For fleet managers in the UK, electric vehicles are a significant challenge. With increasing pressure to provide ‘green’ transport and meet CO2 targets, there is a lot of misinformation (or “fake news”) around and it’s not always easy to find the answers you need.
Many drivers are attracted to plug-in hybrids, such as the popular Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, due to tax loopholes. On paper, PHEVs have a low CO2 and therefore low tax band. Best of both worlds then? As the glossy manufacturer ads would have you believe, the plug-in hybrid is the green-dream: All the benefits of driving electric without the daunting disadvantages of facing range anxiety and costly charging infrastructure.
But the reality is that in real-life plug-in hybrid cars are, for a significant number of fleet managers, operating predominantly outside of their economic efficiency zone.
Having in-built technologies for ‘both worlds’ means that the PHEV is a complex piece of machinery (more to go wrong, therefore an increase in risk of downtime and maintenance costs). Carrying an electric motor, battery, internal combustion engine and a fuel tank, it’s also a very heavy one. (When the battery is flat, the engine is carrying the equivalent of a boot load of luggage).
Operating a fleet of PHEVs, unless plugged in regularly, and at all opportunities (generally after every 20-30 mile journey), you are very likely to suffer increased operating costs – specifically fuel bills – as a result, and will incur early termination charges when returning such vehicles to leasing firms ahead of the end of the contract (with the charging cable still in pristine condition in the boot).
Psychologically, having the comforting reassurance of a fuel engine, that you’re used to driving with, means that the driver will often maintain their traditional routine of frequenting the petrol station to fill-up rather than adapting a new regime of plugging-in wherever, and whenever possible.
The fleet manager’s responsibility must be to educate drivers when providing this vehicle-type, as well as ensuring there is adequate and practical charging infrastructure in place. Relying on drivers to charge the vehicle adhoc at public charging stations is not an adequate provision.
As with any electric vehicle, plugging it in is an essential part of using it, so charging at home is often the most convenient solution. Due to the short electric range capability of PHEVs, this should also be supplemented with charges throughout the day. Therefore a workplace charging station should be accessible. This often requires a rota basis to be managed for multiple users.
At DriveElectric we always advise our clients that PHEVs do not suit high-mileage users. PHEVs can be a cost-effective choice where drivers cover only moderate mileages; but only if the cars’ batteries are recharged regularly.
When not deployed properly, these are the MOST polluting vehicles.
Data (collected from TMC) shows how PHEVs would attract the top rate of company car tax in three years’ time if they were assessed on their real emissions instead of on laboratory test results. The firm analysed seven PHEV models and found the vehicles in the sample achieved an average of almost 45mpg compared to their advertised average consumption of 130mpg. This equates to average real-world CO2 emissions of 168g/km – compared to 55g/km from the cars’ advertised emissions and an average of 159g/km seen for diesels.
Advancements in diesel engine cleanliness and filtration means that modern diesel vehicles emit far less CO2 and damaging particles than ever before.
In short, deploying PHEVs is not at all a straightforward decision for fleets. A robust PHEV deployment policy is essential, as is the provision of adequate charging facilities.
If you’re not yet ready to adapt and support EV drivers, then you’re better off sticking to low CO2 petrol and diesel options. If you are ready, then you’re better off opting for zero emission, full electric battery vehicles. The PHEV? A wolf in sheep’s clothing…