Merchants Fleet Pivots To Help Fleet Managers Electrify Their Fleets

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Fleet managers live and die by total cost of ownership calculations and are struggling to wrap their heads around the risks and opportunities that come with electrifying their fleets. Sales charts paint rosy pictures of typically higher up front vehicle prices offset by a long tail of savings in fuel cost and maintenance, but sales guys are masters of painting out beautifully predictable charts that always lead the customer over to where the grass is always greener.

In the real world, transitioning a fleet of vehicles that businesses live and die by to a fleet of modern, fully electric vehicles does present an opportunity to save some serious cash over the life of the vehicles. On the other hand, there are pitfalls for fleet managers who charge in without fully taking the nuances of vehicle financials, maintenance cycles, and charging into account that can cause unnecessary pain.

With that quick backstory, we were thrilled when fleet management company Merchants Fleet, reached out to see if we wanted to look at what they’re doing to make it easier for fleet managers to convert their fleets to fully electric vehicles.

Disclaimer: Merchants Fleet paid for the authors travel and accommodations to attend the Fleet Summit.

Right out of the gate, Merchants Fleet CEO Brendan Keegan cast his vision for a fully electric future in an opening keynote that made it clear that electric vehicles for fleets aren’t just a fad. In many fleets, the financials on electric vehicles have already passed the tipping point, making them the low cost, highest uptime solution for fleets today. Brendan shared that in the next 2-3 years, electric vehicles will become the obvious choice for the vast majority of fleets as costs continue to fall.

Stealing a phrase I heard from an attendee, electric vehicles are at the point today that determining whether or not electric vehicles are a good fit for fleets is more of an IQ test to see if the fleet manager understands his or her numbers because it’s just that obvious.

With the total cost of operating an electric fleet better than or very close to parity with combustion vehicles, Brendan made it clear that the time to start planning a transition to electric vehicles is now. Buying new vehicles is easy, but charging is probably the most critical piece of the solution for fleet operators and represents a completely new way for fleet managers to think about fueling up their fleets.

Some vehicles can charge overnight at the truck yard, some will need to utilize fast charging at a central depot, while others may need a dedicated network of en route fast chargers. There is no one size fits all and Merchants Fleet saw this right away. To truly understand the challenges and opportunities of charging, they installed a handful of chargers from some of the key charging network operators at their headquarters.

Where they make sense today, a phase in program makes sense and that takes work. Merchants Fleet partnered with a handful of large public charging network operators to make it easier for customers to find a charging partner that works best in their specific situation. Vehicles get the most attention when it comes to converting fleets to fully electric but charging is often a massive piece of the project that’s not sexy and often overlooked.

At the Fleet Summit, Merchants Fleet hosted a handful of their vendors including GM’s Brightdrop, Chevrolet, Ford, XOS, Phoenix Motorcars, Electric Last Mile Solutions (ELMS), Lordstown Motors, EVgo, as well as a ton of other vendors in the traditional fleet support space. As a special bonus, they brought in a healthy selection of passenger vehicles like the Polestar 2, Porsche Taycan, Volvo XC40 Recharge, Tesla Model Y, Audi etron quattro Sportback, and the Hyundai Kona EV for attendees to try out.

Attending the Fleet Summit and listening to Merchants Fleet CEO Brendan Keegan made a few things crystal clear to me. Fleet management might not seem like the most cutting edge slice of the transportation world, but they are keenly connected to the metrics that keep their business moving. They have all heard of electric vehicles and while the jury may still be out for some of them, many fleet managers have already started piloting electric vehicles.

Early adopters in the fleet space are already going all in on electric vehicles with plans to completely phase out their combustion vehicles. Higher uptime, lower fuel costs, lower maintenance costs paired with falling vehicle prices make it a simple matter of time until all fleets are fully electric.

The numbers just make too much sense. It’s like free ice cream day. People are going to start lining up out front. The only question is: how long will the wait be. And that right there is the key. With the economics behind electric fleet vehicles being so solid, demand is expected to far outstrip production capacity. Brendan didn’t mince words about it when talking to fleet managers, saying simply that they needed to get their orders in. You’d expect that from the guy selling electric vehicles, but the thing is, he can also sell them combustion vehicles.

Merchants Fleet has been in the space for decades and Brendan sees electric vehicles as the future. He’s planning for it, putting in orders with some 40,000 orders for electric vehicles for the coming years, and ultimately, he’s betting the future of the company on electric vehicles. It’s a long term play with near term consequences.

It’s going to take a village to move everyone along to the fully electric future and as a long time advocate for electric vehicles, it is personally very exciting and satisfying to see another champion truly leading the charge towards fully electric fleets. He has a bold vision for fully electric fleets and is charting the course into the unknown for his company and the fleet managers they support.

The future is electric. The future is now.

All images credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1649 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field