for a nationally co-ordinated programme to resolve this issue to some degree.
“In addition to the public infrastructure though, we need to make it easier for everyone to charge at home. Recent regulations introduced by the government that ensures all new build properties have an EV charger is a positive step towards this. There’s still more we can do though, particular from an innovation perspective and helping those with no off-street parking get access to chargers in their neighbourhood, as well as making it more affordable for the working class through grants and schemes.
“Reliability is the next problem - we need further regulations to combat anxiety around charger reliability, companies operating chargers need to be held accountable for their performance. We maintain an average of 99 per cent availability across our network, but that can’t be said of all providers. Stricter rules set by government will protect drivers and build confidence.”
Help needs to be at hand
Adding to the point that drivers needs some form of training when it comes to charge points, Dean Hedger says that it is also crucial that drivers feel they have support when charge points don’t work. He says: “Undoubtedly, driver confidence needs a boost when it comes to charging, and it is critical to increase take-up. Drivers need to know that help is available when it comes using the public charge point network, and available fast. A focus on customer services needs to become more standardised across the board to ease the process of switching for fleets.
“This was a key finding from our research report, New Horizons 2021: Technology, customer service and the evolving automotive landscape, which looked at the views of OEMs, MPs and SME managers. Almost 60 per cent of MPs said that good customer service for EV charging points is just as important as increasing the number of charge points.
“Earlier this year, we confirmed that the AA’s business services division had secured its 10th EV charge point support contract. This makes the AA the UK’s leading provider of services to the nation’s fast growing EV infrastructure network. Our dedicated phone line support provides advice and guidance on the correct use of the charge points. It can also start or stop the charge and perform a reset on the post remotely, if that is required, enabling stranded EV drivers to continue their journey as quickly as possible.
“The charge point support service is part of the AA’s ongoing drive to help UK businesses switch to EVs with confidence. Since March 2020, we’ve created a dedicated team of 30 call handlers that deals with more than 11,000 calls per month to help drivers with any issues they have at the charge point. The service operates on a 24/7 basis and can also call on the skills of the AA patrol force should issues turn out to be vehicle related.”
Dean also points out that more vulnerable road users must be considered when rolling out charging infrastructure. He says: “Around one in ten new cars in the UK are purchased on behalf of disabled drivers. An AA 2021 survey found 73 per cent of respondents felt charge post spaces should be wheelchair friendly. Nearly 80% felt charge post design should consider users with limited mobility and/or disabilities.
“Earlier this year, the AA called for greater accessibility of EV charge points. The Department for Transport (DfT) has now commissioned the British Standards Institute (BSI) to develop accessibility standards for EV charge points across the UK, providing industry and drivers with clear definitions of ‘fully accessible’, ‘partially accessible’ and ‘not accessible’ public EV charge points. Meanwhile, the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV), motability and BSI are working with industry stakeholders, including EV charge point operators, disability charities and innovators to ensure drivers can find the right charge points for their needs, all of which we hope will boost EV confidence for our more vulnerable road users.”
Understanding information about charging
Recent research from LeasePlan shows that there are gaps in people’s knowledge when it comes to electric vehicles, especially around charging and cost. LeasePlan UK’s Neill Emmett explains: “As it happens, LeasePlan UK, along with various partners in the automotive sector, recently commissioned IPSOS to produce a research report on electric motoring and its future. As part of that process, we held numerous focus groups and surveyed over 2,000 drivers. The report itself was published on World EV Day.
“One of the main issues that came up – and that’s reflected in the report – is charging.
“It’s true: range anxiety itself is certainly less of a concern than it was in the past. Almost two thirds of our respondents agreed that the driving range of new vehicles is improving, while almost half reckoned that they could get to most destinations, most of the time, on a single charge.
“But there is definite confusion surrounding driving range. Forty-six per cent of everyone we surveyed said that they had difficulty understanding the range information that’s attached to electric vehicles. And, worryingly, this proportion actually rose to 59 per cent when we focused on just those drivers who currently own an EV – meaning that familiarity doesn’t actually seem to help.
“This confusion afflicts charge points, too. Around half – 52 per cent – of our respondents said that they understand the cost of charging at home, which isn’t an overwhelmingly huge proportion. But that proportion falls even lower for other types of charging; to 41 per cent for on-street charge points. And then to just 39 per cent for both workplaces and motorway service stations.
“What’s the solution? Of course, continued investment in the national charging infrastructure is both necessary and desirable. But, in the report, we also suggest some other ideas – including clearer, more consistent information about charging speeds, and campaigns to promote smarter, off-peak charging.”
