Suyog Deshpande from Samsara believes that four key fleet postions will drive change toward electrification, and outlined how each plays a role in the transition.  -  Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

Suyog Deshpande from Samsara believes that four key fleet postions will drive change toward electrification, and outlined how each plays a role in the transition.

Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

This year’s Fleet Forward Conference delved more into the realities and challenges facing fleets as they electrify. It’s a longer, more phased process than anticipated, as the early adopters are discovering.

As the wow factor fades, the how-to-how-do push emerges.

Electrification Challenges

In a kickoff session on Nov. 9, Empowering Your People to Take on Electrification, Suyog Deshpande, product and partner marketing leader at Samsara, outlined three primary challenges for fleet electrification:

  1. Ambiguity: It’s a big change which has not been done before, with different goals.
  2. Siloed teams: Electrification won’t happen overnight and for years fleets will include a mix of ICE vehicles and EVs, which will require specialized drivers and dispatchers and different systems for tracking and managing vehicles. It will be hard to combine all into one platform.
  3. Change management: New rules and responsibilities will affect a fleet’s day-to-day work. How does a fleet operation manage mixed fleets? How do they integrate them into daily operations? What happens when a fleet is fully transitioned?

Leading Roles for Electrifying Fleets

Deshpande explained how the connecting links toward electrification are the people in the operation who will drive the change. That boils down to four key roles: Electrification manager, fleet manager, dispatchers, and drivers.

Electrification managers are at the forefront of the transition. They identify and strategize overall electric vehicle opportunities for a company and work with stakeholders on emissions targets, and what types of methods, standards, and techniques work best.

Fleet managers will need to handle the most change in daily operations, minimize distractions during transitions, make sure vehicles managed properly, and track KPIs that they report back to the organization.

Dispatchers and drivers work on the front lines and face the biggest challenges in adapting to electric vehicle jobs. What can fleets do to reduce anxiety and ensure the employees develop EV friendly driving habits?

Phasing in the Fleet EVs

These roles must implement an electrification plan in phases, Deshpande explained.

In creating a plan and crafting strategies and goals, the two key people are the electrification managers and fleet managers. E-managers assess the gaps for charging, look at all EVs, and find which ICE vehicles need to transition. They consider the long-term focus of overall infrastructure planning and partnerships.

Meanwhile, fleet managers are thinking about the implications of strategy, and how it can be seamless. They must balance emissions, operations, and ensure a smooth transition.

As part of the transition, fleet managers must set up onboarding procedures in their operations. They must ensure that at the start of the day the fleet is ready to go. Working with drivers and dispatchers, they should focus on scheduling the vehicle charging. “They are moving from range anxiety to range awareness,” Deshpande said. “People on the front line are worried about adequate charging. You empower them with the right tools and products, so they don’t worry.”

Then electric fleets need to scale up as they deploy more vehicles. Electrification and fleet managers create a centralized hub to combine all insights and analyze and apply data. They track progress on their long-term goals. They can apply insights and procedures to other parts of their businesses.

Since the phases and roles are intertwined with overlapping responsibilities, they require team connectivity all in one place.

Bringing EV Drivers Onboard

In a succeeding seminar, The Future is Electric: Simplifying EVs For Your Drivers, John Donahue, the vice president of electric vehicle product strategy for Fleetcor, advised on how to become an “EV evangelist.”

Many decisions about changes must be made on shifting sand amid the pressure of external forces, Donahue said.  “What is total cost of ownership today versus 18 months from now? he asked, citing taxes, incentives, range, availability, equipment, and infrastructure. Many questions lead to a new set of challenges.

With drivers, the goal is to create range awareness to overcome the anxiety that is one of the top barriers to electrification. The challenge is to get the same data from the same sources with different charging scenarios. That starts with a charging strategy and learning how and where to plug in the EVs, he said. “Think beyond what we do today.”

The multiple charging scenarios — work, home, public, on road — all influence drivers and costs. That means fleet managers must get involved in parts of the organization they haven’t been in before. “Put the driver at the center of the decisions. Focus on the user experience,” Donahue advised.

The electric vehicles and charging options must fit the role and needs of the driver. You cannot interrupt their ability to do their job. The vehicle serves as their office where they plug in their phone and use the same tools and functions as in an ICE vehicle.

“How long does the driver need to be charging during the duty cycle?” Donahue asked. “By focusing on the variables and outcomes, we can better understand how to put together the charging scenario.”

Fleet managers should figure out the charging times needed for the Level 1-3 chargers and how those can be integrated into duty cycles to maximize drivers’ transportation term versus stationary time. At Fleetcor, for example, one analysis showed 11,000 charging events among 82 vehicles, where 70% of charging happened in private locations on Level 2 chargers.

John Donahue, VP of electric vehicle product strategy for Fleetcor, advised that managers determine how to integrate charging times into duty cycles to increase efficiency.  -  Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

John Donahue, VP of electric vehicle product strategy for Fleetcor, advised that managers determine how to integrate charging times into duty cycles to increase efficiency.

Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

“As you put together your charging scenario, you need to think where you are getting the energy and how much time it takes,” Donahue said. “Employees will charge when and where they need to, but you build best options and scenarios available that are cost and time efficient. You change the charging strategy or expectations of what employees will do in the duty cycles.”

