The Evolving Fleet Professional for an Electrified Future
Over the last decade, technology has emerged that can make fleet management a little easier – think telematics, dashcams and integrated fleet management platforms. Electrification is a different story. The next 10 years will likely make a fleet manager’s job more complex, and that means fleet managers will need to develop new skills and approaches to navigate the electric era.
“A fleet manager’s job is already complex. Introducing a completely different propulsion system magnifies the difficulty,” said Maria Neve, a senior fleet electrification and sustainability executive and NAFA senior vice president. “It’s not just replacing vehicles on a one-to-one basis – introducing EVs requires a robust change management program with rock-solid support from the top down.”
What will it take to navigate the electrified future of fleet? Neve recently shared some of the biggest changes to be prepared for, the skills needed to succeed and how to develop them.
Establishing a Charging Infrastructure
“Charging infrastructure is one of the biggest changes for fleet managers, especially for on-site charging,” Neve said. “Utilities need to be brought into the discussion at the beginning when a fleet is looking to transition to EVs. The last thing anyone wants is for EVs to sit in the parking lot waiting for the infrastructure to be completed.”
Here’s an infrastructure crash course:
- Bring the utility into the discussion early on.
- When selecting a charging infrastructure provider, be aware of their capabilities for charger management, reporting and servicing.
- Make sure charging information can be transferred to a fleet management company or fleet management information system so you can accurately calculate total cost of ownership (TCO).
- Determine who is responsible for charger uptime and servicing.
Training and TCO Calculations
Charging vehicles is new territory that will require fleet managers to teach operators how to drive and charge EVs and to become knowledgeable about home, public and workplace charging.
Neve said charging makes calculating TCO for EVs more challenging.
“Calculating vehicle costs on a [cost per mile] basis becomes an exercise in research, especially if home charging is part of the equation,” Neve explained. “Employee 1 may pay $0.09 per kWh of electricity while Employee 2 pays $0.12 per kWh. How does an organization capture the information to reimburse for home charging? If they don’t capture that info, then fleet managers can’t properly account for operating costs, and employees are paying out of pocket when they didn’t previously with internal combustion engine vehicles.”
Here’s a crash course on charging:
- Take time to teach operators how to drive and charge EVs.
- Become knowledgeable about and understand the differences between home, public and workplace charging.
- Determine how to calculate TCO for EVs.
Internal combustion engine vehicles have approximately 2,000 moving parts in their drivetrains. EVs only have around 20. While performing maintenance may be simpler on EVs, finding maintenance providers could be difficult.
“Not all dealers will be certified to work on EVs initially. Fleet managers should be prepared for the possibility that their preferred dealers aren’t EV service centers,” Neve said. “If we’re talking about medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, the choices are even more limited.”
Here’s a maintenance crash course:
- Ask your preferred maintenance provider about their EV capabilities.
- Research maintenance providers who are trained to work on the specific vehicles in your fleet.
- Don’t forget to involve upfitters in discussions about electrification and maintenance.
Managing Up and Down
The shift to electrification puts fleet managers square in the middle of leadership, who are eager to convert to EVs but may not understand the complexity involved, and drivers who don’t want things to change at all.
“Senior management will wonder why the whole fleet hasn’t been converted to EVs in six months, while drivers may be incredibly resistant to give up what they are familiar with,” Neve said. “The ability to handle rapidly changing circumstances is key, as is the ability to communicate those changes.”
Fleet managers must be even more strategic as they conduct EV assessments and plan their replacement cycles.
“Looking out five to 10 years is now common, and understanding what EVs will be available and when is vital to fleet electrification,” Neve said. “Light-duty fleets have more EV options available than medium- and heavy-duty fleets right now, which makes electrification difficult for fleets that can make the biggest difference in CO2 reduction.”
Honesty, Enthusiasm and Advocacy
Neve said fleet managers must be the biggest advocates of change and demonstrate that attitude to drivers. “An electrification program is destined to fail if fleet managers don’t proactively address how much EVs will change the work lives of drivers. They must be champions, cheerleaders, therapists and educators to ensure a successful transition.”
Developing EV Fleet Management Skills
Neve said one of NAFA’s key initiatives is providing education on the latest advancements and best practices in fleet management, including fleet electrification.
Fleet managers can develop skills to manage EVs through NAFA’s educational offerings and annual Institute & Expo. NAFA’s Professional Certificate in Sustainable Fleet Management is an excellent example of available education that covers overall fleet sustainability, not just electrification.
“Fleet managers should take advantage of all methods of education: webinars, conferences, community forums, their fleet management companies and consultants,” Neve said.
Back to Basics
For fleet managers who feel ill equipped to take on fleet electrification, Neve has good news.
“It all comes back to Fleet Management 101,” she said. “If a fleet manager understands the basics, they have the proper foundation to cope with the changes that alternative powertrains are bringing to the industry. Things are changing very quickly – what we knew about vehicle electrification six months ago is likely outdated now. Being a part of an association like NAFA helps fleet managers to stay on top of things.”
About the Author: Shelley Mika is the CEO of Mika Ink, an Omaha, Nebraska-based communications, branding and content strategy firm. She has been writing about the fleet industry since 2006.
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