To reduce their operating costs, emissions and fuel consumption, many vehicle fleets are switching from traditional vehicles to electric and hybrid models. John Challen finds out how Ricardo is aiding the decision-making process
Car drivers are often conservative and it can be a challenge to get them to consider changing to another type of powertrain. However, as vehicle manufacturers introduce more models powered by batteries instead of the familiar internal combustion engine, the decision to switch is becoming more attractive for many. Electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way in a relatively short space of time but, especially for fleets, making such a transition is a major commitment that requires careful planning.
Thankfully Ricardo, within its sustainable transport and electricity networks teams, has experience of working with fleets who are considering EVs: Ricardo believes that approaching the decision to switch to electric vehicles in an informed way can help companies make a successful transition and benefit their overall business.
“Whether they like it or not, companies will at some point in the future have to electrify their fleets,” says Nik Hill, the knowledge leader in sustainable transport technology and fuels in Ricardo’s Energy & Environment division. “Right now, they have a choice: they can either do nothing and have electrification effectively imposed on them and possibly suffer unforeseen costs or discomforts, or they can act now and plan ahead.”
“What we do,” continues Hill, “is look at the individual fleet and see which roles could be carried out by an electric vehicle, and what suitable vehicles are coming onto the market in the next few years. We work out how this switch can best work for a company by way of a cost-benefit analysis based on fleet usage data.”
The need to go electric
Ricardo researchers have identified three main drivers for fleet electrification: health, including corporate CSR; compliance with national and local policy directed at reducing CO2 and air pollution, and total cost of ownership (TCO). The last point is arguably the most important one for fleets as any changes to fleets link back to the commercially important factors of financial sustainability and market competitiveness.
“In 2010 and 2011 we were looking at EVs with real-world ranges of 70 to 80 miles,” says Hill, “but the change over the last few years has been quicker than expected, and with improved batteries we are now in the region of 200 or more miles for the likes of the Tesla Model S and, increasingly, some more mainstream models.”
The longer vehicle ranges have helped to reduce range anxiety, and engineering development has also meant the cost of the battery has fallen. “There has been a more than twofold decrease in the cost of batteries in the five years to 2015 and we are expecting costs to halve again in the five-year period to 2020, and even further going forward,” reveals Hill.
One of the reasons Ricardo is often approached by clients stems from its long-standing relationship with automotive OEMs, nurtured through working with them on previous projects and early trials and evaluations of electric vehicles. Dan Clarke, Ricardo’s fleet electrification lead, explains: “We have insights from manufacturers as to what electric vehicle models are coming and when – and we have also done a lot of work with conventional vehicles and can see how they are improving. So, we can advise on both sides, not just the electrification”.
“Part of our job is to let people know that things are changing rapidly,” adds Clarke. “Even if the right vehicles for an organization aren’t yet available, or the infrastructure hasn’t reached the required level of maturity, it won’t take long, so fleet operators need to be thinking about what’s next. Our job is to help customers understand the landscape and work out a plan for what they need to do and when.”
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