Electrification is a big topic, but it's easier said than done. After years of greening plans and mandates, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) within fleets is still low. With fleet electrification in the national headlines, we asked fleet managers and a Clean Cities coordinator: What do you need to go all-electric? Here’s what they said:
Brian Franklin, CPFP, administrative manager, Asset Management Department, City of Tulsa, Oklahoma
- The cost gap between purchasing an electric vehicle versus a gasoline fueled vehicle needs to be closed.
- We need more grant opportunities to fund EV vehicles and infrastructure, and those opportunities need to extend across the country, not just to big cities.
- We need more EV options with greater range. EV batteries need to be warrantied for longer periods of time, and the cost to replace batteries needs to come down.
- Our technicians need comprehensive training to maintain and repair EV units.
Adriane Jaynes, coordinator, Tulsa Clean Cities, Oklahoma
- Procurement policies need to be updated from lowest cost to total cost of ownership. That would move the needle a bit now on cost effectiveness before battery costs come all the way down. EVs are already cheaper to own and operate than internal combustion vehicles in many scenarios.
- Mechanisms for cities to leverage existing tax credits need to be developed and can assist in bringing down costs sooner rather than later, and give public fleets access to the same tools private fleets can leverage for the same projects.
- Manufacturers, especially in the medium/heavy sectors, may offer battery leasing. In this scenario, you buy the vehicle and lease the batteries — the manufacturer guarantees the level of service for the life of the lease and you can theoretically make your monthly battery lease payments from the savings on diesel fuel and maintenance. This cuts the purchase price down significantly and allows you to utilize operational funds to pay the lease.
- Partnerships with utilities will be crucial as EVs scale. There is a lot the utilities can learn about fleet electrification from working with cities and other fleets, and fleets can save time and money by calling their utility first when considering a fleet electrification project.
Zac Haffner, maintenance & operations manager, City of Reno, Nevada
- We need affordable options, with an emphasis on affordable. Our driving distance daily is not very far, and vehicles tend to have shorter routes but frequent trips with lots of stops. These sorts of trips are great for range and the regenerative braking that go with EVs, but it makes the savings on fuel less of an area of focus. The City of Reno is currently running 11 EVs out of about 700 pieces of equipment. These EVs were selected to become part of the fleet as they provide a positive return on investment at year nine of a 10-year life vehicle, per our calculations. Unfortunately, expanding further into EVs has proved challenging, as these are the only EVs we have found to provide a positive return on investment.
- We are still in the process of learning our electricity costs and what utility savings are available in our area for EV rates. The cost of electricity has to be considered and as fleets continue to grow their EVs, demand charges for electricity will grow and need to be considered when evaluating these types of vehicles. Battery storage during peak demand seems to be a good option for this challenge, but that further increases the costs of these vehicles and the infrastructure to operate them.
- Lastly, the availability of models. There are not a lot of alternatives to our existing fleet of vehicles. Reno is the high desert and sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, so 4X4 trucks and SUVs are very commonly used and needed for the work the city is accomplishing. The current EV market is not providing affordable options in these segments yet.
Gene Jordan, fleet maintenance superintendent, City of Rock Hill, South Carolina
We just started a transit system from the ground up in July of 2019 and went total electric. We currently have seven transit buses and are in the process of ordering three more buses. We have not made the move to electrifying our other fleet vehicles yet. We do have one Chevrolet Volt and I’m sure we would be interested in moving more towards electric if the funding were there for the purchase of vehicles and charging stations.
Ben Roueche, CPFP, fleet manager, West Jordan City, Utah
- First, more EV options. My fleet has a lot of work trucks in it, and there are some hybrid options to retrofit, but beyond that, they’re pretty scarce. My public safety fleet, or more specifically my police vehicles, are great candidates for Ford PIU Hybrids, and the new Ford F-150 Hybrids. As we move forward with scheduled replacements, that will be a prominent option to use for them.
- Second, funding for charging infrastructure. The majority of funding is usually pushed out as tax incentives, which doesn’t help public fleets. Funding is going to rely on capital improvement priorities to support additional EV assets in the fleet.
Chris Butler, director of fleet services, Johnson County, Kansas
- It all starts with cost and availability of vehicles in our area. Being able to justify the purchase of electric vehicles still comes down to return on investment, and current costs make that a challenge. As more SUVs, pickups, and commercial vehicles become available, it will give us more options to find the right fit within our fleet.
