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Electric dreams becoming reality, research finds

Date: 07 October 2021   |   Author: Sean Keywood

A report from The AA and Rivus Fleet Solutions suggests fleets are increasingly getting to grips with electrification.

Fleets have moved on from considering EV adoption as a philosophical question, and are now far more concerned with the practicalities of it.

That's according to AA president Edmund King, who during a webinar held to mark the launch of the 2021 Operational Fleet insight report by The AA and Rivus Fleet Solutions, discussed some of its findings from surveys and interviews with fleet managers.

Among the report's headline findings were that 67% of fleet operators were expecting to be using EVs within the next five years, compared with 28% currently, while the number of fleets using diesel vehicles in some form was expected to drop from 77% to 54% during the same period.

Reflecting on how the reports' findings have changed during the time in which it has been published annually, King said: "When we started these reports back in 2016, widespread EV adoption did seem a bit like future gazing. It was just the kind of anorak-type early adopters, but that has changed. 

"We are now on the cusp of a real revolution, real changes, and our research is telling us that fleets are now grappling with the practical implications of this."

Among the report's other findings was that 84% of fleet managers believed the range of EVs on the market had improved over the previous 12 months, compared with 71% a year earlier.

King also noted a perhaps surprisingly positive outlook among fleets regarding the UK Government's plan to ban new petrol and diesel car and van sales by 2030.

He said: "There was some concern about the speed of adoption required to hit the 2030 target. However, despite that 72% actually agree with the 2030 ban. 

"Also, there's perhaps more widespread pragmatism that we can actually move towards that deadline now that we know the deadline, and can plan for it."

Among the practical concerns mentioned by King is charging infrastructure, and this was one of the few areas mentioned by the report in which the trend was not wholly positive.

King said: "Charging, it's fair to say, is a key challenge to EV adoption, and actually the number of respondents citing this as a barrier increased slightly this year.

"However, for those that have already adopted EVs, they are more positive about infrastructure improvements, maybe because they have seen it in person, with 84% agreeing there are more charging points than a year ago. So, a bit of a mixed picture there, but some progress made."

Overall, King said fleets seemed to have a wider grasp of the potential holistic benefits of electrifying than they did previously.

He said: "There really is an increased focus on whole-life costs. On the reduced servicing and maintenance that's required and the consequent decrease in downtime. 

"Also perhaps an acceptance EVs will have better whole life cost than petrol or diesel, and all these perceptions have increased significantly in positivity since last year."

The AA and Rivus report does not exclusively cover the electrification of fleets, with other issues looked at including the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

King noted that from a fleet operation perspective, the effects of this varied greatly depending on the specific industry involved.

He said: "If we look at the impact of the pandemic . for me what was really interesting is the way it was divided up into thirds. 

"It positively impacted some groups of industry - IT, telecoms, retail, home delivery and manufacturing. 

"It negatively impacted others, particularly transport, logistics, construction, and obviously things like aviation, but also in the middle, about a third as well, it was a kind of neutral effect." 

Despite pandemic-related restrictions now having eased in the UK, the report found many managers surveyed said potentially positive changes to fleet operation they had adopted would continue. 

King said: "Now most lockdown restrictions have been lifted there is almost a sense of the new normal among fleet managers. Not exactly the same as it was, but various traits are coming back. 

"And around 50% of the decision makers now view their pandemic changes as actually remaining for the long-term, and many actually see those changes as potentially beneficial."

King said these included people working from home, providing more flexibility, and added: "Also, many changes could have a beneficial impact on fleet finances, employee satisfaction, and indeed the environment with fewer miles driven, less congestion." 

King did note however that with the effects of the pandemic apparently receding, there is still no shortage of challenges for fleets to deal with.

He said: "Some of the new concerns are around vehicle supply, problems with raw material issues we are hearing more of, and obviously we can't overlook the driver shortages that are affecting everyone at the moment. 

"There are still some post Brexit challenges that still haven't completely settled down. All in all the report throws up some very interesting issues for us to look at."

The webinar also included a panel discussion around the report's findings and related matters, with contributors including National Grid fleet manager Lorna McAtear.

She said a good approach for fleets facing challenges was to try to turn them into positives by taking advantage of opportunities they might open up.

For example, she said: "I'm taking advantage of the fact I can't get vehicles at the moment to make sure my workplace infrastructure is up to speed, because it is always going to be chicken and egg in terms of supply versus demand. Have I got enough chargers for my vehicles, and have I got enough vehicles so that my chargers aren't sitting idle? 

"Because one of the things as a fleet manager is how do you balance the cost - the last thing you want is a stranded asset. 

"It's taking all your information and using that now as an opportunity to get things right or catch up on some of the other things you had to pause on." 

When asked for advice for electrifying fleets, McAtear said: "Have a plan, but don't panic. If you don't need to change that vehicle yet, don't rush out and change for the sake of it. 

"Have your plan, and know when your end date is, so I've set one up for 2030 - [but] I don't have a solution for my 4x4s yet. 

"They're in my plan, and I know I'll be reviewing in 2023-24 because I've been talking to manufacturers and know when they are likely to be coming out, but there is no point panicking about those ones now when I can't do anything about it."