8 Electric Vehicle Models Commonly Used in Commercial Fleets

 In EV Industry, Green Fleet

For fleet operators hoping to stabilize fuel costs, reduce maintenance expenses, and project a greener image to consumers, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming an increasingly attractive option. Government incentives are also in place to make plug-in vehicles more affordable for businesses and private citizens alike.

Given the improving range, decreasing prices, and number of new electric cars on the market, businesses face fewer limitations with plug-in vehicles than they did in the past. Of course, with more options available, deciding on the right EV for your organization’s needs has become more complicated. The debut of models like the plug-in hybrid cherry picker could lead to further indecision for utility providers.

To make the choice simpler, we are taking a look at eight different plug-in models — ranging from passenger cars to models reserved for industrial use — to determine their best use in vehicle fleets.

By the way, on March 23rd at 2PM EST we’ll be hosting a webinar on the topic of maximizing the ROI of fleet electrification. This will cover integrating EVs into your motor pool, determining which EVs should go where, utilizing them to receive the greatest return on your investment, and optimizing fleet charging.

UPDATE: you can now download the recording here.

1. Smart Fortwo Electric Drive

smart fortwo ED

The Smart electric mini car’s limitations are immediately apparent: It features two seats and little cargo room. However, with fuel economy that places it in the top 10 of all available vehicles and a price that makes it the most affordable EV in North America, any company will get its money’s worth from the Smart Electric Drive (ED) coupe.

Its range of 109 km (68 miles) on a single charge makes this model ideal for an administrator who must travel to various work sites (or around a company’s campus) throughout a day’s work. The Smart ED’s size is an asset in this function, as it consumes very little power to travel these distances, and its economy is greatest in stop-start city driving.

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Rather than paying to purchase, fuel, and maintain a larger car (plug-in or not), the Smart ED serves as the most practical option for businesses that have frequent low-impact trips made by individuals or pairs. Charging from 20% to 80% battery life takes 3.5 hours, while 0% to 100% takes 6 hours on 240v systems.

2. Ford Focus Electric

Ford Focus EV

Though classified as a compact car in most markets, the Ford Focus Electric provides considerable cargo space and 122 km (76 miles) of all-electric range for a fleet’s needs. The standard hatchback styling, fold-down seats, and capacity for five people are the specs worth noting. It also places in the top 10 for overall vehicle economy.

Administrative functions and work trips between short distances would be the best use of a Focus Electric on the job. Companies that need to make deliveries throughout the day in a large area could use one as long as it was plugged in between trips. This model’s solid highway performance makes it viable for runs that require more power than the typical low-speed EV delivers. Cost-wise, an electric Focus ranks among the most affordable options.

3. Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

As the best-selling electric car of all time, Nissan Leaf has found an audience with its low price point, top-five ranking in fuel economy, and 84 miles (135 km) of range. For the 2016 model year, the Leaf SV offers up to 107 miles (172 km) on a full charge, making it the class leader. This EV offers a 106.3-inch wheelbase, good enough for the EPA to classify it as a midsize car.

The Leaf serves fleets best for administrative functions that require frequent travel. The 107 miles of range cannot be beat by an electric car outside of a Tesla, and this model retails at $34,200 in the U.S. While it does not have the same cargo space as a Focus Electric, the Leaf works well for small parcel delivery and for utility surveyors traveling in a contained radius.

4. BMW i3

BMW i3

While most EVs on this list appeal chiefly to a fleet’s practicality needs, the BMW i3 offers elite efficiency in a more upscale, eco-conscious package. Its 137 miles-per-gallon equivalent economy in city driving is the best rating the EPA handed out for the 2016 model year, as is the 124 miles per gallon overall. It is available as both an EV (81 miles/130 km) and with a range extender, pushing the total capacity to 150 miles (241 km).

The BMW i3 has an appeal that works best in green livery fleets. Companies that want to project a greener image will present a vehicle with an interior made up of 25% renewable and recycled materials. (Ward’s named it one of the 10 best interiors in 2015.) Its coach (“suicide”) doors make entering and exiting the vehicle more comfortable, another reason it is ideal for a taxi service.

5. Newton Truck

Smith Newton electric truck

The Newton from Smith Electric Vehicles is available worldwide as a chassis cab that can be configured to accommodate a variety of fleet needs. Its payload capacity of 7,400 kg (16,200 lbs) make it perfect as a box truck for businesses that deliver to locations in an urban environment. A Newton EV truck maxes out at 160 km (100 miles) of range. Wheelbase options range from 3900 mm (154 in) to 5600 mm (220 in).

