How Fleets Will Propel The Consumer EV Market

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By Heather Flanagan

High-growth electric fleet markets owe much to the consumer EV movement. However, it will be fleets — from commercial to rideshare and transit — that drive the scale benefiting all electrified transport.

Luxury SUVs, sporty coupes, and high adventure pickup trucks are driving strong interest from consumers, as both traditional and startup vehicle makers launch exciting electric vehicle models over the next year. However, upmarket EVs are only the tip of a very large transportation electrification iceberg.

The e-mobility market is moving rapidly into non-consumer vehicle arenas that seemed entirely out of reach when the first commercial BEV, the 24 kWh LEAF, rolled off Nissan’s assembly lines a decade ago. Fleets are where the action is, and they are set to change the EV landscape with a speed and breadth that the passenger vehicle market could have never done alone. 

From delivery vans, heavy duty trucks, transit and school buses, to garbage trucks, ride hail and autonomous mobility services, electric vehicles will move people, goods, and services in a growing number of ways. Fleets don’t confine themselves to roadways either, as electrification efforts are also expanding in material handling, port vehicles, construction equipment, and mining trucks, as well as airport and recreational vehicles. 

Just as motorsport acts as a testbed for vehicle innovation, such as the partnership ABB* forged with the Formula E racing series, fleets have become the catalyst for applying the earliest e-mobility technology in a broad range of real-world use cases. There would likely be no 550 kWh Class 8 truck in 2020 if not for the successes of the early production EVs from Nissan, Tesla, and GM, and their influence on batteries, as well as the EV supply chain.

Over the past decade, lithium-ion battery prices have dropped almost tenfold while energy density has tripled (BNEF). Though, batteries are not the only factor pushing EV markets at scale. Every component of vehicle electrification requires a healthy supply chain and experienced industry players. The rapid growth trajectory for electric fleets began with the early passenger EV models.

The charging infrastructure segment is also growing across the supply chain, from battery to charger, along with the digital intelligence that enables every vehicle-to-charger and charger-to-network connection — while improving every business case that the data threads together.

Southern California Edison is building a fleet charging program at their Irwindale, California facility. Daimler’s Freightliner eCascadia gets 175 kW from an ABB Terra HP high power charging system.

Why are fleets a key driver for the development and expansion of e-mobility?

The not-so-secret sauce is utilization. A typical passenger car vehicle in the US might travel around 12,000 miles per year, but a transit bus or Class 8 truck will see up to five times that usage. Consequently, reliability, longevity, and associated maintenance costs are on an entirely different scale for fleet owners.

Electric vehicles are superior to their combustion engine counterparts in terms of both cost and emissions. They are more efficient, cheaper to operate, cheaper to maintain, and longer lasting while boasting zero emissions and low noise. During the second half of the 20th century, electric motors displaced combustion engines across every industrial process for the same operational advantages that EV drivers are realizing now.

An individual EV owner may save more than a thousand dollars annually on fuel and maintenance costs over a comparable combustion vehicle while reducing their individual carbon footprint. For a fleet of a thousand round-the-clock buses, trucks, or rideshare vehicles operating at 50,000 miles per year or more over the course of ten years, the savings escalate quickly into the millions.

The most exciting part about this continuum of EV progress is that it’s not a one-way street from compact car to Class 8 truck (or 6 kW AC charger to 600 kW overhead bus charger). Those critical early years of EV development paved the way for fleet electrification, which is now primed to deliver the gift of large-scale electrification back to the passenger vehicle market through lower development and material costs while driving innovation.

Advances in transportation electrification are not limited to the vehicles and their chargers

The entire electrification chain that connects the charger to the grid has energy management demands that can be mitigated by tech, such as smart charging software and battery energy storage systems (BESS). These technologies can reduce costly infrastructure investments for a busy, multi-outlet, high-power roadside charging site, a mega-warehouse facility hosting hundreds of last-mile delivery vans, or a transit depot built for fuel-based buses that must now be fitted for large battery buses in all-day service. Yet as these use cases grow, they mutually drive standardized solutions that make these complementary technologies commercially viable.

ABB’s EV infrastructure business, along with the rest of the industry, has spent the last decade developing and deploying a range of charging technologies for cars, trucks, buses, vans, and now a diverse array of non-road vehicles. With that experience, ABB is working at the forefront of fleet charging, installing charging systems across a spectrum of use cases.

Examples of ABB’s fleet electrification projects in North America:

  • Volvo LIGHTS: A Southern California project aimed at transforming goods movement by introducing zero-emission electric trucks and equipment into the market.
  • Edmonton Transit Service (ETS): Charging system to support a 40-bus fleet with 26 overhead 150 kW charging units innovatively installed inside the transit depot.
  • TriMet:  With plans to go all-electric by 2040, TriMet partnered with Portland General Electric (PGE) to deploy wind powered buses using 450 kW ABB overhead pantograph systems for opportunity charging and 150 kW depot chargers for overnight charging.
  • Ryder System: Ryder, ABB and In-Charge Energy are partnering on packaged solutions designed to reduce cost and simplify fleet electrification.
  • Toronto Transit Commission (TTC): Depot charging systems for TTC’s Green Bus Technology Plan that includes more than 300 electrified buses.
  • Southern California Edison: A fleet electrification project in support of utility equipment transport, with ABB high-power high-voltage chargers to serve Class 8 e-trucks.

… to name a few. Consumers choose vehicles based on lifestyle, performance, and often upfront cost, while fleet buyers are more focused on lifecycle duties and the bottom line. Despite these differences, both sectors will electrify in unison and benefit symbiotically while our communities will benefit from cleaner air, quieter streets, and new economic opportunities driven by continued innovation.

*This article is supported by ABB. Photo provided by Southern California Edison.

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