2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

With the recent announcement by the City of Los Angeles that it would lease 288 plug-in electric vehicles, now is a good time to look at a new study from Canada on how electric cars can be integrated into large fleets.

It's important because it explicitly quantifies the range anxiety that lower-range electric cars induce in drivers used to conventional cars with combustion engines.

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund's Fleetwise EV300 Program was an early electric-vehicle study; planning for it began back in 2010, and the bulk of testing was conducted in 2011 and 2012.

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It matched 16 fleets in the Toronto area with five vehicle manufacturers and an assortment of utility and technology partners.

First, it established a baseline from a three-week monitoring period of the fleets' vehicles. That also established that the fleet vehicles spent fully one-fifth of their time idling.

The baseline data was used to help fleet managers determine which of their vehicles to replace with plug-in electrics, and which of five options (Chevrolet Volt, Ford Transit Connect Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf, or Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid) might best fit their needs.

Daily use of electric cars against starting range [from fFleetwise EV300, Toronto Atmospheric Fund]

Daily use of electric cars against starting range [from fFleetwise EV300, Toronto Atmospheric Fund]

In all, 52 plug-in electric vehicles were integrated into the fleets and monitored over a six-month period. Technology partner FleetCarma issued a preliminary report in 2013, and the Fund issued its Findings Report this spring.

The centerpiece of the study, from the electric vehicle advocate's perspective, was the surprisingly quantifiable range anxiety seen with battery-electric vehicles.

Whether they started the day with 60 or 120 kilometers of range (roughly 38 to 75 miles), novice plug-in drivers consistently left themselves a 50-km (30-mile) buffer of unused battery capacity.

ALSO SEE: How Many Miles Are Enough To Kill Electric-Car Range Anxiety? (Jul 2012)

It will be fascinating to learn whether early municipal adopters like Los Angeles or Indianapolis see differences.

The EV300 report also broke down average daily driving distances by vehicle, shown in the table below.

As both drivers and advocates await the arrival of affordable longer-range electric cars over the next three years--including the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the second-generation Nissan Leaf, and the promised Tesla Model 3--the study data prompts some crucial questions.

Daily driving distance by electric-car model [from fFleetwise EV300, Toronto Atmospheric Fund]

Daily driving distance by electric-car model [from fFleetwise EV300, Toronto Atmospheric Fund]

Could the slow mainstreaming of electric vehicles since 2012, along with more extensive training, make drivers more comfortable using a greater proportion of an electric car's range?

Or would their fear of being in stuck traffic on a sweltering summer's day make them plan their routes as cautiously as Canadian fleet drivers worried about traffic jams during a blizzard?

This isn't just an academic question, because fleet operators can only justify purchasing electric vehicles if the operational savings over the car's lifetime are larger than its up-front cost premium.

MORE: Conquering Electric-Car Range Anxiety: A Complete Guide (Apr 2013)

And those operational savings will be slower to come by if range anxiety causes drivers to limit their use of electric cars to short trips.

Reducing range anxiety, conversely, could unlock the economics of electric vehicles for many more fleets.

In the longer term, of course, increased battery electric vehicle range will solve many of these issues.

2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

But in the short term, easing the range anxieties of virgin electric-car drivers could transform fleet adoption, even in an era of cheap gasoline.

Tracking the experiences of Los Angeles fleets in the coming months, and comparing them to Toronto's earlier trial, could help us do exactly that.


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