Fleet Electrification: Will Your Company Plug In?

Fleet Electrification: Will Your Company Plug In?


The Tesla Roadster has been around since 2008, the first electric vehicle of the modern area. But, with a six-figure price tag it hardly represents the type of vehicle most people can afford to buy.

First EV Wave

The Nissan LEAF (pictured) and Chevrolet Volt are the first of the mass production electrified vehicles hitting the market this year. Next year, Ford will have a Transit Connect EV and a battery electric version of its Focus compact to sell and Coda Automotive will introduce its first car, an electric sedan, later in 2011.

Production will be low for most models, likely limited to the low tens of thousands at most for now. High costs, recharging considerations and consumer interest will keep demand low, but that isn’t stopping some corporations from promising to add electric cars and hybrid models to their fleets.

Corporate, Government Purchases

Indeed, several utilities have pledged to purchase electric vehicles and, in my area, the city of Raleigh has said that they will be doing the same. The utilities, of course, stand to gain through the increased use of electric power while cities such as Raleigh are trying to promote their recharging station infrastructures. Likely, Raleigh also sees the opportunity to attract businesses interested in relocating to a city with a progressive electrification strategy in place.

The big news in November 2010 was the announcement by General Electric that it will buy 25,000 electric cars, converting half of its fleet to electricity by 2015 as reported by Autopia. GM will benefit from GE’s announcement, contributing nearly half that number in the form of the Chevrolet Volt. That car goes on sale in December; GM says that it will build 10,000 units in 2011, but will increase output to 45,000 in 2012.

GE, by the way, builds charging stations and is working with A123 Systems to develop lithium-ion batteries. GE also builds the equipment that supplies one-third of the world’s electricity.

Fleet Electrics

With vehicle electrification suddenly a reality and with major companies getting onboard, what will small businesses and fleet operators be doing over the next few years as they update their fleets?

Likely, most won’t be as aggressive as GE to convert half of their fleet to electrified vehicles within the next four years as production will be limited and costs high.

Shawn Duffy, who previously worked in fleet management offered his opinion about fleet electrification saying, “I cannot see how a responsible company would consider this type of vehicle at this point from a practicality standpoint. With such high costs and short range on cars like the Leaf, none seem worth it for fleet use. Get a fleet of Fiestas or Elantras.” Cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Elantra are less than half the cost of comparable electric vehicles with rebates.

Agreeing with Duffy’s position is Jonathan Dater, who works in the semiconductor industry. “They (electric vehicles) are not economically viable, or sustainable, or practical. They might work in small schemes like in London town by reducing pollution (transferring the pollution to power stations, somewhere you have to produce the electricity to run them).” Dater also mentioned Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson who reportedly has said that electric cars are, “good only for parting the smug from their money.”

These are tough words, but they underscore a problem with electric vehicles: they cost a lot of money.

Fleet Realities

We’re just now beginning to exit a deep recession and companies are trying to get back on their feet. Spending more money than what is reasonable isn’t likely to happen — when companies do decide to update their fleets, look for Duffy’s suggestions to be the norm, rather than the exception.

Photo courtesy of Nissan USA


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Categories: Product Reviews

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".