There is no question that electric vehicles are the hot topic right now.
At NAFA I&E earlier this year, immersion into the EV technology space was running rampant, and, while there are a lot of very good things happening, based on conversations I had and continue to have, a lot of fleet managers are still struggling to wrap their head around it all.
If I look at our own fleet as an example, we are dealing with the exact same issue, when it comes to looking at a longer-term strategy. There is currently a lot of sales hype out there with many people wanting to jump into both the EV and charging infrastructure segment, but often we find it generates more questions than answers.
As fleet managers what we do need to understand is that the onus is on us to adapt and accommodate electric vehicles into our fleets because like it or not, they are coming. Besides procurement, we need to ensure we are looking at how we schedule our routes, how we maintain our vehicles, and how we charge them. I feel that practical charging infrastructure is still one aspect of electrification that is grossly overlooked.
I recall having a conversation with one fleet manager who has been getting a lot of pressure from his senior leadership team in implementing an EV strategy for executive fleet vehicles. When you’re looking at adding 60-70 new battery electric vehicles to your fleet, how can you ensure there are enough charging stations to support them?
There is still a lot of misconception out there about how a 110-volt Level 1 Charger is going to be sufficient, but for fleets that generally isn’t true. In most cases we will need Level 2 and/or Level 3 chargers—but with that comes a significant increase in cost. There’s also the question of electrical grid capacity. In our case, we have more than 60 ambulances housed in one facility and we’re not certain whether our local electrical utilities have the capacity to support that number of vehicles. Additionally, because we are a provincial ambulance agency and service a lot of rural routes—that in some cases may require a 300 or 400 km journey to get patients to a medical facility there are still a lot of uncertainties regarding the true viability of battery electric vehicles for fleets such as ours.
One of the other things regarding EV adoption is that a cultural shift within the organization is required, not just an operational one. Changing the mindset of our drivers, medics, support staff, and other employees is going to be critical to make any kind of sustainable EV adoption strategy work, and in many cases that is going to prove challenging. This is especially true if our employees don’t have experience with EVs, or don’t understand their nuances and different operating requirements.
When we look at medium and heavier-duty vehicles that cover longer distances and carry bigger payloads there are additional considerations and certainly at present, fewer options when it comes to battery electric vehicles.
While it can be easy to get caught up in the current hype surrounding EVs, as fleet professionals we need to be mindful of how alternative fuel trends evolve. A decade ago, compressed and liquified natural gas was the big thing and there was talk of hydrogen fuel cells. Today battery electric vehicles are taking centre stage, but the trend could shift again in the next few years and that’s something we need to consider. Also; we need to look at the source of the electricity that will power our EV fleets and in many cases (certainly today), that does not come cheap.
Ray currently serves on NAFA’s Board of Directors as President of the association. He is also Provincial Manager of EMS Fleet Operations for Alberta Health Services, has over 38 years of experience in the fleet management industry, and received the distinguished Excellence in Education award in 2018 for his contributions to NAFA’s educational programs.