In 2009, XL Hybrids opened for business with a plan to add small batteries and electric motors to some larger work vehicles used by fleets. Think Ford F-150, Ford Transit, Chevrolet Express or GMC Savana.
Today, the company won't say how many vehicles it has electrified, only that more than 50 million miles have been put on XL's upfitted vehicles. XL's electric package was successful enough that the company introduced a plug-in hybrid option in early 2017 and is gearing up to offer full electric modifications when the economics work out. All of these electric options require talking to fleet managers about new technologies, refueling methods and cost-cutting steps.
XL Hybrids CEO Tod Hynes said adding electric power to work vehicles doesn't just help fleet managers save money — around 20 percent less fuel use with the hybrid, 33 percent with the plug-in hybrid. It could pave one road to broader acceptance of plug-in vehicles among the general public.
"For a commercial vehicle owner, they may have 50 or 100-plus vehicles plugging into the same facility, and that can create some real challenges," he said. Solving the fleet charging problem is "something that I think can eventually transfer over to the consumer market. Some of our commercial customers may put in charging infrastructure to charge their vehicles at night and those could be available during the day for consumers. That would help expand the charging infrastructure in a way that's different than what's happening now."
A good example is Ikea, which last month announced it will electrify its fleet of delivery vehicles and has invested in XL Hybrids. Installing lots of charging stations at Ikea stores would not only work to charge up the delivery trucks, but would offer customers a way to recharge their electrified vehicles while they shop and eat meatballs.
Today, electric fleets come in many sizes and shapes. Electric passenger buses are gaining in popularity from large and small players alike. A city in Norway ordered 25 all-electric Volvo buses in September — the largest ever for the automaker — while BYD offers seven models and sold more than 20,000 electric buses in China last year, its share of the estimated 115,000 sold there in 2016.
On the smaller end of the spectrum are the all-electric passenger cars used as taxis or work vehicles around the world. More than 150 Tesla vehicles are used as taxis around Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, for example, and General Motors' Maven Gig short-term rental service offers Bolt EVs for Uber and Lyft drivers in seven cities around the U.S.
Those little steps will add up. Lyft announced this summer that, starting in 2025, it plans to offer a billion rides each year in autonomous electric vehicles. A new global initiative, EV100, is a "club" organized by the nonprofit Climate Group in September that companies can join by making public commitments such as integrating EVs into their fleets or installing charging infrastructure.