In a world of rapid technological change, it can be difficult to know when to buy and when to hold. Everyone working in road logistics today knows that some big changes to how we do business are coming down the line: barely a day goes by without a newspaper story on the growth of electric vehicles. In the consumer space, Tesla enjoys a share of media attention out of all proportion with its market share; in public transport, the electric bus market has recently been enjoying a 100% compound annual growth rate; and we can be sure that commercial vehicles, too, will go down that same road.
This is not, of course, a moment too soon. In the context of climate change and the impact of air quality on human health, it is vital that all industries take a serious look at what they can do to make sure that they are part of the solution. With some 32% of transport greenhouse gases in the UK being produced by haulage and delivery vehicles, there is a huge opportunity – and responsibility – for the road logistics industry to do its part.
Nonetheless, if you’re a fleet manager it’s easy to feel like going electric is something of a gamble. The capital cost of the change – as with any vehicle purchasing programme – is significant. What if you make the decision just before a new, significantly improved technology becomes available on the market? And how do you know that the vehicles’ real-world performance will match expectations?
In my view, there are four factors that dictate whether low-carbon automotive solutions are ready for adoption in any given sector, and working back from these can help decision makers ask smart questions about their own business.
The first is evident: is the technology ready? Vehicles have to perform to a standard as good as or better than the existing fossil fuel based solution, and while urban delivery vans may be a viable option for electrification, the technology isn’t yet there for long-distance heavy goods vehicles. We can expect a mix of energy sources to be in play for the foreseeable future.
Second, do the economics work out? While this question can sometimes be a simple one to answer based purely on the necessary capital expenditure, taking into account how different the operating expenses of electric vehicles – in terms of both charging and maintenance – can make this a complex process.
The third is political: if there are policies in place to incentivise EV purchase and use, or government plans to expand EV infrastructure, confidence that these will continue into the future is important. This is, of course, difficult for an individual business to influence, but research on the issue can make the difference between adopting and waiting.
Finally, the question of infrastructure covers not just publicly-available charging points, but also the business’s own charging solution. How much charging capacity you need, and what existing assets can be leveraged to help deliver that capacity, needs to be managed alongside the introduction of new vehicles.
When working through these to assess how and when you can start the transition to electric vehicles, don’t forget that there is a huge amount of expertise and advice you can draw upon in the EV ecosystem. Once you’ve identified where you are on the journey to electrification viability, it’s time to start talking to OEMs, parts suppliers, and local authorities about how to make it happen. When the prize is a low-carbon economy, we’re all in this together.
By Julie Furber, vice president of electrified power, Cummins