Working with an imperfect situation
Steve Beadle shares how Grosvenor Leasing is seeing a very high uptake of EVs in the company car sector, despite an imperfect public charging infrastructure. He says: “We’re seeing in the region of 80 per cent of new cars orders being either plug-in hybrid or battery electric.
“It means the pace of growth of electric vehicles is out pacing the speed at which the public charging network is growing, resulting in many of the EVs we are delivering are going to drivers who have home charging installed, can charge at their place of work or live in an urban area where access to public chargers is strong.”
The Government’s efforts in improving the situation helps, of course, with Steve referring to the £1.6 billion investment to deliver a tenfold expansion of the UK charging network, with around 300,000 public chargers expected to be available by 2030. But acknowledging the reality of the situation, Steve says: “The cynical view is that this was a very late response to questions being asked as to how companies and private motorists would be able to function if they could not buy new petrol or diesel models after 2030.
“The reality is, we only have circa 40,000 charges across the UK currently, and with most EVs having limited range drivers are completely reliant on being able to fast charge their vehicles on longer journeys.
“The upshot is that any drivers repeatedly travelling long distances are not yet committing to EVs, nor are those in more remote areas.
“At Grosvenor, our 0Zone team appreciates that we are not in a perfect situation yet, but we work with customers to see how to best overcome any barriers so that they can drive forward with the electrification of their fleet.
“As a result, we look at the different options for each driver, in terms of home charging, workplace charging and public charging, and with drivers who are going to find charging most challenging, the pragmatic approach is to accept the current situation and allow these drivers to remain in a low emission petrol/diesel car while converting all other drivers to plug-in capability.”
Home chargers for public use
Agreeing that the public charging network comes with challenges, Mike from JustPark comments: “Range anxiety is less of an issue, but an issue all the same, as 50 per cent of the population have to solely rely on the public charging network – which by the numbers is not as ‘easy’ or ‘convenient’ as charging at home. Public network issues are around waiting, queueing, location proximity, as well as growth rate.
“We have previously found that fleet drivers who rely on the public charging network lose an average of 16 hours per month for this same reason – which is obviously amplified by the amount of drivers a fleet has. We address this through our FleetCharge platform by helping open up the already existing infrastructure, people’s home chargers, to the fleets to increase their utilisation while providing a dedicated off-street charger for that driver to use as their own.”
When it comes to depot charging, there are certain considerations that fleets should be aware of. AssetWorks’ Simon West-Oliver says: “The cost to charge an EV at a fleet depot is based on the time-of-day and the total demand a facility is placing on a grid. Although some utilities have static EV charging rates, electricity costs generally change during the day and if a building’s electricity demand exceeds thresholds set by the utility, extra fees and charges are placed on the utility bill.
“We recommend load management as a practice to reduce costs. Load management is the practice of minimising charging during the most expensive times of day and at times when a facility is most likely to incur demand charges. Fleet managers can manage EV charging loads through written policies, physical timers on circuits and more; but generally, the easiest and most effective solution is to use software. Similar to just-in-time inventory or manufacturing, load management software gives vehicles fast enough charging to be ready for the next shift.”
Net zero targets
With the ban on new diesel and petrol vehicles approaching, many organisations have a net zero plan in place, with timelines for the transition to zero emission vehicles. However, there are many that have not, for a variety of reasons.
Looking specifically at the public sector, almost half of local authorities have yet to set a date for completing the transition of their fleets to electric vehicles, with 74 per cent still operating fleets comprising more than 90 per cent petrol and diesel-powered Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles.
This is according to a survey by Geotab in partnership with Political Intelligence, which also found that the average electrification rate reported amongst all local authorities is only 4.2 per cent.
So what advice would our panelists give to those organisations, both in the public and private sector, to begin the transition?
Steve Beadle, head of 0Zone at the Grosvenor Group says: “The first advice I would offer to any business that has not yet started the transition is to not sit back and expect their employees to drive the change to electric vehicles themselves.
“There has to be proactivity by the company to make the shift to zero emission vehicles, and it’s important to create a car policy that offers drivers the best choice possible of battery (BEV) and plug in hybrid (PHEV) cars, while clearly presenting the facts to them. This is relatively straightforward in the higher management grades, but the car policy should also make BEVs and PHEVs appealing in the lowest grades possible to increase uptake.
