There have been some negative ideas, fears and deliberate untruths floating around about electric cars and trucks. Some were legitimate while products were evolving, and others have begun fading into the fake news landscape as progressive organizations wrap up successful pilot tests and begin placing bigger fleet orders.
Frito Lay has 280 fully electric trucks; DHL has 45; and New York City has 389 fully electric vehicles in its fleet. Pacific Gas & Electric also has several hundred. They are inexpensive to operate, quieter, healthier and better for the environment.
There are more than 600,000 fully electric or hybrid cars in the U.S. Until recently, there were more hybrids being sold than fully electric cars, but, during 2016, sales of all-electric began to outpace hybrids (about 87,000 vs. 73,000). Tesla has been making fully electric cars for 15 years. It introduced the affordable Model 3 last year — which was a huge success — resulting in about one half million orders to date. Production began this year in July.
GM, Ford, Daimler, Volvo, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen — all of the world’s largest car makers in Detroit, Europe and Asia have spent millions developing modern electric cars and trucks, and have made numerous launch announcements in the past few years.
Three key developments have been driving the shift: affordability, longer driving range and state government policies. As usual, money is the most powerful factor. Like solar panels before them, vehicle battery costs have dropped dramatically, completely changing vehicle economics and disrupting the 100+ year dominance of the internal combustion engine.
Asked about battery costs, Kash Sethi, director of sales for Motiv Power Systems says, “I think we’re looking at a steep decline at least for three to four years.” He estimates that in 2017 vehicle batteries cost $400-$500 per kilowatt/hour. Some industry people cite even lower numbers.
The success of Tesla, and similar companies, is becoming impossible to ignore, and governments continue to tighten emissions regulations and offer incentives on electric vehicles. For example, a Chevy Bolt has a starting price of about $37,000, but after the U.S. federal tax credit, this drops to about $30,000. On top of that, 16 states and utilities offer a variety of cash incentives, plus parking, tolls and retail sales tax exemptions. These can be more generous on vans and trucks.
Some of the early innovators have come and gone, but vans are making a comeback. Since around 2010, fleet managers have been quietly pilot-testing hybrids, propane and fully electric cars, vans, trucks and buses.
There is increasing agreement that hybrids, propane and natural gas are transitional. “The consensus at all the shows and conferences is that these are stepping stones to the end game, which is electric,” says Mitchell Yow, CEO of Torque Trends, a systems integrator in the city of Surprise, Arizona. His company has developed “a true bolt-on package for the Ford F-150 that uses the same mountings and holes with no cutting or welding. With the 40-kilowatt package you can get 90 to 100 miles on a charge. We’re just finishing doing the same thing with the Silverado.” His company is working with his own city and several other municipalities in the southwest.
“The F-150 is America,” Yow says.
“There has been a definite shift in thinking, especially in the past 18 months,” says Scott Brandebarry of Lancer Automotive in Salt Lake City. Customers from all over the country have been shipping vehicles to Lancer for years because of its reputation for high-quality conversions to hybrids, propane or natural gas. “People are beginning to look at pure electric a lot more. And the new trucks available, like the Zenith, are really good.”
“When you look at cities like New York there are very few gas and propane stations downtown, so fleet drivers travel to the outskirts, stand there fuelling up, then drive back,” says Christine Smith at Zenith Motors. “They waste time plus they are missing out on fuel savings and reduced maintenance cost … At today’s prices, if you drive a fleet vehicle 300,000 miles, that’s $97,000 in fuel costs over the life of the van.”
John Lafleur at Workhorse says, “We’ve penciled it out. For a fleet like a utility company using our van, the ROI is only two years, because the fuel and maintenance savings are so significant. There’s no transmission, and no oil changes. Once you learn to drive it, you only touch the brakes 20 percent of the time. So, the pads last four times as long. We have 6,000 pre-orders for our new cargo van. Interest is very high … and gas is pretty cheap right now.”
