Charging ahead: Six top tips for adding electric vehicles to your fleet

Fleets accounted for the majority of electric vehicles (EVs) sold in Britain last year. Here, we round up top tips from experts at PHS Group and First Bus for readers interested in joining the EV fleet revolution.

Charging ahead: Six top tips for adding electric vehicles to your fleet

Image: PHS Group

EV adoption in business fleets is accelerating. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirmed late last year that three in four EV registrations are now attributable to fleets rather than to individual motorists, with organisations of various sizes and sectors looking to decarbonise and reduce air pollution.

But this does not mean that EV adoption is without its challenges. To help answer readers’ pressing questions surrounding EV adoption, edie partnered with PHS Group to host an online masterclass on the topic.

This 45-minute event, first broadcast in January 2024 and now available to watch on-demand, included presentations of real-world case-studies on EV integration on fleets operating across the UK. Vehicles ranging from cars to vans to buses were covered.

There was also a Q&A session, in which expert speakers from PHS Group and First Bus imparted their insightful answers to common questions and concerns.

Here, we round up six of the key calls to action from the event for those looking to develop and implement leading electrification strategies with multiple business benefits.

Click here to watch the entire event on-demand.

1) Build a strong business case full of win-wins

PHS Group’s fleet manager John Hole kicked off the webinar, explaining that the business had seen a range of benefits from EV adoption beyond emissions reductions that support its 2040 net-zero goal.

These include lower vehicle maintenance costs and less unplanned time off road, partly because EVs contain fewer moving parts than petrol and diesel options; avoided costs from inner-city emissions levies; improved driver comfort and reduced fuel costs.

At one location with four EVs, PHS Group recorded a saving of around £1,300 within a month due to the price difference between diesel and electricity.

John and the other speakers on this webinar all emphasised that, while the upfront cost of a new EV may be higher than a diesel, and while businesses do need to make an initial investment in charging infrastructure, payback periods are getting shorter.

They can be made shorter still through co-funding in strategic partnerships, and through efforts to enhance operational efficiencies.

2) Choose your vehicles wisely

Fleet managers will need to consider the range their EVs need, taking into account driving patterns including hours and whether they are working on more urban or rural routes.

On urban routes, charging infrastructure is likely to be more readily available, and regenerative braking likely to be most effective, for example.

As EV models improve and charging becomes more rapid, range anxiety is becoming less of a concern, the webinar emphasised. This concern is now most pronounced for rural routes, where options with extended ranges may be needed.

John and his co-presenter Faizan Ahmed, decarbonisation director at First Bus UK, both said their business did not need to split or change routes.

Faizan made another key point on vehicle selection, stating that selecting only a few automakers and models can simplify the process by keeping parts to a minimum.

He said: “You might have a diversity of suppliers. As you move towards electric, it’s a good opportunity to simplify and start from scratch and consolidate.”

3) Make data-driven decisions on charging and operating vehicles

First Bus UK is in the process of shifting its entire fleet of 4,500 buses to zero-emission options by 2035. Around 600 will be electrified before this summer.

Faizan said it was important to take an early delivery of the business’s first EVs, so data could be collected assessing vehicle performance on routes before buses started taking paying passengers.

The PHS team agreed and added that data collection should not stop at trials. The business uses telematics systems to track driver performance in real-time and provide support where needed. It also uses a charger system with smart digital technology, capable of comparing the cost per vehicle per depot based on factors such as routes travelled and energy tariffs.

John said: “With our diesel fuel, we get a lot of intelligence from our fuel supplier – and we wanted the same rich data from our EVs. We use chargers that have a really good back-office system that enables us to interrogate data.”

4) Don’t neglect staff engagement

While data-driven decisions can drive efficiencies, it is also important to maintain a human touch. Drivers will likely need short training courses to adapt to EVs and will also likely have questions about things like changes to working patterns and company policies on charging.

PHS’s sales director Natalie Morden noted that fleet managers should not assume that drivers can charge at home. Their homes may not have off-street parking and/or they may live in a town without a public charging hub that is covered by their employer’s charging payment plan.

“It’s important that you have that conversation and make those considerations in advance,” Natalie said, noting that ever-more businesses are doing this.

This is an opportunity to frame EV adoption as an opportunity for staff rather than a burden. Staff which may have previously had to drop off the company vehicle at a depot may be able to go straight home if their employer can support home chargers, for example.

Some staff, it was noted, will already be on-board as “EV advocates” and can help to share this information and energy with colleagues.

“Find a driver who is enthusiastic about EVs and they will be your ambassador for your depot or even your wider business,” John advised, noting that frontline staff will likely see fellow drivers more often than strategy teams at head office.

5) Consider cross-function collaboration within your business

Speaking of staff engagement, the webinar outlined how and why fleet or sustainability managers should map out which internal functions need to be involved in the EV transition from the outset.

EV adoption will likely require the involvement of senior management, real estate strategy, site managers, procurement teams, engineers and innovation units, plus HR. HR will be crucial to home charging point installation decisions; should staff only qualify after a certain length of service? What happens to their home chargers if they move to another employer?

Natalie also raised the importance of engaging risk management teams as well as assessing existing contracts with landlords and insurers. These experts may advise or require planned preventative maintenance clauses in contracts, or the installation of safety systems like thermal imaging or fire suppression.

6) External partnerships can help to unblock bottlenecks

All three speakers discussed the importance of engagement externally as well as within and across the business. This can present new opportunities to unlock innovation and boost brand awareness and perception, and can also be paramount to overcoming challenges that involve multiple players.

Natalie, for example, discussed how PHS had overcome challenges with home charging for drivers in apartments and terraced homes by working with local councils to establish communal charging ‘hubs’.

Faizan spoke about PHS Group’s work with other businesses to make the most of its charging infrastructure. As its buses charge in depots overnight, other organisations with the need to charge during the day can share the use of their chargers. First Bus UK has partners including Openreach, Police Scotland and DPD to this end.

Click here to watch the entire event on-demand.

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