“It’s also important to be open and honest in the advice and support given to drivers. For example, the BIK position is presently very attractive for cars under 50gm/CO2 and the operating costs of running electric vehicles is low – all at a time when news headlines are about soaring fuel costs and how expensive it’s become to drive a petrol or diesel car.
“However, we are also likely to see a rise in operating costs for electric vehicles because energy tariffs will increase, and I suspect that the Chancellor’s unwillingness to publish BIK Tax rates beyond 2025 in the last Budget is likely to be down to a degree of uncertainty, but also that he doesn’t want to show a future rise in BIK rates at this sensitive time of transitioning to EVs.
“All of this needs to be presented to drivers, however with the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel engine vehicles coming into play in 2030 it remains important to drive through the changes now.
“The charging infrastructure is also key – ensuring the correct hardware and back office management is available to efficiently allow drivers to utilise a combination of charging options with a fair policy.”
“Finally, it’s worth looking at different funding options as part of the transition to electric vehicles, particularly with Salary Sacrifice schemes currently being so cost effective for electric vehicles. At Grosvenor Leasing we offer contract hire, salary sacrifice, personal contract hire and specialist fleet management – and they can all combine to offer a strong funding and management mix for moving to zero emission motoring.”
Become familiar with EVs
To help organisations on their net zero journey, Simon West-Oliver from AssetWorks believes there’s a lot to learn from trialling electric vehicles. He said: “While many fleet organisations across the globe are setting their sights on electrification, long-term success requires thorough planning. One way fleets can prepare for an electric future is through the deployment of an EV pilot programme. When the right steps are taken, an EV pilot programme can help fleet organisations ready their operations to include more EVs in the future.
“To ensure a successful pilot programme, fleets should consider applying the following framework: assembling stakeholders, choosing EV chargers, assessing power needs, upgrading electrical infrastructure, installing charging hardware, and learning from the initial pilot programme.”
For any organisation wanting to add EVs to its fleet, Mer’s Simon Tate stresses that businesses access and understand the amount of power available at each of their sites. He explains: “This will limit the total number of vehicles you can charge at each site, unless you are prepared to invest in an expensive infrastructure upgrade.
“At Mer one of the first things we do for a fleet is undertake surveys at each of their sites, to discover how much power is available for EV charging. What are the existing maximum energy demands at those sites when all plant and equipment and infrastructure is running at once – and what spare capacity is there after that? Once you have this number, you can calculate how many EV chargers you can install and therefore how many EVs you can deploy on your fleet.
“There are ways around power limitations, such as Mer’s load-balancing system, which can enable you to charge more vehicles, but at a lower rate. However, identifying the available power first means that fleets build a robust and viable EV transition strategy. Conversely, starting with the vehicles first and then finding out you don’t have enough power on site means having to rework plans – better to get it right first time.”
Simon adds: “The other advice I would give to any fleet manager embarking on a net zero plan is get out of the office and go and visit other sites that have already started the process. See the infrastructure at work for yourself. Talk to other managers about how they did it, how to avoid making their mistakes, and what worked for them.”
Taking small steps
David Butters from E.ON Drive believes that electrification can be broken down into smaller steps that can be taken over an extended period of time. He explains: “You can carve the EV transition up into four distinct areas. The first is company cars; depending on the contracts you might have in place, this can be a quick win. Work with a provider that offers EVs and help your employees make the switch and become advocates.
“The next is employee charging. Arrange for the installation of chargers in your car park. This will not only will this encourage the switch in your company car pool, but also help other employees to make the switch with their own personal vehicles. It also potentially unlocks EV for those with no off-street parking at home, if they know they can charge their vehicle every day whilst they work.”
“Then consider customer charging; if you welcome customers to your site, install chargers for them to utilise. Not only does it enhance the sustainable value of your brand, but it can also turn into an additional revenue stream. Offer it at a subsidised price, or even free (as some sites currently do) and it becomes a hook to attract more visitors to your site.
“And finally,” Dave concludes, “think about your own fleet. This can be a big one, but identify the quick wins first. If you have fleet drivers with off-road parking at their house, arrange for them to have a charger installed so they can charge their fleet vehicle overnight. Focus on drivers that work within smaller areas to combat current reliability or range issues. As the external network grows and reliability improves, open this up to those who travel further.”
Drivers are key
Dean Hedger points out some positive findings regarding electric vehicles from its latest Operational Fleet Insight Report, in collaboration with Rivus Fleet Solutions: “The research revealed that positivity towards EVs is at an all-time high among fleets, with over two thirds (67 per cent) likely to adopt EVs within five years. This marks a sharp rise from 2017, when only 23 per cent of fleet decision makers were considering EV adoption, indicating that the technology is migrating from the early adopter phase to one of more widespread acceptance.”
