Scaling with Confidence: 3 Advantages to Starting With an EV Fleet Pilot

As the automotive landscape undergoes a decarbonizing transformation, the integration of electric vehicles (EVs) into commercial fleets is no longer a distant possibility. Heavy-duty commercial fleets are beginning to adopt EV’s with a "walk before they can run" strategy. This approach gives fleets time to understand how EV technology integrates into their business operations before operating at scale.

An EV pilot refers to an early stage deployment of electric vehicles to test and determine the fit for the operational use case of its diesel counterpart. The primary goal of a pilot is to evaluate the feasibility, performance, and benefits of transitioning from traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to EVs.  

While regulatory mandates to transition fleet vehicles to electric are not yet widespread, there is a strong case for fleets to take the lead now. Running EV fleet pilot programs at this stage provides fleets with the invaluable advantage of time – a runway to fine-tune operations, understand nuances, and optimize the integration of EVs. The head start gained from these pilots can translate into a meaningful industry edge — ensuring that when EVs are widespread, your fleet is not just compliant, but experienced.

Below, we unpack each of the benefits associated with launching an EV pilot, and provide recommendations for taking the next step.

Understanding an EV Fleet’s Data

Data collection plays a major role in the pilot phase, where fleets can gain a comprehensive understanding of their new EVs. Given the uniqueness of each fleet's operational dynamics and the nascent stage of the EV transition, the available data is often limited. However, pilot programs present an opportunity to test, accumulate, and harness various types of data.

Telematics data unveils how electric vehicles perform across diverse routes and conditions, which can ultimately help optimize range management. Topography, temperature extremes, climate conditions, and traffic patterns collectively influence energy consumption and range, as well as new considerations unique to EVs that weren't relevant for ICE vehicles. One such example is regenerative braking, a feature that allows EVs to recover and store energy while braking, influencing both energy consumption and driving behavior. By analyzing these patterns, fleets can enhance efficiency and strategically plan charging to maximize their productivity. Additionally, this data alleviates range anxiety by enabling route planning that aligns with range capabilities.

With energy consumption patterns and route information, dwell time data becomes another major factor when integrating EVs. By allowing fleet operators to integrate charging routines into driver breaks or downtime, fleets can optimize their operations, minimize downtime, and ensure that vehicles are adequately charged for their next routes.

In many cases, this may require fleets to change dwell times and fleet schedules . For example, slip seating operations offer very little dwell time for charging. Rather than mirroring current ICE operations, fleets can adopt a "first in, first out" method, connecting the truck to the charger when its shift concludes. Subsequently, the next shift's driver can pick up the truck with the highest charge level.

Given that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of most EVs is still being determined, any and all cost-specific data that fleets can collect — including energy consumption, maintenance costs, charging patterns, and operational efficiency — from an EV pilot helps paint a clearer picture. And since TCO can vary significantly from fleet to fleet, pilot programs provide the best possible mechanisms for understanding how an individual EV fleet would calculate on a larger scale.

Learning How to Operate an EV Fleet

Getting hands-on experience in operating new technology is essential in boosting the operational team’s confidence, supporting an understanding of the technology's complexities, building a solid foundation for a seamless transition.

From an operational standpoint, the pilot process offers a prime opportunity to refine the Charge Management Software (CMS) — an integral component of EV fleet management. This involves exploring anything from  1) the reporting and billing procedures that streamline financial transactions and charge rates, 2) load management, which enables the optimization of charging schedules to prevent grid strain during peak periods, and 3) reservation systems, allowing fleets to plan and book charging slots between one or multiple sites.

Drivers also need time to adapt to new and slightly different driving patterns.  For example, electric semi-trucks have a much more user-friendly interface, eliminating fatiguing processes like multi-gear transmissions. Regenerative braking also requires drivers to be properly trained for maximum efficiency.

Determining EV Charging Infrastructure Needs

Penciling in large capital expenditures for EV charging infrastructure doesn’t make sense for a small pilot. Luckily, charging solutions partners like Terawatt can take that capex on for you, offering a variety of infrastructure and charging services (software, operations, and maintenance) options. You can start, for instance, with charging behind your own fence, and scale up to en-route charging locations as your fleet grows. As your pilot progresses and your fleet's requirements become clearer, you can shape your charging strategy for future scalability.

Takeaways

To sum up, the early implementation of an EV pilot within fleets offers a strategic advantage in navigating the evolving transportation landscape. By combining hands-on experience with thorough data collection, fleets can train themselves to anticipate challenges, fine-tune operations, and maximize cost savings, ensuring a seamless transition to electric vehicles.