How realistic is it to run a ULEV fleet?

I’ve been thinking about this. There’s currently quite a buzz around ULEVs – registrations are on the up and the volume of product is increasing all the time.

(ULEVs, by the way, are cars with CO2 emissions below 75g/km – and ULEV stands for ultra low emission vehicle. You’ll be hearing lots about ULEVs in the future so it’s best to familiarise yourself with this acronym now.)

Every manufacturer new model launch has an electrified version of some sort. There seems to be real momentum behind these green changes.  Which is really heartening.

But how practical is it in real life to run one of these ULEVs on a fleet?

There are four major choices of ULEV available: Electric Vehicles (EVs), Plug-In Hybrid, Range Extender vehicles and Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles.

An EV is one with a plug! Fuelled by mains electricity, the best have a range of over 140 miles. Key choices include the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Kia Soul, Renault Zoe, Volkswagen e-Golf and e-Up! These cars are perfect for business users who want to experience zero emission motoring, however there’s still the issue of range anxiety and availability of charge points.

Plug-In hybrids are the most popular – and here’s another acronym for you: PHEV (that’s a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). Usually featuring a petrol engine, they also have a battery to boost performance so expect a range of at least 350 miles – so there’s none of the range anxiety you get with an electric vehicle, but the ability to use the car in pure EV mode for around 30 miles – often enough for the daily commute.

Typical PHEVs  are the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, BMW 330e and i8 supercar, Mercedes-Benz C350e, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Volvo XC90 T8 and the Volkswagen Golf GTE.

There’s just the one Range-Extender, the recent Best Green Car winner in the SME Company Car of the Year Awards (which we helped support by the way), the BMW i3 94Ah electric car with range extender.

Like the standard i3 it is a pure electric car with a newly uprated 94Ah battery, but in addition BMW adds a 675cc bike engine which charges the battery pack when it gets below 3%. This means you have all the benefits of pure electric motoring, but the reassurance of some 300 mile range.

Last but definitely not least, is hydrogen fuel cell power. Cars such as the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell are powered by a fuel cell stack, which is fuelled by hydrogen that is then turned into electricity. In fact, the only emissions are water. The positives of a hydrogen fuel cell powered car mirror a pure electric car, in the fact that you can drive a truly zero emission car. However at this time, hydrogen cars are expensive and the hydrogen fuelling network is limited at present.

So that’s what’s available. Next step is to decide which of these ULEVs are right for your fleet, including if the infrastructure is there to support your charging or hydrogen needs. This I believe is the key issue for fleets.

So is it viable for your staff just to be able to charge their vehicles at home and at work? Are your staff able to have chargers at home? Are there enough charging points at work for the number of vehicles you’re considering? Or, are there any at all?

Remember, there are grants available for the installation of charging points for home and work.

There’s even a grant available for local authorities, for on street chargers, perfect for staff who don’t have access to the preferred charger locations on a drive or in a garage.  And grants for on-site business chargers.

What about when your staff are out and about? Research suggests that motorist travel an average of just 80 miles per trip, well within the range of most modern electric cars.

Plus, the latest information on the UK’s charging network is positive and these stations are predicted to be more popular than petrol stations by 2020. In fact, some petrol retailers are even considering adding charging areas to their stations, so eventually might be able to charge electric cars in the same way you buy fuel. However, be aware that access to fast chargers is a bit ‘hit ’n’ miss’ in places and the charges confusing.

Of course, fleets don’t do average mileages, so an EV might be right for one of your drivers, but not for another averaging 2000 miles a month.

Finally, is it going to cost more to run a green fleet? These vehicles might be technically advanced, but if you go for a pure electric-powered vehicle, the simplicity of their technology means you should expect financial savings compared to conventional power. A recent study by ‘Go Ultra Low’ went further saying that pure electric drives should expect to save £306 in maintenance. Brake and tyre wear are also noticeably reduced on hybrid, range extender and fuel cell vehicles.

Then there’s the actual operational running costs, the price per litre of diesel and petrol was 122.0p and 119.5p respectively for January 2017 – more if you fill up on the motorway! Yet, if you charge your ULEV vehicle at home, you can expect to pay £3.00 for a full charge, or 2p per mile. Charging at work and public stations is often free and if you have to use the rapid charger network, expect to pay £6.50 for every 30 minutes of charge.

What about other costs? Certainly the leasing industry was wary about underwriting some of these ULEV vehicles but leasing prices are stablising as residual values and running costs are more readily understood. The previous-generation Toyota Prius Hybrid helped change all that and the reliability of the technology has been recognised. As most modern ULEVs retain over 50% of their value over three- years, this results in cost-effective lease rates.

Expect to pay from £350 for a plug-in hybrid car such as a VW Golf or around £365 for a car such as the BMW 330e saloon.

So it is possible to have a green revolution with fleets, it just takes planning.

I’m sure you’ll have some questions so please do not hesitate to get in touch: myself and the Fleet Alliance staff have the experience to help you out, and help you deal with applications associated with charging stations. Call us, and we’ll help you turn green.