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Adding EVs to your fleet is relatively simple, but when your needs are more exact, such as rescuing others or training drivers, it can be a different matter. Tristan Young looks at how these fleets are preparing for 2030.

 

Assuming the Government doesn’t change its mind, come 2030 the only new cars and van you’ll be able to buy will be ones you have to plug in. Yet not everyone has an obvious solution yet.

Rescue services face difficulties. These fleet vehicles need to be ready to help others as soon as possible, they don’t have standard routes or even distances, and towing is often involved.

Beyond the recovery services and police vehicles, there are also the fleets that need to tow or reach remote areas off-road, plus the likes of driving training organisations.

At a glance, driving schools should have an easy time switching to EVs.

RED, which trains around 70,000 drivers a year, has a fleet of 1300 vehicles, the majority of which are Renault Clios, but the business is already testing EVs.

Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School, says his business will adapt: “We will be ready for 2030 ahead of time, but some questions of implementation still have to be addressed.”

The two main issues are around charging for those instructors that can’t do so at home and for learners looking to learn in a manual car, because EVs are automatics.

“If an average RED car does around 30,000 miles a year, that equates to approximately 130 miles a day working. It might seem a lot, but the nature of the work is extremely predictable: you’re always starting from the same place (home, so ideally you can charge overnight), and lessons are mostly moving around a local area, often at slow speed.

“So electric cars, most of which can now do 130 miles a day on a single charge easily, will be excellent as learner driver vehicles. We’ve been testing a Renault Zoe for some time and it has proved perfectly capable in this regard.

“We don’t envisage a ‘big bang’ switch to electric, though. There are a few reasons for this: the current cost of EVs, and we don’t feel that public charging during the day is an option for a busy RED driving instructor. So, for an EV to work effectively in our business it must be charged overnight, but many of our instructors do not have the luxury of a private driveway to recharge the vehicle.

“This is a significant issue in our EV adoption plan, but as on-street charging comes on stream, or more high-speed charging is available first thing in the morning at public chargepoints, it will become more viable.

“The other thing about our fleet is it must fit with customers’ needs. There’s no point us training drivers in cars of a type they will never drive once they have passed. So if it comes to the point where learners are all going to be moving into EVs after passing, we must reflect that, by moving to EV in the learning phase.”

McIntosh believes RED will be run a dual ICE and EV fleet for many years, but “if the EV demand accelerates, then our transition to electric will match that”.

The AA, which has its own-brand driving school as well as BSM, has also been testing EVs and reports similar issues.

Edmund King 2021AA president Edmund King explains: “Our trail covers whether they are suitable for learner drivers and indeed our trainee and full instructors. We also need to consider whether the range is suitable for a full day of lessons, whether there is appropriate fast charging within the catchment area and whether instructors need charging facilities at home.

“The other part of the research is whether new drivers want to learn in an automatic, because all EVs are automatic. In various surveys we have conducted, many respondents said they preferred to learn in a manual car even if they were going to own an automatic ‘in case they needed to rent a manual car in Spain’. In 2015, 45,000 learners passed their test in an automatic out of a total 723,000 passes overall. By last year the automatic learners had almost doubled to 80,000 out of 734,000 passes. Instructors will need to consider when they make the switch.”

While charging and manual gearbox issues should be overcome during the transition to EVs, for breakdown service operators the issues are larger.

RAC’s head of technical James Gibson doesn’t yet see a solution for recovery businesses, despite extensive research.

Electric police

Police Scotland has already made plans for 2030. As far back 2009, and before Scotland’s separate forces were merged into one in 2013, it ran a Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Keen to trial EVs and keep abreast of new tech, fleet EV program manager Billy Andrew then added a Nissan Leaf in 2011 and in the next 18 months should have around 800 EVs on fleet out of a total of 3500 vehicles.

These vehicles are all unmarked cars, typically for CID roles.

However, it’s the charging infrastructure that is the issue for Police Scotland’s EV adoption.

“We approached the Scottish government with a proposal for 1000 charge points – most are dual-socket. They funded us £21 million for infrastructure as part of a three-phase plan,” says Andrew.

In the first phase, around 50 sites will be fitted with charging points across the central belt of Scotland.

The vast majority of EVs on fleet are based at a set location which makes charging easier, however, Police Scotland does also use Chargeplace Scotland.

The second and third phases in Andrew’s plan will entail charge points being installed in the rest of Police Scotland’s premises.

As for the roll-out of EVs, this is not on a set timetable, because Andrew takes feedback from drivers about how they would and do fit with needs. Having said that, he expects the vast majority of the fleet to be EV in advance of 2030.

Some of the latest EVs to join the fleet are 180 Hyundai Konas and his advice to other fleets looking to switch to EVs is to test and keep up with new technology and use multiple sources for information.

“We’ve tried lots of cars from several manufacturers and we like working with existing partners because of the relationships we have – particularly with workshops and the dealers. But we’ve also looked at how Norway, which is ahead of the game, is moving to EVs.”

One of the issues is the same as that for driving schools – drivers may not have off-street charging capabilities.

However, carrying heavy loads is a bigger issues for EVs – plus the current need for recovery vans to tow stranded cars that can’t be fixed at the roadside.

“We’re very limited by what’s available commercially. So until the OEMs produce a van that is up to specification, our path on that journey is quite limited,” says Gibson.

“The more weight you’re carrying, the less range you’re going to have, but there isn’t a vehicle available commercially that will carry the weight we’ve got in the vans.

“We talk to manufacturers and share our specifications and our wishlist, it’s a little bit of a waiting game for when are we going to get something out.”

One solution RAC is considering is to have separate towing vehicles from those that fix cars at the roadside. Gibson says: “The alternative is that we change our operating model. So, we don’t have a van that can both tow and can change wheels. And we look at it from an operational point of view and do things differently. And obviously, that’s a bigger change for us.”

There are a couple of positives about a potential switch to EVs for recovery vehicles, according to Gibson. “We would see less downtime for servicing. Our vehicles tend to spend a lot of time ticking over and doing short journeys, which is not great for a diesel engine, so electricity handles that really well.”

The AA is facing exactly the same issues. King explains: “For a number of years we have been looking at potential zero-emission alternative vehicles. Ten years ago we piloted two Peugeot Expert Vans converted by Allied and some of our London-based patrols experimented with electric motor scooters. Neither solution worked particularly well. The range on the scooters was an issue and meant each patrol needed two scooters so that at least one was charged. The van also had a very short range when full of kit and struggled with towing.

“In the past three years our search has intensified and we are in discussions with a number of manufacturers regarding our exact requirements.

“We are also considering whether there are zero-emission alternatives for some of the other vehicles in our service that don’t need to tow.”

He adds: “From our ongoing discussions we are pretty confident we will be able to source an appropriate EV van before 2030.

“The Government is currently consulting on whether 2040 (or earlier if a faster transition seems feasible) is an appropriate date for phasing out new fossil-fuelled vehicles greater than 26 tonnes. While this deadline is undeniably some years off, there are no zero-tailpipe-emission HGV vehicles currently on the market which would match our recovery needs. The jury is still out whether the zero-emission answer will be hydrogen fuel cell, battery electric or some sort of synthetic fuel solution.”
Tristan Young