“We’re saving more than 80 percent on fuel compared to gas vehicles, and 50 percent on maintenance. The maintenance savings even apply when we compare the all-electric vehicle to our hybrids,” says Keith Kerman, chief fleet officer in New York City. “Because you’ve still got the combustion engine that needs servicing.” New York is moving quickly toward 400 all-electric fleet vehicles and 500 charging stations, including 33 solar carports, which directly generate power for the vehicle parked beneath them. New York has also reduced fatalities and liability costs with modern auto-braking systems; and saved further on operation costs using modern telematics systems that come standard on all the new electric fleet vehicles.
Kent Rathwell from Sun Country, a charging manufacturer in Saskatchewan, says, “Fleet downtime can be a big problem, which makes electric vehicles a no-brainer for anyone with maintenance challenges. There are almost 1,000 fewer moving parts in an electric vehicle. You don’t replace exhaust systems or do oil changes. When you step on the brake, rather than burning the pads you regenerate the battery.”
A Level I charger is included in the cost of your vehicle, and, because you are likely to use it at night, the electricity charge is inexpensive. Level II is normal for fleet depots. If you have a need for speed, you can install a Level II at home. Depending on who you know and which technology you choose, this can cost between a few hundred dollars and more than a thousand. Some employers will spring for the upgrade. You still have to pay for some electricity, but industry people estimate this at 10 percent to 20 percent of what gas would cost.
“With trade vans, it’s now a lot less expensive over the life of the vehicle to buy electric. But it’s easier for fleet managers to think like this than for individual tradesmen,” Yow says. “Fleet managers have analytics, capital budgets and maintenance records; and can afford to look ahead a few years. It’s harder for individual tradesmen, but they should try because with today’s incentives, it will save them money.”
“Now is the right time to get ahead of city and state regulations mandating zero emissions by 2020 or 2025,” says Bonnie Trowbridge from Lightning Systems. “Incentives are already good for electric vehicles, and now, as part of its penalty for ‘Dieselgate,’ Volkswagen has set up a trust of almost $3 billion that is earmarked to further subsidize clean-running U.S. vehicles. She thinks incentives will be at an all-time high during the next five years, then begin disappearing altogether. Her company is a long-experienced hybrid maker that has recently announced an all-electric package for the Ford Transit 350HD.
Electric vehicles also offer some hidden cost advantages. Hanko Keissner at Packsize Packaging has a fleet of 50 company vehicles that all plug in. Some are fully electric, and some are hybrids. He has 53 charging stations in front of his packaging plant in Salt Lake City and a 200,000-watt solar PV system on the roof. He says the benefits are numerous.
There are the obvious fuel and maintenance savings, but the charging stations also encourage employees who do not need a company car to own and operate electric vehicles; which at least a half dozen have already done. He says he estimates that those individuals receive a perk from the company worth about $1,000 per year, but that it only costs the company about $100 per year. Electric vehicles also align with the company philosophy (they develop environmentally-friendly packaging solutions) and increase employee pride, retention and ease of new employee recruitment.
“And it makes our plant look high tech and cool!” He has ordered three Tesla Model 3s, which will be tested by his salespeople after they are received. Based on his experience with the Nissan Leafs and Toyota Prius hybrids already in his fleet, he says he knows they will pass with flying colors. “After that we will go all the way to fully electric for all our vehicles.”
Public chargers are being added to America’s roads at a rate of about 10,000 per year, or about 200 per state. Darryll Harrison at ChargePoint says his company alone is adding more than 600 chargers to the network every month. There are several websites that show exactly where they all are, making it easy to plan longer trips.
On average, Americans drive cars and vans about 30 miles per day. Even the cheapest overnight chargers can cover this off easily, and when fully charged, electric vehicles now have a lot more range than they did before. Car examples: Chevy Bolt 238 miles, Nissan Leaf 150 miles, Model 3 Tesla 310 miles.
