Should we electrify the vehicle fleet?

Electric Truck running off overhead wires

This week, some research from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association has shown that despite the promise and the hype, there are still some major barriers to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. In over half of EU nations, no more than 0.75% of the vehicle fleet is a fully-electric vehicle. In the case of fleet vehicles, with the exception of some shorter hop delivery vans, the situation is similarly bleak. The vast majority of road fleets are diesel-powered, a position that is unlikely to change soon

The market for fleet vehicles is driven by the demands of its customers, much like the passenger car market. It is not yet at a position where electric fleet vehicles offer both the cost and operational flexibility that your diesel-powered vehicle does. The promise of electric propulsion is big and exciting, but outside of a few use cases it is just that, promising.

As I mentioned, management of electric fleets is very much focussed on short trips around urban areas, where your vehicles are never far away from a charging point at the depot. Routes are optimised with the operational range of the vehicle in mind, plus some slack to account for unforeseen delays on the network. This can be complemented (albeit in a limited way) by regenerative braking and inductive loop charging.

Local authorities can benefit from even the limited application of this technology. For instance many highway authorities have electric vehicles as part of their highways maintenance fleets, and they can insist via planning conditions that electric vehicle charging infrastructure be provided. Worthy steps to an electric future, but not the steps needed to tackle air quality issues now.

The promise of technology can lead to waiting for its potential to be realised, to only then solve the problem. Thankfully, the local authorities I am now speaking to are seeing this for the folly it is. Air quality is a problem now, and local authorities are increasingly using their existing powers – such as planning obligations – to manage air quality issues now.

There will come a time when electric propulsion is standard across all vehicles. But that day is many years away. In the meantime, local authorities are coming to realise the value of working with the market to manage air quality issues now. Long may that continue.

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