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In 2035 – just three vehicle replacement cycles for many fleets – company car drivers will have the choice of getting behind the wheel of a 100% electric or hydrogen model – and nothing else.

That is the stark reality of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement to end the sale of new petrol, diesel, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars and vans in 15 years, subject to consultation.

I have worked in the fleet industry for more than 25 years – most of that as a fleet manager – and now is the most exciting time to be in charge of vehicles.

Day after day, I’m in discussions with fleet operators who are analysing vehicle and driver journey patterns and either introducing electric vehicles or making plans to do so. That includes ensuring access to the vehicle charging network is viable – at employees’ homes, business and office car parks and at public locations.

Fleets already operate among the ‘cleanest’ vehicles on the road and are in the vanguard of driving the switch to pure electric vehicles. Furthermore, manufacturers are striving to bring ever-more models to market.

Yes, lead times on some models are a problem. However, I am confident that as manufacturers realign production and increase output of EVs – as well as hydrogen – that issue will be overcome.

I also hear complaints about ‘gaps’ in the public charging infrastructure across the country. However, new points are being opened all the time and, according to Zap-Map, the total number of locations that have a public charging point installed is currently 10,847, the number of devices at those locations is 17,539 and the total number of connectors within these devices is 30,436. By contrast there are almost 8400 fuel stations across the UK.

“Fleets operate the cleanest vehicles and are already in the vanguard of making the switch to pure electric vehicles”

Additionally, there are concerns, which I appreciate, as to how drivers who live in flats or houses with no off-street parking recharge will charge their vehicles.

It is all too easy to put obstacles in the way of change and for fleet decision-makers to retain the status quo. But, many fleets have accepted that electric vehicles are the ‘here and now’ and are a perfectly viable operating option – in many cases.

There will be ‘bumps’ along the road as fleets’ transition to 100% electric vehicles. But bold decisions are being taken and many decision-makers are taking a phased approach: Introducing electric vehicles where appropriate; looking to cease orders for petrol and diesel models in the mid-term; and enforcing an ‘electric vehicle only policy with allowable exceptions’ – for example where home charging is an issue or drivers are deemed high mileage.

Company Car Today - Green Company Car - Guest Opinion - Caroline Sandall, Chairman, ACFO - Charging Locations and Connectors over the Last 12 months

Furthermore, drivers are pushing to get behind the wheel of electric vehicles with company car Benefit-in-Kind tax at 0% in 2020/21, rising to just 1% in 2021/22 and 2% in 2022/23.

We are also witnessing, at long last, greater corporate controls over grey fleet usage – including prohibition of own-car use on business trips by drivers – and, due to low Benefit-in-Kind rates, employees who moved away from company cars returning.

Additionally, light commercial vehicle fleets are, in many cases, analysing journey patterns and looking to introduce ‘return to base’ solutions so that charging can be undertaken.

What ACFO would like to see from the Government in the Budget on March 11 is a long-term package of measures that supports the switch to electric and hydrogen vehicles. That includes retaining BiK tax rates at low levels and pledging to continue the Plug-In Car and Van Grants for at least the next few years to underpin growth of an embryonic, but rapidly expanding, market.

Even with grants, it is clear that fleets are accepting that there may be a short-term operating cost increase over previous fleet profiles. But it is a price they are prepared to pay.

Fleet managers fundamentally believe that now is the time to compile plans, make changes and charge towards electric power. So, 2020 and beyond really is an exciting time to be a fleet manager.

 

CAROLINE SANDALL

Co-chair, Association of Fleet Professionals