To get started on the EV journey, Dean urges businesses to consider their drivers first. He explains: “We recommend businesses begin the transition by thinking first and foremost about how the process will affect their drivers, who will need to be educated in road safety, best driving practice, and getting the most out of their vehicles. Our own research shows that the top five EV faults relate to tyres, 12v battery failure, HV battery being out of charge, HV battery fault and HV charging equipment. For the last three, the faults are frequently attributable to operation rather than failure – so investing time to educate drivers on how the different technology should be used is vital. Taking the time to analyse how vehicles are used and driven and getting expert advice will help ensure the right choices are made when it comes to integrating AFVs into a fleet.
“Driver training can help drivers get the most out of their EVs too, and help them stay safe behind the wheel. Drivetech, part of the AA, launched EV Co-Driver in late 2021, a nudge-theory initiative based around a series of short but sweet animations to promote EV driver confidence,” adds Dean.
Research and preparation
With the ban on new sales of fossil-fuelled cars and vans coming into force in 2030, zero-emission vehicles are going to become central to all fleets. This, in turn, means acting now – not waiting, believes Neill Emmett from LeasePlan UK. He says: “Even if a business isn’t ready to order new EVs at the moment, there’s still a lot they can be doing to prepare for an electric future.”
The first step is research, says Neill: “I don’t mean researching different models of EVs or different types of charge point, though that will be important further down the line. No, you need to start by achieving a deeper understanding of your existing fleet operations.
“What journeys are currently made by what types of vehicle? Which drivers are best prepared to go electric? Can efficiencies be made that would benefit your organisation now and once the transition to EVs has taken place? These are the sorts of questions that need to be asked – and, to some extent, answered – now. Find short-term goals that help with your long-term strategies.
“As for fleets that have already decided to embark on electrification, we think that it’s best to start with the easy – or at least easier – wins. For instance, if your fleet is 60% per cent cars and 40 per cent vans, then look at the cars first. Not only are they the bigger portion of the fleet, but the market for electric cars is also more mature than the one for electric vans.
“All of these questions and decisions might sound daunting, but I’m not suggesting that fleets do it by themselves. Your fleet provider, whether that’s LeasePlan or someone else, is there to help. In fact, the very first step might be as simple as picking up the phone.”
Know your fleet
Mike Strahlman from JustPark agrees that its important to know the demographics of your fleet when beginning the transition to electric vehicles, and working around any challenges. He says: “Our numbers show that around 75 per cent of fleet drivers won’t have the option to charge at home compared to 50 per cent of the general population. We see that fleet’s ‘instincts’ are to solve for the 25 per cent because it is ‘easy’; but given points above, public charging won’t be the best solution for the 75 per cent – nor will all the ‘foibles’ be resolved by the time the fleet electrifies the 75 per cent. Our main point of advice would be to plan for the 75 per cent now – start small, engage in a trial with FleetCharge. Divert as little as a ‘handful’ of your incoming EVs to a solution like this to get ahead of the curve.”
Electrifying commercial vehicles
Data by New AutoMotive has revealed that electric vans accounted for just five per cent of all new vans sold in July, whilst diesel still accounted for 93 per cent of new van registrations. So what are the particular challenges that van drivers face when switching to electric, and can they be overcome?
LeasePlan UK’s Neill Emmett gives some extra context: “That five per cent market share for electric vans is roughly double that from a year earlier. So, although it might not immediately look like it, there is demand for electric vans – and it’s growing quite fast.”
Neill continues: “But the point stands: electric vans aren’t yet as common on our roads as electric cars. Historically, the reason for this has been choice. Manufacturers have been held back by the battery tech and haven’t been able to offer electric vans in the range of shapes and sizes that businesses require.
“But I use the word “historically” for a reason. As batteries become smaller and more powerful, the situation is now changing rapidly. Alongside smaller electric vans, there are now medium- and even large-sized options to choose from. The introduction, this year, of Ford’s new e-Transit van feels like a landmark moment in this regard.”
But despite the increased choice, van fleets still face particular challenges. Neill says: “We know that heavier loads can reduce battery efficiency by as much as half – particularly in colder weather – so more care needs to be taken with routes and charging.
