Greening a fleet is becoming an economic pursuit. Fuel costs are rising, emissions regulations are tightening, and containing total cost of ownership (TCO) is becoming increasingly complex. (The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced an online tool to assist with TCO calculations.)
Alternative vehicle technologies let fleet owners maximize their financial resources, while reducing exposure to volatile fuel prices. Businesses can get this done cost-effectively by taking a hard look at the newest technologies on the market, which are now being tested and could soon rival more mainstream – and more expensive -- options.
To green your fleet for less, keep the following in mind:
1. First, consider your use patterns.
There are enough options for alternative vehicles today that we no longer need to accept a one-size-fits-all solution. So first, consider how you use your fleet vehicles. Basic needs, such as range and refueling requirements, affect whether electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles are technically appropriate for a given application. These requirements are easy to identify, but it can be hard to optimize the range of these vehicles for specific uses. Fleet operators like having a range safety cushion to handle unexpected events or deteriorating range over time, but having too much spare range can present an unneeded expense in the form of unnecessary battery capacity, one of the most expensive components of an EV.
2. Look at the data.
Hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles do a good job of meeting the full range of operating requirements, but their return on investment relies heavily on how they are used. Before you go with an HEV or PHEV, review your fleet data. For example, what are your drive cycle patterns? How much braking activity does your fleet have? What level of idling time do you typically see? All of these questions and more affect the potential for fuel savings, and therefore the value of HEVs or PHEVs for your fleet.
3. Investigate hidden costs.
Drive cycle data and other patterns are important to consider when evaluating HEVs and PHEVs, but EVs and natural gas vehicles are not as affected by these patterns. This fact may make certain aspects of EV and natural gas vehicle TCO assessment easier, but operators need to consider other factors, as well. Fleet owners are still grappling with high infrastructure costs and unforeseen expenses, such as increased utility demand charges on electric bills (to pay for peak kW usage, not just kWh). Both of these costs can create additional economic hurdles for EVs. Lower maintenance costs can offset the expense of infrastructure and unforeseen expenses, but making sure that equation balances takes careful analysis.
4. Evaluate both capital expenses and maintenance costs.
One of the benefits of HEVs comes from lower maintenance costs; brake and engine wear decreases, since the electric motor reduces the load that brakes and engines would normally see without hybrid systems. While the potential operating savings are lower per vehicle compared to EVs, the upfront capital requirements are significantly less due to smaller capacity batteries and the lack of charging infrastructure requirements. Additionally, HEVs can provide the most benefit to fleets that drive more than 75 miles per day in urban or suburban conditions.
5. Trust your own experience, and take advantage of testing opportunities.
One way to learn which alternative vehicle options best fit the needs of your fleet while keeping TCO in check is to take advantage of testing opportunities. With new technologies entering the market, there are opportunities to pilot solutions and gain a true sense of how they will benefit your business. Early adopters can gain the competitive advantage of the newest technologies, while fulfilling a long-standing industry goal to green fleets for less.