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Fleet Electrification 101: Understanding the Basics

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People around the world continue to show more concern for the environment by changing habits and behaviors. In this way, they do their part to ‘go green.’ One prominent change is the adoption of consumer electric vehicles (EVs). These EVs are no longer niche, nor outside most people’s price range. What will have an even more positive impact on the environment is the adoption of EVs within the commercial fleet space. Whether it be government mandates or corporate cost-saving initiatives, technology has made fleet electrification a viable option for fleets. But what do fleets need to know before considering EV adoption?

I recently sat down with Allen Goetz, Market Development Manager - Fleet e-mobility, for Gilbarco Veeder-Root (GVR), to discuss considerations related to commercial fleet electrification. Not only is GVR a market leader in EV charging and fleet electrification, they are also a close partner with Teletrac Navman.

Read our conversation to take a deep dive into all things EV – or click below to scroll to a specific question you’re most interested in:

  1. What are the main drivers leading to fleets considering a move to electrification?
  2. What advice would you give to fleet operators who are evaluating electrification?
  3. What types of fleet businesses or markets are early adopters to EV?
  4. Why are LTL and ports seeing the benefits earlier compared to other markets?
  5. What are some details about the cost implications of electrification?
  6. What’s a good way to test the waters before a full transition to EVs?
  7. How are state or federal legislatures affecting the transition to EVs? Specifically, are there any specific laws or mandates that might be roadblocks?
  8. Are there any emerging technologies or developments regarding fleet electrification that you're seeing that may help adoption?
  9. How can GVR help reduce roadblocks to EV adoption?
  10. Are there any roadblocks for society at large to adopt electrification?
  11. Are there any safety concerns for electric vehicles?

Q1:

What are the main drivers leading to fleets considering a move to electrification?

A: There are a few things that drive electrification, with perhaps the most noteworthy being government mandates. Many fleets are seeing laws or ordinances coming from city, regional, and state levels that task them to electrify a certain percentage of their fleet by a set time. Those initiatives obviously impact government fleets, but in the commercial world, many fleets are seeing a push towards electrification based on corporate sustainability goals. Between government and c-suite pressure, many fleets feel the urge to shift towards EVs (electric vehicles). Another big electrification driver is the reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) with EVs. While an EV might be more expensive on the front end, take a look at the cost and life cycle of the vehicle. You will see that EVs require fewer parts to replace, ultimately making it a less expensive vehicle over the long term. Lastly, the price of EVs is finally coming down. Batteries, too, are getting better and less expensive. 

Q2:

What advice would you give to fleet operators who are evaluating electrification?

A: When you think about electrification, it can be very daunting because there are so many variables and it's a newer technology. One thing that Gilbarco Veeder-Root can offer is electrification studies as an easy way to get started. This is where we take data coming from a fuel management system or a telematics system like Teletrac Navman and bring that into an analytics engine that understands available models, their price points, and vehicle ranges. Through advanced analytics, we’re able to provide you with an understanding out of your entire vehicle fleet, including how many are good candidates for electrification. That's a great way to take a lot of the questions out of how to get started, while also considering vehicle fit. Of course, these studies also touch on what types of infrastructure are needed for EV charging.

That's one way to use existing tools to make smart decisions about evaluating whether or not your fleet is ready to electrify. If I was to add another, it would be to consider what grant monies might be available in this space. These could come in the form of a flattened grant to add a charger available for public charging at a municipal location, or monies that become available for vehicle replacement and charging infrastructure associated with going with a green vehicle approach. Gilbarco Veeder-Root spends a lot of time evaluating these funding opportunities and has dedicated resources to help with these considerations.

Q3:

Are you seeing any particular types of fleet businesses that are early adopters to EV in any particular market or industry?

Absolutely. The ones that you probably see the most today are going to be municipalities or government agencies that have electrified a number of sedans in their fleet. That's primarily because up until most recently, sedans are really the only vehicles that made commercial sense to electrify. Within the past couple of years, we've seen a lot of activity in the school bus and transit bus space where the daily duty cycles and downtime really lend themselves nicely to electrification. But this year a big entrance into the market space are companies that operate yard spotters as part of an LTL (Less-than-Load) facility or port. Those vehicles are really great candidates for electrification and it's exciting to see that market segment start to bloom. We’ll soon be seeing products arriving from a variety of providers in the medium-duty space. Most recently there's been some activity in the electric pickup truck space with companies like Lordstown Motors releasing their endurance pickup truck, slated for release in 2021.