“Are these challenges surmountable? Of course they are, particularly with careful planning. Tools like telematics systems are available to help van operators work out the most efficient routes for their EVs. Fleet providers can advise on any part of the process.
“In the end, the challenges will be overcome because they have to be overcome. I know I keep mentioning 2030, but I mention it for a reason: after that date, businesses will not be able to purchase new, fossil-fuelled vans at all. Electric is set to become the dominant part of any commercial fleet’s mix.”
Electric van considerations
Simon Tate from Mer comments that the reluctance from van drivers is often overcome once they get into an electric van. He says: “Car drivers are easier to swap over to EV as van drivers tend to be more conservative. Once you get a driver in an electric van, they absolutely love them, but there is often some resistance to change before that point.
“From an operational point of view, range and payload remain challenges for some van applications, but both are improving all the time. As with cars, most vans do relatively low mileage, well within the capacity of an EV. Similarly, many applications such as last-mile delivery typically do not get anywhere near the payload limits on an e-van, so there is a good slice of the market that can already be addressed.
“The other main challenge is how you provide charging for drivers who take the vans home at night. One solution is creating local charging hubs that are specifically designed to accommodate commercial vehicles – vans and trucks, as electric HGVs are coming down the line.
“Some fleet operators have the misconception that vans need rapid charging – this isn’t always the case. A great example would be our client, Milk & More, as their 500 electric vans are static for up to 10 hours at a time, so standard fast chargers are fine to refill the batteries ready for the next shift. However, some van operators will need rapid chargers in order to continue to operate effectively.”
Simon adds: “We’re also not yet at the levels of the car market in terms of choice of models and specifications for electric vans. Maxus is probably the only OEM producing different variants at volume. Maxus has the full range in terms of long and short wheelbase as well as different bodies like tippers and dropside. We need to see more manufacturers following their lead.
“Another major frustration for van drivers is that a lot of public charging points are only suitable for cars. Sometimes the bays are too small for vans, or the cables are not long enough to enable a van to plug in.”
A slow burner
The slow EV van transition can be backed up with further data. Dean Hedger explains: “SMMT data shows just 0.6 per cent of vans full stop are electric, which indicates that the van sector is about two years behind cars despite the 2030 deadline, which affects both consumer and commercial vehicles. To put this into perspective, that’s one in 180 vans, and one in 2,000 trucks (SMMT).
“Infrastructure anxiety is likely to be a contributing factor influencing these low levels of take-up. The SMMT is calling for the introduction of a national ‘van plan’ to deliver the infrastructure necessary to deliver a zero-emission commercial vehicle market.”
Discussing funding support for electric vans, Dean says: “The government has switched its EV grant funding focus to commercial vehicles after closing the plug-in car grant consumer scheme. Now, £300 million is available for plug-in grants to boost take-up of plug-in taxis, motorcycles, vans, trucks and wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Van drivers should certainly look to take advantage of this, and we expect the scheme to kick start EV van sales. After all, consumer grants helped to increase EV car sales from fewer than 1,000 in 2011 to almost 100,000 in just the first five months of 2022.”
Home charging for vans
Mike Strahlman from JustPark highlights that van drivers without a driveway at home may be reluctant to make the switch because they will not be able to charge at home. He says: “Many van drivers might be worried about how they will be able to keep their work vehicles charged, especially if they don’t have the ability to charge at home easily. FleetCharge can support them by finding and sourcing a nearby driveway space, then installing a ‘fast’ charger for the driver’s exclusive use. This means that the driver can finish each day, plug their vehicle in at this location and simply walk home, knowing that the next morning they will have a fully charged van ready to go.”
The pressure on businesses
Van operators are under so much pressure to meet customer demand and fulfil their obligations that many cannot imagine how electric vans could support their needs, points out Steve Beadle from Grosvenor Group’s 0Zone team. And this is something that is made worse by the lack of available electric vans.
Steve says: “Vehicle uptime is naturally a priority with concerns about the speed at which a commercial vehicle can charge on the public network and the level of potential downtime caused by poor range and a lack of charging infrastructure.
“However at Grosvenor Leasing, we are working with our commercial vehicle customers to map out where electric LCVs could be used within a tight radius and which routes could offer the best support in terms of charging during periods of natural downtime.
“We also look carefully at how each company is using their LCVs, including what the function of the vehicle is, what it carries and its daily mileage.
“Using whole life costs, and a wide range of technical and specification data, we can pinpoint which electric vehicles will be most suitable and cost-effective, and work closely with transport managers to make the transition as stress free as possible.”
