A panel of industry leaders taking part in Electric Autonomy Canada’s recent fleet electrification webinar offer insights on the benefits, implications and challenges of transitioning light and medium duty vehicle fleets
The move to electrify light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is picking up pace as more automakers and OEMs are looking to offer more EV options for fleets.
Last week, Electric Autonomy Canada hosted a panel focusing on how fleet owners and operators are managing to make that switch from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles, while highlighting some of the key factors that need to be considered to facilitate the move forward. The event was sponsored by Jim Pattison Lease.
Our expert panelists included leaders from Metro Supply Chain, Ford Motor Co., Geotab and Jim Pattison Lease. What follows are some of the main takeaways from their discussion. To watch the full webinar, click on the video player above.
Collecting data is crucial
As fleet owners begin to take their first steps into electrification, Kevin Sambleson, regional director for Ontario at Jim Pattison Lease, says he’s noticing a trend: regardless of how much EV knowledge is available, “when we start to peel the onion, there are a lot of questions.”
“These commercial vehicles are brand new, and there’s no real-world data or experience in this country, at least [not] yet in the field. And these commercial vehicles at the end of the day are work trucks, they are mobile offices, mobile toolboxes; they get worked hard, they tow, they work in different regions and different climates and they’re well used,” says Sambleson.
Common questions range from what the duty cycle of the different types of vehicles is going to be, to how much will they cost to purchase and how will that play into the total cost of ownership, to what part of a fleet can realistically be targeted for EV conversion.
Such uncertainty can create a lot of barriers for early adopters. However, performing a suitability assessment can help fleet owners and operators ensure the successful adoption of EVs into their commercial operations.
“The purpose of a suitability analysis is to evaluate the compatibility of replacing a current ICE vehicle with an EV and primarily looking at range — so the operational impact — and then as well as cost and understanding the total cost of ownership of that vehicle,” explains Matthew Carter, electric vehicle solutions engineer at Geotab, an Oakville, Ont.-based fleet tracking and management services firm.
“Taking a data-driven approach and being able to use telematics when doing a suitability assessment is key because by having all this vehicle data —[from] the distance driven, the fuel used and so on — it takes the guesswork out of the equation to outline a clear plan on how vehicles are being used and to be able to ensure that optimized transitionary period,” adds Carter.
Setting up charging infrastructure
Successful adoption of EVs into commercial fleets operations will also require robust charging infrastructure, which Ford has been working on in tandem with manufacturing EVs.
“It really is based on the fleet and how they’re going to use these vehicles. A lot of fleets have their drivers go back to head office after their shift… So we’ve created a depot charging solution through a partner at Electriphi, where we can work with our fleet customer to set up a charging depot at their locations so the vehicles can be plugged in overnight,” says Scott Kuzma, Ford’s marketing manager for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
The company also has a charging network of 63,000 stations across North America and provides home-charging solutions that let fleet drivers take home their vehicles to charge overnight.
“We have the software and the hardware available for that to happen. So really, we’re trying to make it adjustable for anyone, any size fleet depending on how they handle their business [and] how they handle their vehicles on a day-to-day basis,” says Kuzma.
Moving forward, John Fahidy, vice-president and business leader of transport solutions at Metro Supply Chain, adds that he believes there is still a scarcity of charging options for EV fleet owners and there needs to be more investment in policies that will drive the construction of more networks.
“The ideal [charging experience] is an inexpensive, fast-charging unit that allows commercial vehicles to charge in 20 or 30 minutes,” says Fahidy. “When you think about it, right now that’s probably what it takes to fill a large truck [with] fuel. Anything longer than that is just downtime.”
Importance of skills training and education
Jim Pattison’s Sambleson also points out that customers can expect to save money if they base their transition on life-cycle operating and maintenance costs with EVs. That’s because there are fewer mechanical moving parts which means that fewer things can go wrong.
However, skills training in driving as well as maintaining these vehicles will be crucial once adoption for EVs in fleets begins to scale up.
“In our experiences, if the operator of the vehicle is skilled and conscientious then the maintenance piece is manageable. But just like the lack of [charging] infrastructure, there is not a network of maintenance facilities for medium-duty vehicles yet. So hopefully the manufacturers who do provide some maintenance are going to be able to keep up with the demand that is undoubtedly going to occur,” says Fahidy.
During the discussion, Kuzma also stressed that Ford is mindful that driving an EV can be different from driving an ICE vehicle, and that newer drivers need to learn how to manage battery use and performance.
For example, there are several ways to mitigate the battery’s charge loss. These include keeping the car plugged into the charger for a few minutes when turning on or off the car to prevent battery drainage, learning how to properly brake using regenerative braking systems, and understanding the importance of planning out your route ahead of time to improve range and avoid wasting battery power.
“It is a big learning curve,” adds Kuzma. “Once you figure it out, you really do get the most out of these vehicles as you’re driving them on your day-to-day business.”