Banding together to go electric

For consumers, the choice between replacing the family car with an electric or gas-powered vehicle often comes down to one factor: cost. But for businesses and public organizations with fleets of trucks, cars and other vehicles, price is just one of the considerations, according to PICS-funded research.

Bassam Javed, a PhD candidate at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, recently completed Bulk Buy Program: Sourcing Zero-Emission Transportation Options for Small- to Medium-Sized Fleets, a PICS Fast Track project. Also a policy analyst for Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Richmond, BC resident surveyed and interviewed about 70 organizations with smaller fleets — those numbering up to 50 vehicles.

“How do we get more electric vehicles into fleets that aren’t using them?” he says, explaining the key question of his study. “It’s happening very slowly, but what levers can we pull and what sub-segments of fleets can we target to get more electric vehicles on the road?”

In addition to price, Javed says, the key factors in organizations’ decisions whether to replace fossil fuel-burning vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs) include:

  • timing — when a fleet switches out old vehicles for new;
  • infrastructure — whether an organization can accommodate the chargers and other equipment associated with an EV fleet; and
  • usefulness — whether EVs are available that have the carrying and towing capacity as well as charging range suitable for an organization’s needs.

The latter factor is especially critical, Javed says, and involves common perceptions — or even misperceptions — that, for example, gas-fuelled cargo vans can’t currently be replaced by EV alternatives. He notes, however, that his research showed the vast majority of survey respondents used their vehicles, such as cargo vans, within cities and less than 200 kilometres per day.

“What that’s telling me is that the majority of cargo van users — as a matter of fact, most of the vehicle categories we looked at — can go electric right now. There are options available at the moment or very soon, within the next two to three years,” he says.

Price remains a key consideration, and that’s where Javed notes a group or bulk buy program — in which multiple fleet owners pool their purchases to create buying power and get cheaper vehicles — could prove powerfully attractive to small fleet owners.

Bala Venkata agrees. He is the zero emission vehicle fleets advisor at Plug In BC, a program of the Fraser Basin Council that works with government, industry, academic institutions, EV owners, NGOs and utilities to advance the uptake of electric vehicles. Venkata says anything that helps fleet owners transition to EVs is a positive, “and a bulk buy program can potentially help.”

EVs are “the way forward,” Venkata says. “They’re genuinely good at the work they do and might prove beneficial in many other ways — not just environmental benefits but, also, monetary benefits.”

Read the project’s final report here.