Looking to Accelerate Fleet Electrification After COVID-19? Start with a Hybrid

July 29, 2020

In partnership with: XL Fleet

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When the world eventually reaches the point where we are looking back on the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, there will be many lessons learned when reconsidering our approach to a wide range of global challenges. One such issue that is understandably overshadowed by the health and economic implications of the Coronavirus is the extent to which our forced reduction in automotive travel is having a positive impact on the environment.

It is no secret to anyone reading this article that our transportation choices have a distinct impact on the health and stability of the planet. But the speed with which once hidden skylines suddenly came into view, and CO2 emissions levels dropped to near post-World War II levels, was remarkable to many – even those of us in the cleantech sector who have dedicated our careers to the pursuit of those reductions.

It is no secret that our transportation choices have a distinct impact on the health and stability of the planet.

While many metro areas have already seen emissions return to near pre-COVID 19 levels, the long-term takeaway for many will be clear. We not only have an opportunity to choose a different path forward when it comes to our transportation choices–we have a responsibility to do so. And our ability to drive that change is more within our reach than we may have ever realized.

The Hybrid Road to Fleet Electrification

While commercial and municipal fleets have clearly adopted electrification as a major part of their strategy for achieving these goals, there are still significant challenges, including high capital cost, insufficient infrastructure, and lack of product options, that are keeping fleets from moving forward with large numbers of battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

As a result, demand for hybrid electric (HEV) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) fleet options has continued to increase. These readily available solutions provide immediate fuel economy and sustainability value while overcoming the most pressing challenges of their all-electric counterparts.

  • No charging infrastructure required. Hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are self-charging, using regenerative braking to supplement the power of the internal combustion engine, which burns less fuel thanks to the hybrid assist. While plug-ins do leverage external power sources, they are not dependent upon those sources to operate the vehicle, so standard level 1 or level 2 chargers are sufficient for providing their additional power.
  • Reduced capital and operating costs. While federal or state incentive programs are typically needed to purchase even a single battery electric commercial fleet vehicle, HEVs and PHEVs can be purchased at a fraction of the cost, delivering immediate value, and lowering operating expenses over time. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids do qualify for a wide range of state incentives throughout the country, but are substantially more affordable options, even without utilizing those programs.
  • Readily available vehicles and applications. When hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric drive solutions are offered as aftermarket upfits, they can be quickly installed onto a wide range of popular fleet vehicles from multiple OEMs. This means they are not only faster to market – they can be added to many of the most popular fleet vehicles already in use. This creates continuity for fleets and familiarity for drivers. In addition, these vehicles continue to leverage an internal combustion engine, so there’s no range anxiety to consider.

Demand for hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric fleet options has continued to increase.

With immediate fuel economy and sustainability results and fewer barriers to entry, commercial and municipal fleets throughout North America are adopting HEVs in large volumes today. One of XL Fleet’s first customers, a major consumer beverage company, has deployed nearly 300 vans with the XL Hybrid electric drive system. Since 2012, they have reduced CO2 emissions on those vehicles by 20% and realized a cumulative MPG improvement of 28.8%, saving over $2 million in fuel costs.

Benefits like these have helped drive considerable demand among fleets looking to electrify their vehicles in the near term–especially those chasing aggressive sustainability targets.

Driving Sustainability Forward

Electric vehicles have dominated the fleet news over the past one to two years, with an exciting lineup of vehicle concepts announced over that time. OEMs and startups alike have communicated their intention to manufacture all-electric product options as part of their portfolio, which is exciting for the many fleets who are interested in BEVs. However, as delays from COVID-19 add to the existing challenges of bringing these vehicles to market, many fleets may be left wondering how they can move the needle forward on meeting their near-term sustainability targets.

Many consider hybrids and plug-in hybrids to be a bridge to an all-electric future, they are actually accelerating the transition.

While many consider hybrids and plug-in hybrids to be a bridge to an all-electric future, they are actually accelerating the transition to these vehicles. They are quietly helping to propel the industry forward by offering several advantages that can hasten BEV adoption as those technologies and supporting infrastructures continue to develop.

  • Immediate results with longer-term demand. Adopting commercial HEVs and PHEVs now can help drivers, maintenance teams and fleet managers become accustomed to operating and maintaining electrified vehicles immediately, creating further demand for electric powertrains down the road.
  • Strong installation and service capacity. Aftermarket electrification providers like XL Fleet have built comprehensive networks throughout North America where customers can buy, install and service their electrified vehicles from the same location – often from the same dealer or upfitter they’re already working with.
  • Greater charging efficiency. A single EVSE station can often charge multiple plug-in hybrid vehicles in the same time required to fully charge an all-electric vehicle. This maximizes shift efficiency and can help defer costly power system upgrades needed to build out a facility’s infrastructure to the point where it can fully support a BEV fleet.

Commercial and municipal fleets have become far more proactive and public about their sustainability plans. To make immediate progress toward those goals many fleets are adopting hybrids and plug-in hybrids now.

The ease with which HEVs and PHEVs can be deployed today is helping more the industry forward.

Another XL Fleet customer, a major west coast utility, has achieved a 22% MPG improvement and a 16% CO2 emissions reduction on their 110 hybrid service vans that were converted in 2018. Even without the infrastructure needed to adopt all-electric vehicles today, the company has clearly demonstrated its commitment to sustainability without disrupting operations or breaking their budget.

The ease with which HEVs and PHEVs can be deployed by fleets today is helping move the industry forward with greater speed and efficiency.

An Electric Future Has Already Begun

As the commercial transportation industry slowly evolves to adapt to a future in which electric propulsion is the norm and not the exception, hybrid and plug-in hybrid fleet vehicles will remain an integral part of most fleets’ sustainability plans for the foreseeable future. They are widely available, easily deployed, and are making an immediate sustainability impact – especially when replacing older, traditional gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Hybrid and plug-in hybrid fleet vehicles will remain part of most fleets’ sustainability plans for the foreseeable future.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to fleet electrification, which is a good thing when considering the wide range of options that are currently available and those that will eventually be coming to market. Most organizations will continue to leverage a mixture of electrification technologies in their fleets, giving them the flexibility to deploy the vehicles based on the applications and drive cycles that suit them best.

When considering our ultimate goal of curbing the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by transportation, it’s comforting to know the road to sustainability has many lanes to get us there.

To learn more about the potential of hybrid technology for fleets, be sure to tune into the upcoming virtual discussion with XL Fleet, “Every Part Counts: Upfits & Retrofits in Electrification,” during ACT Virtual on October 6 at 10:25am. Learn more and register at act-virtual.com.