Thinking about converting a fleet to alternative fuels means first and foremost learning how to measure.
As part of its July 29 virtual conference, the Sustainable Fleet Expo invited U.S. fleet managers to share their experiences in converting some or all of their vehicles to electric or other zero-emission fuels.
The objective was to quantify the cost of the process.
There was a particularly interesting testimony. Morgan Kauffman manages the family business, Columbus Yellow Cab, in Ohio. The almost 100-year-old company, started by Morgan’s grandfather, has 200 cabs in operation.
Their manager decided a few years ago to go green and convert everything to electric. “But things are not as easy as we think,” he notes today after experiencing a few setbacks in the process.
The first electric vehicles to enter the fleet were Chevrolet Bolts.
“No one could tell the difference and our drivers had to explain to their customers that they were riding in EVs. There was no added value for us,” says Kauffman.
“We sold them after a year. That all changed when we introduced our first Tesla Model 3s. Customers felt like they were stepping into a spaceship and even our drivers were excited.”
This was a very good thing since these same drivers had to undergo training to get the most out of the EVs entrusted to them.
Another interesting point of note that Kaufmann mentioned was that the range announced by the manufacturers should not be relied upon when planning trips and charging points.
“The manufacturer advertises 240 miles of range, we average 190 miles. But I have drivers who manage to get 310 miles on a single charge. In short, you have to be careful and understand that this range is going to vary depending on geography, urban or highway area, climate and, for 20% of the variation, driver behaviour.”
He noted that, paradoxically, the more the routes are in the city center where braking is frequent, the more the vehicle benefits from the battery recharge due to the brakes.
The cars in this cab company’s fleet travel an average of 90,000 kilometres annually.
“The more the car runs, the longer it is kept in the fleet, and the more savings are made,” says the Kauffmann. He estimates that an EV currently costs about one-third as much to maintain and recharge as its gasoline counterpart.
Obviously, its conversion project benefited from a public financial incentive, but not enough to distort the indicators of a clearly profitable operation. The great appreciation of the EV by the population itself has given a serious boost to the family business facing competition from car-sharing.
To establish the recharging network, the company has put all the routes of all the vehicles in its fleet on a large digital map.
This data allowed him to establish the areas where it would be strategic to build service points (hubs) where drivers would leave their vehicles to recharge.
In addition, the company wanted to place these points of service near public transportation so that their drivers could get there by bus.
The service point, where cars refuel according to a schedule linked to traffic, also serves as a showcase for customers who can hail a cab there.
On a completely different note, let’s talk about Nick Chase, Vehicle Asset Manager at Bolthouse Farms in California, the continent’s largest carrot producer.
It has set up a program to transition to less-polluting trucks around the plant. These trucks are loaded in the numerous fields of the company and come to empty their buckets in a chute at the factory. A total of 25 loading tractors are used solely to move the trailers loaded with carrots.
“In January 2018, I started a comparison match,” Chase explains. I bought three electric tractors and an equivalent diesel-powered truck. And I put together charts to analyze important indices.”
Since the purchase, he has seen a 75% reduction in the amount of time electric trucks were unavailable compared to their diesel counterparts.
The maintenance cost for the same period was $6.22 per hour of operation for the conventional truck compared to 83 cents for the electric versions.
For fuel, we move to a comparative saving in the range of 90% to 70%, with rates varying in California. The installation of the kiosks was supported by a government grant.
Chase strongly recommends that fleet managers hire specialized consultants. This will allow them to better identify the areas of savings, the indices to follow and also the subsidies they can take advantage of.