- Establishing a charging network for our fleet vehicles has not been a focus. General efforts have been around public charging options, which are not conducive to fleet charging and usage patterns we see with most of our vehicles and operations. Moving forward, increased focus on “behind the fence” fleet charging options will make the transition to electric vehicles a more viable option for many of our fleet customers.
Tony Cadermarti, fleet program manager, City of Everett, Washington
- Funding needs to be grant-based, and require “match funding." This will allow for any allocated program funding to go further. I know at least here in Everett, if you get free money, we can find the match funds to use it.
- Funding needs to exclude large cities that can pay for vehicles and infrastructure, or have done so already. Small and medium-size cities are already at a disadvantage, since large cities/counties can always show a bigger impact from funding use, versus smaller population centers. Stop giving funds to big cities and counties if you want other places to do something useful with limited funding in lower-population areas.
- Funding needs to be bold. Cut other questionable programs, and roll funding into “green vehicle” and infrastructure programs. A lot of “foreign aid” could be cancelled and rerouted to help taxpayers through a boosted green economy which leads to more EV adoption through cheaper electricity, better infrastructure, and vehicle purchasing incentives.
- Encourage public/private partnerships. Local governments should be incentivized to join forces with private companies to get EVSE installed and vehicles purchased. We can name publicly owned stadiums for companies, but we can’t use their money to buy electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) and vehicles? Allow companies to advertise at some level on government-owned vehicles for a certain amount of time if they pay for all or some part of the vehicle.
Vehicle and equipment manufacturer responsibilities:
- Decide on standards for the U.S. market and stick with it. Get rid of Chademo fast charging, and standardize on CCS combo (combined charging system). SAE standards now exist, so they can be followed.
- Software and data processing agnosticism. Make it so companies that make smart chargers that collect data cannot make their software products proprietary. We should be able to use any charger with any vehicle, and be able to get the same data and use it with any fleet management/data management software we want. Making proprietary software and data-processing increases costs and stifles competition between manufacturers (increasing cost as a result of sole-source acquisitions).
- Lower costs of acquisition for vehicles. As an example, there’s no reason a Chevrolet Bolt costs over $35K. It is a compact car, no matter what they market it as. It should be $25K max (on a good day) based on size and usable cargo space. The excuse of high battery costs only goes so far once you mass produce something.
- Get out of using metals such as lithium and cobalt in vehicle batteries. Mining those metals is environmentally unsustainable, much like making renewable diesel from palm oil. This looks very bad ecologically.
- Medium-duty and vocational trucks/vehicles. We need more options for medium-duty trucks and vocational (Class 7 and above) trucks for municipal and utility use. There simply aren’t enough options fast enough.
- Off-road and construction equipment. Diesel dominates these markets. We need more investment into this area overall, and more options - really any at all at this point. I don’t count forklifts in this.
- EVSE cost. Level 3 charges are much too expensive. Costs need to be reduced. New technologies could be leveraged to decrease size, increase efficiency, and reduce cost.
- Inadequate planning. Many municipalities don’t have positions or funding to hire or contract out EVSE planning and a long-term acquisition and installation plan. Large cities and counties tend to have planning personnel or subject matter experts (i.e. green coordinators), but smaller government agencies do not. Without a large, multi-year plan for EVSE acquisition and installation to support EVs, a hodge-podge of purchasing and installation will lead to funds being spent in the wrong places or as short-term solutions or political stunts.
- Excessive cost for installation of EVSE. To install a $500 dumb charger, it can cost over 10 times that amount to install it. Depending on what infrastructure is already available at the location chosen for installation, it could be relatively low cost, or very expensive. Even if chargers aren’t being installed or planned for a building, there should be a plan and executed strategy to upgrade electrical infrastructure in all buildings to allow for EVSE installation in the future. Putting that pre-existing infrastructure now is lower cost than in the future, due to inflation and other factors (such as the cost of copper wire).
- Federal and state mandates for EV planning and execution. Sometimes things have to flow down from the top to get done. I think local governments need to be told to plan and execute an EV adoption plan and their needs to be some teeth in it (like not being eligible for federal or state grants of any kind unless you have a “green vehicle plan” and are executing it appropriately and can pass a federal and/or state audit). Give assistance/match funding to them, and audit their plan and progress.
Jaynes, from Tulsa Clean Cities, noted that fleets looking to electrify can reach out to their local Clean Cities coordinators.
"We’re federally funded by Department of Energy and have been laying the ground work for this transition for years. We’re ready to help fleet managers navigate the existing federal, state, and local opportunities and resources, and keep them informed of new ones," she said.