Are you throwing away fuel savings? How to manage fleet PHEVs

For many fleets, Plug-in Electric Vehicles, or PHEVs, are an appropriate entry-level strategy for reducing fleet emissions and fuel use. But only if they are used as intended.

Unfortunately, PHEV operational management that doesn’t include charging policies to encourage battery use over fuel use can lead to a laisse-faire approach from drivers. In this situation, drivers increasingly rely on the convenience of petrol or diesel as the main mode of propulsion rather than using them as a back-up for a predominantly electric mode of transport.

That situation needs to change if fleets are to gain the returns on PHEV investment that can be realised if PHEVs are used properly.

“Which all sounds great,” many readers will be thinking, “but high intentions don’t always match operational reality.”

It has to be acknowledged that ensuring PHEVs are being driven as much as possible on their batteries isn’t easy. There are policies around charging that need to be adopted to make predominantly battery driving possible and to change the habits of drivers.

The problem with PHEVs

It has to be stated that PHEV technology doesn’t make it easy for busy fleets to prioritise battery driving. Whereas almost all EVs can rapid-charge, most plug-in hybrid electric cars cannot. This means charge times are too long for most fleet PHEVs to charge during the working day – anything from 3.5 to 7 hours. This problem is further compounded by PHEVs having smaller batteries than an EV, so you’re taking longer to charge and getting less range for your efforts.

This explains why a survey of 648 Mitsubishi PHEV owners in NZ found that 95% charge primarily at home (overnight).

The solution for PHEVs

One way of effectively maintaining sufficient charge in a PHEV would entail a 1:1 charger/PHEV ratio at home base, so managers could mandate that all parked PHEVs are also plugged in. But this seems an extravagant and inefficient solution, especially when there are technologies that will communicate the real-time battery levels of fleet EVs and PHEVs to managers.

By deploying appropriate tech alongside buying in PHEVs, managers and drivers will be able to see at a glance the battery levels of vehicles and plug them in, if necessary. This simple and expedient strategy would ensure PHEVs are being topped-up during the day without impacting on operational agility. Of course, there will be occasions where a vehicle doesn’t return to base during the day and inevitably shifts over to the fossil fuel powertrain, but this would be the exception, rather that the default mode of operation.

Another option would be to support home-charging for vehicles that employees keep overnight. This could be included in your Vehicle Use Policy (VUP), alongside keeping the vehicle clean and checking lights. Some power companies even offer reduced or free charging during off-peak time periods.

If charging company vehicles at home is something you are considering, you need to be aware of an employer’s obligations. An industry leader in charging solutions that we spoke to, We.EV, uses a comprehensive checklist for home charging that ensures the integrity and safety of the system [Link to doc on home charging], although what’s required may put some fleets off the idea of home charging.

Is a change in attitude required?

One of Smartrak’s clients has an employee who is so taken by PHEVs that he regularly drives for a month without ever using fossil fuel. Instead, he plans each day to include battery top-ups at the sites he visits, or to coincide with rest stops. This employee is obviously taking exceptional care to reduce fuel use, but he is an example of planning ahead rather than relying on just-in-time fossil fuel fill-ups. To make the most of PHEVs, habits need to change. Ensuring a PHEV has sufficient charge should be second nature, just like topping up your phone.

Is it all worth it?

Yes, fully utilising a PHEV’s capabilities is proven to deliver significant fuel savings. Real-world data drawn from 620,000 PHEVs by the European Environment Agency showed that driving a PHEV in battery mode for 75% of the time brought fuel efficiency up to an impressive 152 mpg. Whereas spending just 25% of driving time in battery mode brought fuel efficiency down to just 51 mpg.

You also should consider why you decided to include PHEVs in the fleet in the first place. If lowering fleet emissions is one of your goals you’re going to fail with PHEVs predominantly driven in fossil fuel mode. Research indicates that PHEVs typically produce 3.5 times more emissions than previously thought, mainly because they are spending too much time driving out of battery mode.

If you want to find out more about the solutions that help you to better manage fleet PHEVs, speak to a Smartrak specialist in lowering emissions today.

Australia contact Rob Horton:
ph: +61 438 958 213

New Zealand contact Karan Bhatia:
ph: +61 21 872 741

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