For trucks and vans, it depends on the payload, the weather, and the accessories, but most van and small truck makers are targeting at least 75 miles per day. The Workhorse has a gas-powered range extender that kicks in when your battery gets down to 20 percent, automatically adding power to the battery on the fly.
Some people are afraid they’ll forget to charge their vehicles, but owners say you become accustomed to it immediately, like plugging in your phone or charging up your power tools. If your life is crazy hectic, buy the wireless system from a Virginia company called Plugless that charges the vehicle automatically whenever you park it in the designated spot.
Chargers vary, but in general the standard Level I takes all night to fully charge the vehicle. A Level II takes 3 to 4 hours and requires 220-amp service. Some of the newer cargo van products come with a Level II. Level III, found at highway gas stations, will add about 75 miles for a car or 40 miles for a van, while you take a 15-minute texting or coffee break.
According to ChargePoint, the usual model for fleet vehicles is that they return to a company depot for overnight charging. Kerman says New York City has located its chargers in public lots around the city so that inspectors can find a convenient charging location near their residences. Depending on fleet challenges, it’s sometimes better for drivers to just charge at home.
Many of the electric car batteries are now coming with eight-year warranties. The Zenith van warranty is 100,000 miles. Other OEMs have similar offers.
Today’s lithium ion batteries are getting better: they dropped in cost by 80 percent during the past six years, and at the same time efficiency improved between 5 and 8 percent every year. Experts think this this could theoretically continue for 17 more years. Nevertheless, Panasonic, Tesla and Toyota are working on solid-state batteries that are expected to blast through the limitations of today’s lithium ion batteries, making everything cheaper, faster, safer and easier.
Brandeberry says one customer purchased an inexpensive electric vehicle at auction with 170,000 miles on it. The battery was somewhat depleted and they decided to replace it. “But it was still a great deal at $3,000 for a new battery instead of buying a brand-new truck.”
Rathwell says he had a Chevy Volt that he drove 240,000 miles with almost no apparent battery degradation. “Some of the first batteries from Nissan weren’t that great and didn’t have thermal management, but that is now a thing of the past.”
The speed/torque/power criticism has been a persistent myth connected with electric vehicles with very little basis in fact. First speed: “Tesla doesn’t make slow cars,” says Elon Musk. Instant torque from battery power means his Model S goes 0-60 in about 5 seconds, and is quicker than a Ferrari or Lamborghini off the line. Except when deliberately limited, most electric vehicles are as fast or faster than gas cars because of instant torque.
In terms of power, Lafleur says the Workhorse vans have “all the capabilities of an F-150 or Silverado. Similar cab and bed size, can tow 5,000 pounds, like the Silverado, and carry a payload of 2200 pounds.”
The 80-mile Zenith van has a payload of 3800 pounds, 530 cubic feet of cargo space and a step-ground clearance of 21 inches for easy loading and unloading.
The bigger electrics are impressive too. Motiv makes an all-electric package for the Ford F59 truck that can carry a payload of more than 13,000 pounds, offers 1,550 foot-pounds of torque, with a range of 60-85 miles after 8 hours of charging. The company says it saves $7,000 per year on gas and 75 percent on maintenance. The uniform service AmeriPride has had 10 of these in service for several years, and has just ordered 20 more.
Tesla will unveil a big rig in November, and several other manufacturers are also working in the freight truck space. Los Angeles recently started a pilot test with two all-electric, 5-ton garbage trucks.
So, whether we’re talking about the really big trucks, delivery vans, cargo vans for technicians, or Nissan Leafs for light duty fleets, electric vehicles are very quickly moving onto American roads. When you crunch the numbers, they now make a great investment, and they seem to be able to do everything else.
Some myths came from fake news spinners. Others came from true stories about bad experiences or unrealistic expectations. But now might be the right time to buy an electric vehicle for your business. Still, do your due diligence first. Ask questions and do the math. We hope you have enjoyed this unfake news announcement from your friendly neighborhood green guy.