“Are drivers ready to embrace electric cars?”
This is often the first question when the topic of vehicle electrification comes up. And there’s a question that may be equally – perhaps even more – important, that often gets ignored:
“Do companies and fleet managers recognize the benefits of ditching fossil fuels?”
The answer to this second question appears to be increasingly affirmative, at least if recent developments are to be believed. Consider the following.
Corporate Initiative for EV Ownership Doubles
EV100 – the coalition of major multinationals committing to electric vehicle (EV) ownership – has just announced that the number of electric vehicles in members’ fleets more than doubled in 2020 alone, to 169,000 vehicles. In other words, even as many drivers remained grounded and households sat out the financial uncertainty of the pandemic, businesses were pressing ahead with electrification goals. The number of EVs pledged to be on the road by 2030 as part of the initiative increased by 80% too, to 4.8 million. Taken together, these facts suggest significant momentum on corporate electrification, potentially putting a dent in the post-COVID rebound for oil consumption.
Major Utility Fleet to Go All-Electric by 2025
Of all the companies pushing electrification, utilities might be the most logical. That might be why British Gas – which sells an awful lot of electricity despite its name – has just announced that it is moving its target date for a 100% electric fleet forward five years, to 2025. The announcement from Britain’s third-largest commercial fleet owner was accompanied by an order for 2,000 new Vauxhall electric vans.
Facilities Management Company Goes All in on EVs
Meanwhile, Mitie, one of the UK’s largest facilities management and energy services companies, is also pushing ahead with near-term electrification. They have promised that a quarter of its fleet (meaning at least 2,021 vehicles) will be fully electric by the end of this year, having already achieved its previous goal of 717 EVs in 2020 some three months early.
Of course, all this comes not long after President Joe Biden – on the other side of the pond – announced an effort to electrify the entire federal vehicle fleet. There are many reasons why such institution-level efforts could be pivotal in changing the transportation landscape, including:
- Sheer Buying Power: Commercial and government fleets are huge, meaning that every single sizable commitment significantly contributes to the overall demand for vehicle electrification.
- Predictability: While talk of “range anxiety” and EV reluctance among regular drivers is likely overblown, it is true to say that it’s hard to predict exactly when buyer preferences will shift to electric vehicles. Because fleet-based transition initiatives are, by definition, multi-year affairs, they provide some predictability for suppliers and investors on future demand. And given the spreadsheet-driven nature of corporate decision-making, the reduced maintenance and running costs of EVs will likely drive further electrification as the benefits become more widely known.
- Infrastructure: When companies and institutions add thousands of electric vehicles to the roads, they will also have to find places to charge them. If fleet owners invest equally in charging infrastructure – and make it available to employees and customers too – it could greatly influence the uptake of EVs among the general public also.
- Influence: For those not sure about going electric, one of the best ways to overcome reluctance is to get behind the wheel. If more people start driving or riding in electric vehicles at work, it’s likely they’ll become significantly more aware of the benefits.
- Utilization: The final factor to highlight might just be the most important, and that’s the fact that company vehicles tend to be in use day-in and day-out. Not only does this mean more bang for our bucks in terms of immediate emissions reductions when they are electrified, but it also means we are replacing vehicles and journeys that would often be hard to eliminate otherwise.
While livable cities, mass transit, telecommuting, and more ought to be a priority for personal vehicles that often sit idle, it’s hard to imagine a world where utility workers don’t need to get from A to B in fairly sizable vehicles. (Although, yes, many business functions can and should be replaced by cargo bikes and other lower impact options.)
Writing over at Gizmodo’s Earther, Dharna Noor has argued that Biden’s plan alone could significantly boost the number of US-based jobs in the cleaner vehicle industry – especially as the ripple effects made themselves felt in terms of wider EV demand and adoption.