Guillaume: In many global markets, with Europe and China being the most advanced, EV adoption has been a topic of conversation longer than it has been in North America. Tell me about how you’ve heard the EV discussion in Europe evolve over the past 10 years.
Annie: Ten years ago, we were nowhere in terms of even considering EVs for a fleet application. But that was also when the first electric vehicles really came to market. There wasn’t much choice in models and battery range was very poor. And if you drove an EV you were either considered a tech geek or an environmental activist.
Five years ago, the conversation shifted to more of a debate: What was going to be the winning technology? There were talks about PHEVs and hydrogen but no consensus that BEVs would take over the market. Even two years ago, this was not a global priority. Only the most mature countries were engaged. Along with Stéphanie Renie, head of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) at ALD International, we started to champion the topic within the organization and emphasized the need to adopt a globally coordinated approach. We were fighting our own fight in our own corner, but that has all changed now. Deploying our ALD electric product is one of our top priorities.
Guillaume: When did you first hear serious discussion around EVs with fleet clients?
Annie: In my opinion, we reached a tipping point in 2020. This is when we saw CAFE regulations passed in Europe. The OEMs would have had to pay huge fines if they could not match the new emissions standards. There has also been an exponential explosion of the number of vehicles available and associated technology advancements helping make the range acceptable to drivers.
COVID also played a role in the acceleration of EVs. While not directly linked, people around the world began to recognize that the way we are living today is not sustainable.
It is interesting to note that although it appears that every conversation is around electrification, it is still a relatively new subject; it is just that the maturation of the market has gone very fast.
Guillaume: What have you seen as the biggest obstacle to mass EV adoption in Europe?
Annie: The biggest hinderance is still the charging infrastructure. In Europe, a fleet vehicle is primarily a perk vehicle; they are always taken home so there must be a good technology in place for charging at home. Companies also need to have a place for employees to charge while they are at work. I know this solution isn’t always a viable option in the North America market where the fleet vehicle is on the road more often than it is parked at a traditional office. There is also the public infrastructure which today is mostly “normal” charging as opposed to “fast” charging. Today, if you charge publicly for an hour that provides only 50 to 80 kilometers (30 to 50 miles) maximum run time, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Adoption of EVs can only be possible when you have a lot of public fast-charging infrastructure, either through a charging service company or through a single station like Tesla’s infrastructure.
I recently came across an interesting study that showed how many current fast-charging public locations are available and how many are needed to achieve mass adoption. In 2019, there were about 200,000 charging points in Europe. To reach a mass market for EVs, this number would need to be multiplied by 10 or even 20!
Guillaume: Another challenge companies in North America encounter is with their drivers and encouraging them to select an EV. Do you have any best practices that you can share on how you have worked to overcome that obstacle?
Annie: There is really two ways: A company can say this is our policy and you don’t have a choice. Or the company gives the choice and then incentivizes them to select the EV.
In either case, educating people is very important. People think that an EV is a tech product or very complicated but when they drive the vehicle, the experience demystifies the negative feelings. I would also recommend encouraging test drives and providing operator instructions such as how to charge.
Guillaume: While we still have a long way to go before we reach mass adoption, I believe that we have reached a point that people around the world understand that EVs are a huge part of the future of mobility. How is the Wheels and ALD Global Alliance positioned to help our clients?
Annie: It starts with understanding the goals of our global clients: Do they have a CO2 reduction commitment? If the answer is no, we help them define one and we translate that into a goal for their fleet.
Once we have this global target, we look their global fleet profile (countries, vehicle type, mileage, renewal cycle) and show the client what needs to be done in each market or region to get to these goals. The third step is obviously to implement this plan locally by profiling each driver, work on cost analysis, adapt policies and report on our progress toward the goals we had set.
Thanks to the unique footprint of our alliance and the work we did on aligning our product and methodologies, we are in a unique position to support our clients.
Electrification is very complex; therefore, it is our role, as a fleet management company, to accompany and guide them in their electrification journey. We are their trusted advisors in an environment that is becoming increasingly complex. We have a responsibility to advise, simplify and aggregate information on their behalf – no matter the engine type.
Guillaume: What would be your advice to a North American fleet manager who is looking at Europe for best practices?
- Don’t go it alone. Get the proper consultants onboard as they will help you map the needs of the company by reviewing driving and vehicle utilization patterns to determine what is possible.
- Gain commitment from the top. The message is a very positive one that needs strong sponsorship. This is a strategic initiative that needs to be taken seriously from the highest levels of the organization.
- Ensure all your internal stakeholders are committed. Vehicle electrification attracts a lot of interest throughout the organization, be sure to assemble all people early and keep them engaged throughout your journey.
- Look beyond cost. We have seen some big global companies who have been courageous enough to put their environmental initiatives before cost. The good news is that when looking at the TCO, an EV can be cheaper than an ICE vehicle.
Guillaume: I would be remiss to end our conversation without offering my congratulations on being named as one of Top 10 Women in EV! As an EV superstar, I am curious how you get around?
Annie: Of course, I drive a BEV! But I am going for a multi-modal solution; I have an electric bike and have the option to switch my BEV for an ICE car for a couple of days if I need something different for a special trip.