The Grosvenor Group also supports its customers with workplace charging and their options for future proofing their groundwork and cabling. Steve says: “The speed at which a commercial vehicle can charge will improve significantly in the next five years, and having a ‘dig once’ cabling policy could save thousands of pounds in the future when an upgrade to the hardware may be required.
“Where possible, also consider commercial charge points to support overnight charging, or any other rest periods for that matter. If the work place cannot accommodate charge points or vehicles are taken home by employees, look at providing home charge points for employees, which for Grosvenor’s contract hire customers we wrap up within a vehicle lease.”
Training is also important, Steve believes. “As the Government has have extended the LCV maximum gross vehicle weight limit for electric vans from 3.5t to 4.25t on a Cat B driving licence, largely to compensate for the additional weight of carrying the batteries. Whilst no specialist licence requirements are needed for the additional weight, there is a five hour training exercise that needs to be undertaken with one of the Government’s recognised members,” said Steve.
Dave Butters from E.ON Drive acknowledges the concerns felt by van operators and is working to lobby government to improve the situation. He explains: “Availability and range is limited when it comes to vans, even more so than the car market. There are still many user cases which can’t be met with current capabilities. I think there are opportunities for companies to think differently about how they do things in order to enable at least part of their fleet to make the switch. But really, we need to see Government mandating production volumes, and we’re lobbying relentlessly for vans to form part of that proposed mandate and be comparable to cars.”
Fuel management of mixed fleets
Of course, for a while, many organisations will be running a mixed fuel fleet, until all can make the transition. But this leads to the issue of fuel management. Simon West-Oliver from AssetWorks said: “The biggest hurdle a fleet manager may face when integrating EVs into their traditional fuel fleet is through fuel management. For years, fleets have managed petrol and diesel very well, but they may not have a plan in place to management electricity with the same care and consideration. An integrated fleet, fuel, and charge management solution takes all of that data and houses it in one system, so fleets can manage all fuels in the same way.”
Simon Tate, sales director, Mer Fleet Services
Simon Tate is sales director for the Fleet Services division of Mer, one of the UK’s leading providers of fleet, workplace and home charging infrastructure. Simon has worked in the fleet sector since 2005, holding roles with Mercedes-Benz, Lombard, Leaseplan and Northgate. He has specialised exclusively in the EV charging sector since 2018.
Simon West-Oliver, sales director, AssetWorks
Simon West-Oliver is the sales director for AssetWorks. He has over 30 years of experience in the fleet industry. Simon’s wealth of experience supports fleets in managing their assets by providing sustainable change with decarbonisation planning, digitalisation in workshops, environmental and social compliance management, mobility as a service, and embracing an emerging circular economy.
Steve Beadle, head of 0Zone, The Grosvenor Group
Steve Beadle is head of 0Zone, the Grosvenor Group’s innovative and market leading solution to help companies navigate their way smoothly towards ultra-low emission and electric vehicles. Steve joined the Grosvenor Group in 2012, and is well-known for his clear and inciteful advice for companies with car and light commercial vehicle fleets looking towards their zero emission futures.
Dean Hedger, new business development manager, The AA
Dean has a deep knowledge of commercial vehicles and the public sector marketplace. Working within the automotive industry since the early 1990s has given Dean a strong understanding of the marketplace, vehicle funding methods, the fleet world, EU procurement regulations, framework complexities and a network of contacts. He’s also an electric vehicle expert and a spokesperson for the future of electrification at the AA.
Neill Emmett, head of marketing, LeasePlan UK
Neill Emmett is the head of marketing at LeasePlan UK, a multi-award-winning organisation at the forefront of helping fleets transition to electric vehicles. Neill has over 23 years of marketing experience within the automotive, financial services and recruitment sectors. He has been at LeasePlan UK for the last seven years.
Mike Strahlman, director of EV, JustPark
Mike Strahlman is the Director of EV for JustPark. Passionate about the energy transition, Mike has spent the last 13 years across the energy industry including nine at Shell and three with Deloitte. Mike holds a MEng from Oxford University and serves as a non-exec Director of Giki Social Enterprise.
David Butters, general manager for E.ON Drive / director of E.ON Infrastructure Services Ltd, E.ON UK
Dave leads E.ON’s operational activities in the UK, managing sales, delivery, customer operations and commercial teams. He plays a key role in setting and delivering the UK strategy, identifying risks and opportunities. He’s been with E.ON for over 10 years and built up extensive experience in the energy industry, especially in the development and implementation of commercial strategies.