If U.S. consumers are reluctant to buy electric vehicles because of high sticker prices and limited battery range, wouldn't commercial vehicle fleet owners and operators be even less likely to buy EVs?
Nope, they are more likely to buy, according to several players in the fleet world.
"We see EVs as a big growth area ahead for fleets," says Ricky Beggs, managing editor of Black Book, a market and residual-tracking service.
Beggs, who works closely with vehicle fleet planners, says many fleet managers have been eagerly awaiting more production of electric vehicles because of the potential savings in fuel costs and because of corporate edicts to reduce their carbon footprint.
Fleet buyers are famously price-sensitive in acquiring vehicles, preferring pickups with roll-your-own windows and no air conditioning, for example. And commercial vehicle usage would seem to require ample driving range, not time-consuming battery recharges.
Not so, testifies Paul Seger, vice president of asset remarketing for GE Capital Fleet Services.
"The purchase price of the car is not the only part of our cost equation," Seger says. "If you save money on the cost of fuel during its life, then it becomes whole new equation for businesses."
Also, electrics do not require oil changes and have no engines, exhaust systems or engine fluids to replace or repair.
GE finances and manages commercial fleets for businesses around the country. It now operates a Vehicle Innovation Center in Eden Prairie, Minn., where it maintains an array of electric vehicles, from cars to garbage trucks, to show customers that EVs make sense in commercial applications.
And as for battery range, Seger says that in many cases fleet operators often ask for less battery power, not more. It is not unusual for a delivery truck to travel only 15 miles a day on an established route. So why pay for a battery system that delivers 75 to 100 miles a day, they ask?
So-called "tethered fleets" make defined delivery and pick-up runs, then return to a central depot where they get a regular battery charge.
EV battery maker A123 Systems also forecasts greater electric fleet use, says Jason Forcier, vice president of the company's automotive solutions group.
A123 supplies the batteries for several passenger vehicles, including the Chevrolet Volt and the Fisker Karma, as well as for Mercedes-Benz and BMW. And that business continues to hold promise, he says.
But Forcier adds: "Medium-duty truck fleets are a great potential, going forward."