The electric fleet: greener driving, lower costs?
When is it worth switching to electric vehicles? Many fleet operators have probably thought of making the switch. But it is a complex economic and organisational question that is difficult to answer considering the multitude of relevant factors. From now on, a click of the mouse will bring clarity. An app has been available online since summer 2015 that enables companies of any size to calculate the point at which a switch to electric cars in their fleet makes financial sense. It was developed as part of the EU project I-CVUE (Incentives for Cleaner Vehicles in Urban Europe).
Is it worth acquiring electric smart cars for my municipal care service? Can my taxi company integrate the electric B-Class into its small fleet? The questions are similar, whatever the industry sector, and the app has been clearly structured to reflect this. After entering your details into the free online tool (http://dsm.icvue.eu), you promptly receive a detailed breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of using electric vehicles in your fleet. This makes the decision easier and above all more transparent for the fleet operator.
TRADESPEOPLE, RETAILERS, CARE SERVICES AND TAXI COMPANIES
Companies of all sizes can benefit from this tool, from a small workshop to larger medium-sized businesses: “There is no minimum fleet size requirement for this programme,” says Christoph Schimeczek. The physicist developed the tool at the Institute of Vehicle Concepts, based at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Stuttgart, and now manages the project at the site.
Initially, the I-CVUE project was aimed mainly at very large fleets, such as those at parcel companies, in order to create an effective springboard for establishing electromobility in commercial vehicle fleets. But so far the reality looks quite different. The really large fleet operators have already recognised the importance of this subject for the immediate future and are considering carefully for which purposes and in which regions a switch to electric vehicles in their fleet is now worthwhile. “There is a huge need for advice and decision-making, particularly with regard to small and medium-sized fleets, that is being met by our app,” says Schimeczek.
' There is no minimum fleet size requirement for this programme. '
TARGET: TO REPLACE 1,000 CONVENTIONALLY FUELLED VEHICLES WITH ELECTRIC ONES
The participants in the project have set themselves a realistic target of persuading fleet managers to replace a total of 1,000 conventionally fuelled vehicles with electric cars. The list of project partners is a varied one, from various energy agencies, Cardiff University and the Catalan automobile club RACC to Transport for London and the German automotive supplier Bosch. The DLR is participating in the project in its role as the German research centre for aerospace, energy technology, traffic and safety. The DLR site in Stuttgart is home to the Institute of Vehicle Technology, which led the development of the I-CVUE app, as well as to institutes in the fields of construction technology and technical physics and various other fields related to energy technology.
The free app was launched in summer 2015 and has been actively promoted by the I-CVUE since September. Several hundred users have already registered and made initial calculations for a possible transition of their fleet to electric vehicles. “Our decision to keep the design quite basic has been vindicated,” says Schimeczek, “as it allows users to quickly familiarise themselves with the process after registering. They can then see how the app makes it easier to get relevant information that still has a sound scientific basis.”
Operators of large fleets carefully consider what is worth their money.
IMPORTANT FACTORS BESIDES PURCHASE PRICE AND RUNNING COSTS
Before the programme can be a truly useful decision-making aid, the user is required to put in some effort by inputting or selecting data. After all, it is not just the purchase price and the costs of maintenance and energy that determine whether buying and running an electric vehicle makes financial sense. There are many other important factors: the type and number of vehicles in the fleet, the typical usage scenarios and daily routes, the possibility of charging the vehicle using self-generated or eco-friendly electricity from the power grid, financial support from the public sector, incentives in city traffic such as exemptions from congestion charges, tolls and parking fees, and especially the presence of a charging infrastructure.
“All these factors are represented by reference data,” explains Christoph Schimeczek, “but the user can go only as far as they need to so that they can first familiarise themselves with the app.” The developers at DLR wanted to combine a maximum of transparency with a minimum of input. “The data examples that have been collated with considerable effort on our part are not merely processed – with every query the user receives a detailed picture of how the programme has reached its assessment. This makes it meaningful to any fleet operator, and this is how we can build trust.”
POLITICAL FRAMEWORKS COMPETE AGAINST EACH OTHER
The app is not designed to provide a one-off definitive answer, but rather for the ongoing evaluation of electromobility by fleet managers. After all, the operating conditions for electric vehicles are constantly changing, be it due to new grants, improvements to the infrastructure or advances in vehicle technology. Conditions also vary between the participating countries, for example with regard to taxation and grant schemes, but the app developers view this as an opportunity. “It allows us to show politicians which incentives exist in which country and what their real effect is,” says Schimeczek. Other countries can then use particularly successful initiatives as a template for their own.
REALISTIC AND PERSUASIVE SCENARIOS
Initial results demonstrate that for many fleets switching some of the vehicles to electric drive is really worthwhile. One of the areas where electric vehicles can be run particularly economically in Germany, for example, is the care service sector, where providers work in multiple shifts as well as at weekends and on public holidays. Making the switch is also worthwhile for urban taxi fleets. Considering an average daily mileage of around 150km, and with the possibility of recharging during lunch breaks, electric vehicles present an attractive alternative.