Matching the right drivetrain to the right driver is crucial to maximising the benefits of electrification.
Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids can save your company money. However, making the most of these powertrains takes careful matching of the car with its intended use, and also requires drivers to understand how to get the best from the technology.
First and foremost, any car must be fit for purpose, whatever its green credentials and running costs. “The practicality of a vehicle has to come at the forefront of considerations when it is for a business purpose,” says Gary Killeen, the MD of fleet services company LetsTalkFleet.
“Improper vehicle choice can incur higher costs, whether it be through the need to retrofit extras such as added exterior storage or infotainment, or through lost time if extra journeys are made to transport samples or equipment.”
As the number of electrified models on the market continues to grow, it’s easier to find vehicles which can meet the practical needs of a variety of users. However, while an electric vehicle may suit a user with a low daily mileage, it would be inappropriate for someone with regular long drives.
Nick Jones, the director of fleet management company EVP Solutions, says: “It is very important to match the driving patterns with the abilities of the vehicle, because many of the low-emissions alternatives are suitable for urban operations only. Certain vehicles only work well in certain conditions. Similarly, the recharging/refuelling infrastructure is in its infancy, which must also be taken into account to make sure it doesn’t impact on the use of the vehicle.”
THE BENEFITS OF A PHEV
Of course, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) don’t rely on being recharged, but the ability to also run on conventional fuel is a double-edged sword in terms of running costs. “It is not unheard of for PHEVs to be returned at the end of their lease with the charging cables unused,” warns Killeen.
While PHEVs can tackle long journeys without demanding that the driver sacrifice time to recharging, this isn’t getting the best from the technology. While employees benefit from low BIK payments, fuel costs can be higher than they would be for an equivalent diesel.
“Drivers are being incentivised to take these cars from a personal tax perspective. However, whole-life costs can exceed those of a diesel car when the car is driven extensively using its combustion engine,” says Killeen.
Educating drivers as to how to get the best from their vehicle is key, believes Jones: “A thorough handover is important so the driver can understand how to utilise the vehicle effectively. Plug-in hybrids have different running modes and it is important to understand which mode to utilise in different driving conditions.”
“It is not unheard of for PHEVs to be returned at the end of their lease with the charging cables unused”
It also pays to make it easy for employees to recharge EVs and PHEVs at work. “It is important for companies to lead by example,” Jones continues.
By encouraging overnight charging at home, facilitating workplace charging and advising drivers to top up batteries whenever the opportunity presents itself, companies will find PHEVs cost-effective for higher-mileage users, believes Killeen.
He says: “We’ve calculated that among PHEV and diesel vehicles of the same model, where the PHEV is priced at a 10% premium with maintenance included, when accounting for the BIK savings, PHEVs can create significant cost savings when zero emissions miles are used for 15% of their total mileage. Even at 20,000 miles per annum, that equates to 58 miles per week, or charging the battery and using a full charge every other day. Likewise, this is the same as charging the battery twice a week if the driver does 10,000 miles.”
EVS AND BIK
As the range of pure EVs continues to improve, they become a more practical option for users who drive long distances. Combine this with changes to BIK rates next year and EVs are becoming ever more appealing. “Next April, BIK will fall to 0% for full electric vehicles. Demand is expected to skyrocket,” says Killeen.
However, Jones sounds a note of caution, saying: “Waiting lists are long for low-emissions vehicles. The lack of available volume could be made even worse in the UK due to Brexit as EU suppliers will focus volume on EU markets to comply with quota requirements.”
Could this open the door to a diesel comeback, especially as cars which meet the RDE2 standard don’t attract the 4% surcharge applied to other diesels?
Killeen is sceptical, despite the BIK and VED savings of RDE2-compliant diesels. He says: “The prominence of RDE2-compliant diesel cars has the potential to be overshadowed through the rise of EVs and ultra-low emission vehicles. BIK rates are going to fall to absurdly low levels, presenting a very clear price proposition for drivers that would be difficult to turn down. Government support is unlikely to improve for any diesel vehicle either, and support for manufacturers producing PHEVs and EVs likely to only increase.”
As alternative fuels steadily become the new mainstream, it’s up to drivers and fleet managers to make smart choices and maximise their benefits.