Among the findings: Fleets were not getting the energy needed by plugging it in at the house; Level 1 v. Level 2 charging usage had the same energy requirements but differences in times; 100% public charging is more expensive that fueling ICE equipment; Level 2 was 20% cheaper over six months than the Level 1/home scenario.

Centering EVs on the Drivers

Fleets must make the vehicle work for the driver and not the other way around to give them confidence about range anxiety and avoid worrying about which charging network to use. “You establish trust: Sending vehicle home is big act of trust. If employers and employees don’t trust each other, this falls apart very quickly.”

In many ways, the process reflects the same values as for ICE fleets: Remove friction for drivers, continue to build trust and transparency for private charging scenarios, set up a single payment system and method.

Foremost, fleet managers should choose EV drivers who want to participate and not force them.  “You need collaboration with drivers and make sure they are educated and understanding the why. Making drivers part of the process,” Donahue said.

GM Develops All-Electric Journey

In a related keynote panel, GM’s Holistic Path to an Electric Future, Ed Peper, the U.S. vice president of General Motors Fleet, joined Steve Hornyak, CRO of BrightDrop, Michelle Calloway, director of strategy and growth for OnStar Business Solutions, and David Worthington, fleet manager of Santa Clara County, to share some real-world experiences and goals for fleet electrification.

GM is striving toward an over-arching outcome of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion as electric fleet vehicles lead the way in embodying the clean energy, data and smart safety features that define the all-electric future, Peper said, referring to the effort as “Triple Zero.”

“Transformational change is happening like we’ve never seen before and is underway at GM,” which sold more than 200,000 EVs in Q3, the highest ever, he said. EVs could exceed 50% market penetration by 2030.

Under the Ultium EV platform, batteries, motors, and drive units can all be reconfigured for all types of vehicles, from a small crossover to a delivery van.

In 2022, the pain point has been charger accessibility. GM is investing $750 million in infrastructure in the U.S. where each dealer will have 10 fast-chargers in their markets to increase adoption. GM is investing $35 billion in EVs/Avs and will introduce 30 new Ultium-based EVs by 2025. A new business unit, GM Energy, is providing energy management solutions that involve charging 360 for home and commercial locations.

Calloway explained how telematics coming into the EV space can improve efficiency and lower overall TOC. “A big part of the EV experience is charging and how we use data to reimburse it and pay for electricity. The vehicle can be a source of truth to get reimbursement. As vehicles out on the road access public charging, how can we use vehicle and plugging so you can pull up and charge and it’s paid for on one integrated payment and charge solution?”

Worthington added, “We are living in a transportation renaissance time, and have gone farther and faster in last 100 years than in the last 5,000 years.”

The Fleet Forward Conference offered a ride and drive, where fleet managers could take the newest EVs for a spin.  -  Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

The Fleet Forward Conference offered a ride and drive, where fleet managers could take the newest EVs for a spin.

Photo: Ross Stewart, RMS3Digital

A Large-Scale Electric Vehicle Fleet Strategy

The GM session was followed by an interview, Think Big, Act Bigger: Parsing FedEx’s 2040 ZEV Strategy, where Bill Cawein, the global technology and integration manager for FedEx Express, detailed the company’s electrification journey that started a decade ago. FedEx transitioned to electric fleet vehicles at a time with few available energy services and had to grow its own infrastructure and charge base across the U.S. and the globe.

“When we set out on this, commercial electrification was new, requirements were not understood, and we had to focus energy on how we design facilities, so they were most conducive to flow of operation,” Cawein said. “It all starts with going into a location and doing site assessments on seeing which are best.”

The utilities did not completely understand what commercial fleet electrification looked like, he said. FedEx Express experienced trial and error in trying to identify the type of supply issues they were running against and dealt with questions from utilities on the stability of the electric load. One example of a key challenge was the planning and expense of trenching for added electric cables and equipment.

FedEx worked with all EV OEMs in running its 56,000 vehicles globally at the time and needed to find a strategy that could scale to EVs for a large fleet.

“GM reached out to us about closed door conversations about new business and we were ready to listen, understanding what GM could bring to the table in terms of volume production,” Cawein said “It was an ideal match when checking all the tipping point boxes. We worked out a deal to be that customer.”

FedEx Express had to do its homework with factoring in route planning and analysis and build systems based on fleet components and infrastructure.

“We found a high number of routes in the 150-mile range band,” Cawein said. “Range anxiety was not even a factor. You can appreciate EVs more without that concern.” FedEx Express has found in the last few years that Level 2 chargers can harness charge rates suited to fleets.

Cawein predicted one of the biggest challenges to fleet electrification will be in the Class 7 and 8 area, especially with charging infrastructure. FedEx Express’ goal is to reach 50% electric vehicle purchases in 2025 and 100% electric by 2030.

“For those vehicles doing shuttling and other middle mile aspects, they don’t need a charger at all times,” he said. “We’re not relying on public charging.”

For maintenance, FedEx Express employs its own EV technicians who work in company-owned maintenance bays. The operation continues to develop and refine its training programs for the technicians to be certified in EVs as it overhauls the shops to offer the proper tooling and equipment and safety.

To balance its fleet usage and energy consumption, the company uses energy management software that can scale up or down based on real-time operations, Cawein said. “Tools are becoming more available on how to appropriately manage the different charge rates for contractors and specific operations.”

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