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WEX : What fleet managers need to know now to anticipate and manage an EV fleet

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Posted December 2, 2021

by Stephanie Miller

As more fleet managers move to a mixed or hybrid fleet of internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric vehicles (EVs), charging will become an increasingly important business process. With this transition comes the need for fleets of any size to collect, consolidate and analyze data generated by all vehicles across a mixed fleet. Fleet managers of both large and small fleets worldwide are looking to balance the desire to demonstrate their company’s commitment to sustainability, while cost-efficiently managing a high-performance fleet. This article outlines several important actions fleet managers can take to help ensure a successful transition from ICE-only to a mixed fleet with electric vehicles.

Fleet EV adoption is still in the early stages, but change is coming

While most fleets in the US are in the early stages of introducing EVs, more widespread EV adoption over the next 10-20 years by consumers, businesses, and automakers is being nudged along by regulatory announcements from various agencies around the globe.

“This is new territory for many fleet managers, but also an incredible opportunity to build on existing practices to incorporate new solutions and operating models,” says Hannah Young, Director of Global Fleet Strategy at WEX. “Fleet managers must navigate a new, sometimes unfamiliar, ecosystem of technology to successfully transition to a mixed fleet. There are technical, cost, operational, and sustainability considerations that may involve new groups of internal stakeholders and different kinds of company goals.”

Fully battery-powered EVs still represent a small portion of overall vehicle purchases in the US today, comprising less than 2% market share of new vehicle sales in 2020. However, both consumer and commercial adoption of EVs is expected to continue to increase quickly in the coming years. “EVs provide many advantages over ICE vehicles,” says Rich Mohr, vice-president of fleet at ChargePoint, a WEX partner and leading electric vehicle (EV) charging network operating in North America and Europe. “They’re often cheaper to fuel and maintain, and can provide a better experience for drivers. More and more OEMs are delivering new EV models across all vehicle classes, making it possible for all types of fleets to transition to electric.”

Payment controls and analytics remain vital for mixed fleets

Today, fleet managers need tools that will allow drivers to charge at available and convenient stations, capture critical data and transaction information for these charges, and manage charging expenses on the same platform they use for fuel. A fuel card solutionand reporting platform that accommodates both types of fueling is key to easing the operational management of these emerging mixed fleets. In an effort to allow fleet managers to reduce their carbon footprint while meeting complex reporting and cost management needs, WEX has recently expanded our partnership with ChargePoint.

Moving forward, the growing popularity and accessibility of EVs is expected to bring change for businesses that use vehicles for daily work, as well as the transport industry overall. These changes will directly impact fleet managers as they gradually electrify their fleets, presenting them with new training, service management, and vehicle reliability challenges. Throughout the transition, core elements of payment controls and in-depth reporting and analytics will remain vital to streamline the administrative burden for fleet and charging expenditures.

What fleet managers need to transition to EVs in a mixed fleet

In simple terms, fueling is fueling, whether gas, diesel, ethanol, electricity or some other fuel powers the vehicle. However, each of those fuels introduces complexities for tracking and operational planning, as well as total cost management. Drivers also must adapt to different fueling options and vehicle performance. Mixing fuels in one fleet layers on further considerations.

Our clients across geographic regions and with varied-sized fleets have shared with us their concerns about driver adoption, vehicle selections, and the need for seamless direct integration of fuel and charging data in one system. Fleet manager priorities include:

  • Integration of payment acceptance across both fuel stations and the various EV charging locations, from public charging stations to non-public locations such as at home, at work, and commercial or fleet depot sites
  • Centralized EV and fuel transaction billing and payment management, with aggregated reporting on fueling and charging activity, and comparable payment controls
  • Consistent reporting to support compliance initiative tracking, fraud controls, and mitigation tools

“To get the most out of EVs, fleet managers need to have visibility, access, and control over all aspects of fueling, including EV charging,” says Rich of ChargePoint. “There are many ways to deliver these insights across the systems fleet managers already use.”

Three ways fleet managers can prepare now for mixed ICE and EV fleets

Agility and adaptability will serve fleet managers well through the anticipated various stages of transition to widespread EV adoption.

“Luckily, the capabilities needed to future-proof your fleet for the shift to EV build on existing practices and systems already available,” Hannah says. “Fleet managers who take advantage of fleet cards,reporting tools, and telematics to improve driver productivity and cost-efficiency of their fleet today are already equipped for what fleets of the future will require.”

Three ways fleet managers can prepare for mixed fleet management:

  1. Support drivers through the transition to hybrid and EV fleets
  2. Strengthen data analysis and reporting
  3. Understand the variables in mixed fleet fueling costs

Support drivers through the transition to hybrid or EV fleets

Training drivers how to use the technology inside electric vehicles is key to maintaining safety and productivity. Some drivers may resist a change to EVs simply because they’ve never driven one. Announcing carbon-neutral goals may excite some drivers, but new training is necessary to demystify the safety, regulatory rigor, and operating experience of EVs, especially compared to more familiar ICEs. For example, EVs are quiet. This can offer a better experience for drivers but also raises safety concerns. Drivers may need to alert nearby pedestrians or bicyclists that the vehicle is there. EV acceleration may also require new attention. Taking your foot off the accelerator in an ICE allows the vehicle to coast. The same action in an EV may result in a more aggressive slowing due to regenerative braking that helps recharge the vehicle’s battery.

Other vehicle differentiators may need fleet manager attention and require time to adapt. While EVs are likely to present long-term maintenance and lifecycle benefits due to the fewer moving parts in their engines, there may be other challenges related to vehicle care fleet managers need to consider. Not every repair technician will be familiar with these vehicles at the outset, so servicing EVs may require additional training or labor hours while the market adjusts to more mainstream use. EVs also introduce the complexity of battery management and care. Generally, the most expensive component of an EV, battery lifespans, and replacement cycles are a major driver for EV costs and represent opportunities for new types of vehicle use or charging guidance to maximize battery health. The right EV charging solution can optimize charging to promote battery longevity.

Fleet managers will also want to train drivers to understand parameters that are unique to EVs, like the battery payload level during cold or extreme weather, how vehicle dwell times can inform a smart charging strategy, monitoring battery charge levels during longer routes, and understanding how traffic patterns might impact vehicle range potential. These factors can vary widely between vehicle types, from passenger cars to box trucks to over-the-road trucks.

Strengthen data analysis for fleet productivity and efficiency

Data has long been a friend to fleet managers, helping to identify vehicle performance, driver behavior, and route optimization opportunities for greater productivity and cost-effectiveness. Fleet managers are used to managing fluctuating fuel prices across geographies, as well as directing drivers on how and when to fuel up for the lowest cost. When managing a mixed fleet, battery charging time becomes a new factor in keeping drivers and vehicles on the road.

“Fueling up” for an EV is not a five to ten-minute action. The time required to charge an EV can range from 20 to 30 minutes at high-powered DC charging stations to up to several hours with lower power AC Level 1 or Level 2 chargers, and can vary by the type and age of technologies in the vehicles and chargers themselves. As a result, fleet managers will need to actively factor dwell time into the schedule and into the total cost of fueling electric vehicles. Charge time data and charging costs will vary by vehicle and charging scenario. That’s why having at-home and in-depot options for charging – along with a central data dashboard to keep track and anticipate future needs – makes sense for both large and small fleets.

Electricity costs can be highly variable, varying by location, rate structure, and even time of day….

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