Q4:

You mentioned LTL and the ports; any particular reason why you're seeing that start to pick up there? Why are they seeing the benefits now earlier compared to other markets?

A: Those vehicles have a very limited range throughout the course of the day. They have an opportunity to charge, perhaps at a shift change or meal break. Ports have historically been very dirty places in terms of air quality and government agencies are pushing these facilities to clean up their act. Plus, much like Teletrac Navman cuts down on engine idling by monitoring it, the very nature of those vehicles is to sit and run while they’re waiting for a container to get dropped or for some piece of equipment to move out of the way. That really does generate a large amount of emissions if burning fuel. So, EVs covers both green in the wallet and green in the air, so to speak.

Q5:

You touched on it a little bit earlier, but can you give more details about the cost implications of electrification?

A: Sure. So, we mentioned the total cost of ownership as a driver, but there’s certainly a cost implication too. If you think about an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicle that's got sparkplugs and requires oil changes and belts and other moving parts that need replacement – EVs just don't have the same requirement. On the flip side, there are costs that need to be considered when you're talking about the charging infrastructure itself and also the cost to bring the right type of power into a facility or yard. With that, you need to right-size the charger for the opportunity. Sometimes vehicles dictate the chargers; the larger class four-and-up vehicles require battery packs with high output chargers or high-powered chargers (HPC).

But in some of the smaller vehicle cases, if they were going to sit overnight, it can likely be charged with a much less powerful charger, a less expensive piece of equipment. Those are typically called level two chargers and they run on 240-volt power. Like what you would use for an electric dryer at a household. DC fast charging typically starts at 480 volts and often requires three-phase power. That’s when there's a lot more need for an upgrade from your utility company in order to accomplish fast charging.

Q6:

So, if a fleet wanted to dip their toes in electrification, it might be a cheaper implication to start with level two, if their fleet allows for it, right? Let's say if they have shorter routes and they can make it back to the yard for an overnight charge, that's a good way to test the waters before a full transition to EVs?

A: Yes, that's absolutely correct. It's not a significant investment to install a couple of level two chargers and it can be a great solution for a certain range of vehicles. We like to say that fleets are looking at crawling, walking and running when they're thinking about electrification. Someone who only utilizes five vehicles is probably going to be just fine with level two charging to start off with. But as that capacity grows and you move into the realm of 50, 60, 70 EVs, suddenly needing to have a dedicated parking area for all of those vehicles to sit overnight, each with their own charger, may not make much sense. That’s when a shift to a DC fast charge model could be a better investment.

Q7:

Going back to the government requirements you touched on earlier, how are state or federal legislatures affecting the transition to EVs? Specifically, are there any specific laws or mandates that might be roadblocks or any in particular that you want to highlight that benefits fleets considering electrification?

A: Well, right now, electrification is a hot topic with a wide variety of different governments because it's obtainable and it doesn't require the type of infrastructure investments that some previous predecessors in alternative fuels did, such as CNG (compressed natural gas). Electrifying sedans today is absolutely obtainable and a lot of regional and local level mandates coming from city councils dictate that fleets look to become zero emissions. In California, CARB is really leading things. We mentioned them before when speaking about ports. Other states are adopting their own standards and deadlines to implement. Even if we think about the current Presidential administration: I went to an opening of an EV plant in Lordstown, Ohio for a company called Lordstown Motors two weeks ago and Vice President Pence was a speaker at that event. So, political leanings aside, that’s pretty exciting and telling that even at the highest levels of government there is interest in bringing electrified vehicles to the market.

Q8:

Are there any emerging technologies or developments regarding fleet electrification that you're seeing that may help that adoption?

