The commercial fleet vehicle market is growing rapidly. Reports show 75% of the 200 largest US fleet operators—responsible for about 1.2 million vehicles—have committed to decarbonization targets for public fleets, and bans on Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles are pushing on the supply side. Investing in EVs and related infrastructure is active across all fleet segments. As the market shifts towards electricity as a transportation fuel, electric vehicles (EVs) will be expected to do the same jobs as their Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) counterparts. After all, the purpose of fleet vehicles, electric or not, is to accomplish the tasks demanded of them.
An essential part of the learning curve for fleet operators is understanding how to deploy reliable charging infrastructure, which is quite unlike traditional fueling. In short, fleet operators must balance market and regulatory pressure and the risk of losing out on funding if they do not take swift action to mitigate the risk of making small mistakes of haste today that will metastasize into big problems later on.
The management and operations dynamics of EV fleets start with shifting from a focus on hardware to software. ICE vehicles are dominated by moving parts, and maintenance and repair intervals revolve (pun intended) around replacing fluids. Conversely, EVs contain fewer moving parts, and software plays a much more important role. Everything around EV charging–including energy management, grid/utility interaction, and real-time charger and vehicle operations data–manifests through data flows and digital transactions. These waves of data rely on a software-defined connective fabric that allows disparate hardware elements to interact and work together seamlessly. To be successful, fleet operators new to EVs must spin up electric fleets with a clear understanding of how these new components function together and how to manage the entire ecosystem using unfamiliar software and metrics.
While the transition may seem daunting, getting the basics right is the root of success. This article is focused on the fundamental questions fleet owners and operators in transition to EVs must address.
How do we ensure the scalability and interoperability of our EVs and chargers?
Instead of all-or-nothing transitions, most fleet operators gradually introduce EVs into their ICE fleets. For the EV portion of the motor pool to be productive quickly, operators need a technology ecosystem that ensures reliable, consistent, and predictable operation, regardless of vehicle tasking. In the long run, that technology ecosystem must provide a path to scaling fleet charging systems that are sophisticated enough to ensure charging station health, manage energy usage, incorporate route planning, and so on.
The complexity is amplified when deploying at multiple sites with chargers and vehicles from various original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and integrating those with existing ICE vehicle fleet management systems. During the planning phase, therefore, fleet operators must be able to evaluate vehicle requirements, the appropriate charging equipment, management platform needs, and power requirements; for the initial rollout and with an eye toward how those needs will evolve as more EVs join the fleet.
Interoperability between EVs and chargers can be ensured by adopting a software-driven approach that relies on connectivity between chargers, EVs, and software. Achieving interoperability requires software platforms that make intelligent data interchange between chargers, EVs, and fleet systems easy. This approach is vital for fleet operators new to EVs, particularly those who must construct the entire ecosystem without a clear understanding of how these new components function together.
How do we make our electric fleet both reliable and manageable?
Fleet charging, not unlike EV charging generally, relies on a complex, service-oriented environment that depends on a wide variety of players to produce value. Beyond reliability, fleet charging requires the integration of real-time data exchange between relatively new EV management systems and existing fleet management platforms. While a fleet charging solution may produce reliable vehicle performance, if that system requires administrators to pay attention to yet another pane of glass, it will fail the manageability test. An API-enabled system for fleet EVs, on the other hand, provides fleet managers with the in-depth information and analysis required to maintain their EV fleet ecosystems, but it can do so without introducing yet another application or platform.
The installed base of telematics, maintenance, driver scheduling, and route planning software is crucial to ensuring fleet efficiency and up-time. With EVs, the most critical parameters around monitoring and communicating data on location, routing, driver behavior, and task status are no different from those in ICE fleets. And while the vehicle hardware is very different, adding EVs to a fleet primarily requires reworking the longstanding petrochemical fueling model. As such, charging should not be seen as a revolution in fleet fueling but rather as a change to the fueling inputs of existing fleet management infrastructure.
While many other aspects of EV fleets remain the same, like regular maintenance, component health telemetry checks, and safe driving practices, the maintenance of charging infrastructure is new. The closest analog to EV charger maintenance is ensuring that gas pumps are in working order, but the ownership and maintenance business of the two are wildly different. Aside from sourcing the electrons from a utility company, that utility generally does not maintain fleet chargers at the depot or lot. For optimal performance and customer satisfaction, a comprehensive warranty for EV chargers is invaluable. While warranties can vary between manufacturers and models, a good offering should include not only hardware replacement assurance but also support and service, including troubleshooting, parts, and repair, as well as management platform support.
Will our EV fleet deployment be successful?
Generically, success can be described as a reliable, long-term, hassle-free, and cost-effective operation. For electric fleet vehicles, this means tracking and acting on a new set of performance metrics. It also means a new set of parameters to optimize fueling, routing, and charging capacity as the central metric changes from gallons to electrons. Some of the new parameters by which to measure EV fleet performance are fuel cost savings, reduced carbon emissions, less noise pollution, and more linear maintenance costs. When all of these factors can be easily integrated with existing fleet management systems, performance and value follow.
As such, a high-quality software foundation is a prerequisite for reliability, whether operators are testing with limited deployment, are in the process of adding more or new EV platforms to their fleets, or are finalizing a switch to an all-EV motor pool. In all cases, from real-time insights into depot-specific data, down to the lowest level of operation and control of fleet vehicles or chargers, to dynamic power allocation that maximizes fleet readiness with high-resolution energy-need data, to calculating the real-time total cost of ownership, software makes it happen. As a digital connective tissue between vehicles, charging stations, telematics, and all other aspects of fleet operation, starting with the right software is the key to a successful transition to electric fleet vehicles.