The reality for transitioning fleets


The pressure is on for fleet operators to move away from diesel and petrol vehicles. But careful consideration needs to be given before a full-scale switch to electric vehicles can occur. Charlie Gilbert, shares some lessons learned on fleet electrification

What stages do you see organisations at with their EV fleet transition journey?

There is a real mix out there, with various stages of adoption. There are those who are still in their infancy and considering pilots to those who are now well advanced, and highly sophisticated in their thinking and approach.

Centrica have made great progress on their objective to fully electrify their fleet by 2025. The development of some leaders bringing out their own advisory services to help others follow in their footsteps (such as Mitie with their Plan Zero service) is symptomatic of the desire and appetite to learn and get it right first time.
It’s crucial that we take the learnings from the early adopters who have made the switch and disseminate what went well, and where the key challenges are.
Transitioning at scale needs detailed thinking, with multiple stakeholders being involved in the process (fleet, operations, finance, strategy, estates, sustainability, exec). Different objectives also need to be managed, such as productivity, TCO, strategy, brand and service.
With many organisations under pressure to state that they will have a fully electric fleet by a set date, there will also be a need to track progress as each stage of your transition is undertaken, especially after the initial easier areas of the operation to electrify are complete.

Whilst size and scale of your fleet are clearly key factors, its more about the diversity of your fleet where the real complexity is introduced. There is a lot of data to collate from multiple systems to understand current operating footprint and scenarios to play out to ensure the transition will proceed smoothly. All this needs to be timed with vehicle and estates leasing cycles.
Fleets that service a multitude of customer needs will have the biggest challenges – handling regular planned maintenance work whilst also managing more unpredictable reactive workloads is challenging enough with an ICE fleet. Throw the opportunities and constraints of EV into the mix and it adds another tier of logic you need to manage. In these scenarios, fleet mix contains everything from technicians who park and charge at home, through to plant and machinery housed in depots. There is then the provision of other factors to consider, such as resupply and the services to your directly employed workforce, as well as how you service your outsourced entities.

How will the switch to EVs affect the day to day operations?

Fleet transition impacts all areas of your business, but an area we believe that is sometimes overlooked is across operational delivery. In addition to the key area of driver re-training, there is the overall design of your service operating model that that might need to be tweaked and adjusted to manage your EV fleet. Some organisations have not fully appreciated this yet, as in pilot phases they provide vehicles to drivers in areas of the business where there is very little impact of change.
Even without the EV question, business as usual transformation is sometimes complex and time consuming – we have worked with organisations helping them model impacts to their depot mix and locations, changes to working patterns or redesign of their operating patches for many years – it can be complex, covering people, process and technology and requires detailed consultation with your workforce – EV fleet transition is no different and engagement is key.
It’s also more than looking at the range of vehicles and considering a like-for-like replacement – let’s play out a scenario for a return to home fleet. According to our research, 34.8 per cent of households don’t have access to off street charging and only 10 per cent of these homes are within a five-minute walk of a charger. We estimate that up to 50 per ent of their drivers have an on-street challenge, and there needs to be a solution here.
Nearby slower on-street charging is one sensible option, where charging can be undertaken overnight – providing you can get regular access to the charger of course. Rapid hubs like Gridserve (who plan to install 100 EV forecourts) and the wider electrification of the fuel forecourt network may also help, but many services will need a guaranteed charge on a regular basis and need to start the day with full batteries.

If you are going to provide EVs to drivers who don’t have the capability to charge off street at home, then what do you do? Do you provide additional charging to them at a nearby depot and site? Can you find partners to works with? Even if you need to move the vehicle to a new location where it can be charged you will see operational impacts. Commutes might increase. Working patterns might need to be adjusted. Scheduling systems reconfigured. All these changes need to be captured, measured and assessed.

What other factors do you need to consider?

This depends on some key elements. At a high level, the closer your operation of today reflects the range and specification of tomorrow the easier the transition, but delve deeper and its more nuanced than this. I would break this down into these key areas – fleet mix, charging concurrency, power requirements and wider changes to your operating model.
Regarding fleet mix, with larger fleets in particular, its almost certain you won’t be able to make a wholesale switch, so the question is what areas do you switch and by when. By patch? By function? By depot or by return to home? Do you look at a hybrid approach? Even for return to home fleet drivers who can charge at home there is the question of how to recharge and claim. There are some great solutions out there already, but for those who can’t there are a number of option to consider and scenario planning is key – there is simply no point in designing a new way of working if it’s just not practical to work that way.
Regarding charging concurrency, as we are seeing with residential charging hotspots, there is no point having access to charging if there is never any availability. The same goes for a depot – it’s important to understand the level of concurrency of charge that is needed, especially in a time-critical operation. If you can’t charge the vehicles to fit in with their current operating patterns, such as to starting shifts on full batteries or meeting SLAs, you again may need to make changes to the operation to accommodate this or changes to your estates and infrastructure to manage the power demand.
Regarding power requirements, though it’s becoming easier to obtain information from DNOs about connection costs, the price can vary significantly depending on a range of factors and you may need to consider other ways to charge or power your sites with generation on-site.
If you are looking to secure new contracts, acquiring or merging with new entities or changing your wider operating model, it is worth thinking about EVs and future-proofing your planning.

What future developments and innovations do you foresee?

Most leasing providers and telematics companies are building out solutions and bolt-ons to existing fleet management toolsets to help with the core elements of EV fleet transition – such as vehicle mileage, TCO, emissions and even what models are suitable to switch to.
But further ahead, I am confident there will be new solutions to address fleet drivers which will help with the wider operating model questions, which will need to integrate into back-office systems and data will need to be joined up.  
We are already seeing significant interest and funding opportunities for innovation in this area. In the last three months, £85 million of funding from DfT and OZEV has been made available for the decarbonisation of transport in new competitions run by Innovate UK, Driving the Electric Revolution and the Niche Vehicle Network, and their launch events have attracted over 2,500 attendees indicating the interest in this topic.
There will be new partnerships and new service models to broker. One of the areas we have been exploring is the concept of the virtual depot, where large car parks in areas where there is a guaranteed overnight charging need from on-street drivers. We are already seeing this from the car park vendors who are offering the space and now the charger as a managed service. This trajectory will continue – but supply will be made available at some new, non-conventional locations.

Charlie Gilbert has over 15 years of experience working with a range of field service functions across the service and utility sectors, helping clients to redesign and restructure their operations to improve productivity. Charlie also leads on Field Dynamics net zero and EV Transition work.