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4 Tips You Need to Know Before Transitioning to an Electric Vehicle Fleet

Electric vehicles are taking over the roads and it’s happening faster than you’d expect.  

GM aims to produce an all-electric line of vehicles by 2035, phasing out gas and diesel engines. Ford is shooting for 40% of its vehicles to be electric by 2030. In New York State, a bill recently passed that calls for 100% of New Yorks passenger vehicle sales to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. 

What does this mean for fleet division managers and purchasers? It means the day where your only option will be an alternative energy vehicle is right around the corner. 

Are you ready for that day?  

If not, we’ve got you covered. After speaking with the City of Sacramento's fleet management experts Mark Stevens and Alison Kerstetter, who have made major strides converting the city to a green fleet, we’ve gathered 5 tips to move you closer to welcoming your first electric fleet vehicle.  


Tip 1: Understand current demands for non-electric fleet vehicles across each organization 

Transitioning to a green fleet is about more than simply purchasing electric vehicles. These vehicles enable your jurisdiction to do important work like policing, emergency response, and school transportation. Your reimagined fleet must be built to support the work that needs to be done.   

Before you purchase your first electric fleet vehicle, take some time to understand the demands being placed on your current non-electric vehicles. Lean on your fleet management software, or work directly with your contact in each department, to answer: 

  • What purpose does this vehicle serve? 
  • How many miles are driven per year? 
  • What are the average miles driven per day? 
  • What range does this vehicle typically to cover? 
  • Where is this vehicle usually parked? 
  • What is the lifetime cost of this vehicle? 

Answering these questions will help you identify your jurisdiction's vehicle and infrastructure needs. Vehicles that need to cover many miles per day – like a state trooper – may be a better candidate for a hybrid vehicle vs. all electric. And understanding department processes like parking can inspire a smarter charging infrastructure plan.  


Tip 2: Identify areas where electric vehicles will have the most impact 

After defining the role your current vehicles play within your fleet, you can begin to create a plan to replace those vehicles with electric and hybrid vehicles. Stevens suggests beginning with areas where you think the use of an electric vehicle could have a “high impact.” Early success will be critical to proving ROI of a green fleet to both leadership and end users of the vehicles. 

In Sacramento, they started with vehicle requests with low daily mileage.  

“We had a request from our police department for motorcycles to be used around downtown parking. These vehicles don’t have to move very far,” Stevens said. “So, our electric motorcycles allow police officers to sit with police lights on and without constantly idling the motor.” 

By recognizing the high impact opportunity and purchasing electric motorcycles for the downtown area, Marks' decision led to a situation in which collecting data on carbon emissions and fuel consumption is possible. Having a quantifiable ROI makes it easier to win buy-in for the next area you wish to expand into. 


Tip 3: Design your infrastructure before your first electric vehicle arrives 

When it comes to any major organizational change, how you roll out the new system is as important as the process and products you choose. According to Kerstetter, building the charging infrastructure first is key to getting buy-in across departments.  

“If you release a vehicle and they don’t have anywhere to charge it, you’ll get complaints that will spread like wildfire through their department,” she said. “Departments won’t feel like they have the support they need to operate that vehicle. You lose that trust.” 

An infrastructure project like this will likely require cross-department collaboration. Use the information you’ve uncovered above (current demands of fleet, areas where electric vehicles will have the most impact, and needs of the end users) to develop a master plan that focuses on where you’d like to place new electric vehicles over the next 5 years. Once you have a plan, Stevens says, it’s time to bring key stakeholders into the conversation.  

Stevens listed the parties to be involved in infrastructure design discussions: 
  • Electric provider 
  • Internal construction 
  • Facilities Staff 
  • Electrical Engineers 
  • Code Enforcement Department 
  • Permitting 

Once you’ve brought everyone together, share your long-term projections and discuss what actions need to be taken in order to successfully implement your plan. You can expect the discussion and forthcoming implementation of your infrastructure to be the most challenging part of your transition. In Sacramento, it took the better part of a year. 

Aim to have your infrastructure ready in each high impact location prior to the arrival of your first electric vehicles. You want your users to have a seamless transition and great things to say about the new electric fleet vehicles. 


Tip 4: Introduce your end-users to their potential electric vehicles 

Now that you’ve developed your infrastructure and identified your first few areas of high impact, it’s time to introduce the electric vehicles to the team. 

Making a great first impression is critical for creating happy electric vehicle driving customers. You only have one chance to do it right, so make adopting these new vehicles (and the new habits that come with) as pleasant and exciting as possible. 

Stevens suggests overpreparing for these introduction meetings, coming armed with current fleet usage data and projected carbon emission and fuel consumption savings as a result of the transition. Be prepared to answer questions like “How long does it take to charge? How far will it go? Will it meet my needs with what I need to do?” 


Conclusion 

With a sound understanding of current demands and a solid grasp of the expectations your future electric fleet must meet, you can feel confident in your master plan when the time comes to begin your transition to a fully electric vehicle fleet. 

  Doug Eng

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