Seen most often as a FedEx delivery truck, the same chassis can be used to transport children as a school bus or for more traditional work uses, specifically as a stake bed truck – the preferred use of the U.S. Army. Utility companies could use a Newton in small installations and repair jobs within a reasonable distance from the garage.

6. Chevy Volt

Chevy Volt

There are some misconceptions about plug-in hybrids such as the first-generation Chevrolet Volt, capable of 38 miles (61 km) on electric power, compared to an EV like the Nissan Leaf, which is capable of 84 miles (135 km) of range. The discrepancy leads many to believe the Leaf would get many more miles without using gasoline.

In fact, the largest study ever conducted on EVs by the U.S. Department of Energy showed the models get nearly an equivalent number of miles in electric mode. Fleet owners will see the advantage in having the backup gas motor in a Volt, which pushes the car’s total range to 380 miles, and comes in handy if your fleet covers long-distances on a daily basis.

Otherwise, the Volt, which gets 53 electric miles (85 km) and 420 miles (680 km) total range in the 2016 model, serves as an all-purpose green vehicle for businesses with a mix of short-range and long-range travel on the agenda. The back seat provides space for small parcel deliveries (e.g. pizza, flowers, or packages) or room for another two adults to fit comfortably.

7. Ford Fusion Energi

Ford Fusion Energi

Despite its limited range (19 miles/31 km) in electric mode, the Ford Fusion Energi delivers elite economy for short-range trips in a midsize sedan package. Its 112-inch wheelbase set it apart from the pack in terms of passenger space, though cargo space is limited due to the battery’s placement in the trunk.

In a market without many larger sedans, the plug-in Fusion makes a great deal of sense as a car to shuttle up to five employees between functions. The New York City Police Department and Con Edison (the city’s utility provider) both lean on these vehicles for emissions-free small trips and for their potential to travel 550 miles (885 km) on a full charge and full tank of gas.

8. Kia Soul EV

Kia Soul EV

The Kia Soul EV’s range of 93 miles (150 km) and boxy shape give fleet managers several options when the back seats are folded down. In this scenario, your team can transport bulkier items between work locations while getting one of the longest ranges available on the market. Additional storage is available under the “tray” in the rear of the vehicle.

In terms of fuel economy, there is only one vehicle – the Nissan Leaf SV – that outperforms the Soul EV at 90 miles of range or greater, though the Kia is less expensive. Reducing fuel costs is this vehicles’ specialty, and longer runs are a possibility with the 27 kWh battery pack.

Production companies used to moving amplifiers and camera equipment within the city limits could expect great performance from this model, as would delivery services with light loads. Fast-charging capabilities get the Soul EV to 80% power in 30 minutes, so it can also be a workhorse for busier fleets.

Deciding on the Right Fit for Your Business

Real-world conditions such as weather and road quality affect the range and performance of plug-in EVs, so buyers should consider these factors (among others) when making a purchase. Using technology such as electric vehicle suitability assessments can also help automate the process, and allow you to integrate EVs into your fleet with predictable cost savings.

For fleets that already have electric models in service, seeing what works for your company already is the best way to plan for the future. Electric vehicle monitoring software can tell you more about the performance of EVs in your fleet. Before investing in new models, you may want to see what is working as far as vehicle type and other factors are concerned.

Electric vehicles are a green option that get greener as your local grid gets cleaner. In terms of stability in fuel costs and emissions reductions, they are a fleet operator’s best bet.

By the way, later this month we’ll be hosting a webinar on the topic of maximizing the ROI of fleet electrification. This will cover integrating EVs into your motor pool, how to determine which EVs should go where, how to utilize them to receive the greatest return on your investment, and optimizing your fleet charging.

UPDATE: you can now download the recording here or by clicking on the image below.

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  • canuckinaz

    Interesting article on some green options for the fleet. I was surprised, however, to see the Focus Electric’s cargo space considered superior to that of the Leaf. I own a Leaf and I have driven the Focus Electric many times, and the Leaf’s is far better. The Focus Electric’s battery pack (which has two separate sections) infringes on the cargo space from the back and the overall size (listed on fueleconomy.gov) is 14 ft^3 to the Leaf’s 24 ft^3 for luggage volume (the passenger volumes are listed as essentially the same).

    Also, I assume you consciously left out compliance cars from the list?

    • EricNYC
      • canuckinaz

        That’s interesting. I guess that means that the passengers in the rear seats have more room in the Focus Electric than in the Leaf. I would still argue, however, that the cargo space on the Leaf is more convenient. I throw my bike into my Leaf’s trunk (with the rear seats folded down) very easily. I cannot do the same in the Focus Electric–the battery pack location precludes this.