A: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we're doing very uniquely at Gilbarco Veeder-Root – because of our long history of working with traditional fleet fuels – is we've developed a way to include EV charging data and metrics with traditional fleet and fuel management activities. Oftentimes a fleet has a private fuel tank on their property and if it's a municipal fleet, they may need to bill that fuel out to the public works department. When you add EVs to the mix, the energy that's going into the battery still has a cost associated with it. What we've done by combining the transactional level vehicle fueling monitoring with the transactional level EV charging activity, is allow for a single pane of glass and visibility into reporting that can be used for billing, maintenance, and HR. The software that we've offered in that space is called EKOS, which stands for Energy Knowledge Operating System, and is a very unique product offering from Gilbarco Veeder-Root. We're very excited about that.

Q9:

It sounds like EKOS could be diminishing some roadblocks to adoption right there by basically giving fleets the ability to treat electricity just as they would fuel on their P and L statements?

A: You got it. And if we think back to the statement about crawl, walk, run, well, if you've got a 300-vehicle fleet and you take delivery of five EVs, you've got 295 vehicles doing things one way. Why would you want these new vehicles doing anything different than the others from an administrative or paperwork standpoint? That single pane of glass visibility means all the recording comes from one place and makes it very simple to look at a long-term strategy for electrification.

Q10:

Yeah, that definitely could diminish headaches and seems as though EKOS integrated into a system like Teletrac Navman DIRECTOR could help those fleets that are looking to test the EV waters as a cost-cutting measure. That being said, are there any roadblocks for society at large to adopt electrification? For example, are there not enough charging stations or something to that effect?

A: The number one challenge that we face as a society looking at electrifying vehicles is range anxiety. The statistics point that most EV drivers are unwilling to drive their vehicle down to a battery percentage low enough that they would with an ice engine vehicle. If the fuel light comes on in your vehicle, that means you might have 10 or 15 miles of range left. In an EV no one drives below a 10% battery range, and that could mean that you have 25, 30, 40 miles of range left on that vehicle. So, it poses a challenge when you're unwilling to use all of the range that the vehicle’s battery has available, because of some concern that you're going to run out at the final mile and not be able to finish your trip. Range anxiety is certainly something that is being addressed by the vehicle OEMs generating better and better technology. Another challenge is the availability of public charging infrastructure, or lack thereof. Because Gilbarco Veeder-Root makes six out of 10 fuel pumps used at gas stations and eight out of 10 fuel dispensers used at truck stops, we are intimately attuned with the convenience store and Truckstop world and are actively promoting our EV charging and mobility solutions to help expand EV adoption. So, the average consumer can expect to see more and more EV charging stations, which will help alleviate that range anxiety and maximize battery usage.

A good example of how the EV software and the battery can be easily adjusted was during when one of the recent hurricanes was entering the Florida panhandle: Tesla pushed out a software update over-the-air that allowed all of their vehicles’ batteries to be further depleted so that people could get further out of harm's way as they were going through an evacuation process – which significantly decreased that range anxiety during a very trying time.

Q11:

Lastly, but definitely not of least importance, are there any safety concerns with electric vehicles?

A: I would say generally, no. You run the same risk of running out of gasoline as you would in an EV running out of charge; it could happen on the side of the interstate, but the batteries are safe and stable. The charging process is actually safer than traditional fueling because the battery management software on the vehicle has to have a connection through a software handshake to the charger. You can't actually drive off with the charger plugged in, the vehicles are immobile until it gets disconnected. Sometimes you might see a vehicle drive off with the breakaway nozzle still inserted into the tank, spilling fuel on the ground of a gas station – that cannot happen with an EV charger. In some respects, they're certainly safer than ICE engine vehicles.

Learn more about the overall benefits of fleet electrification.

A 14+ year veteran of the fleet/transportation industry, Allen Goetz has held positions with major fuel card companies, software providers, and leaders in manufacturing. Most recently he has joined Gilbarco Veeder-Root's e-Mobility team, focusing on bringing solutions to the vehicle electrification space. 

Allen’s experiences have brought him across multiple continents & bring a unique perspective to how a fleet works. In the exciting world of fleet electrification, he is considered a thought leader & is excited to help fleets understand the benefits & potential pitfalls of vehicle electrification.


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