For many company car drivers, making the switch to an electric vehicle (EV) is seen as a big step. It’s important for fleet operators to understand the impact of an EV switch on drivers on the road.
Mark Alder, Fleet Strategic Sales Manager at VWFS Fleet, spent three weeks in March trialling two EV models for the first time.
In this blog, Mark shares his personal and honest experience, as well as his top tips and lessons learnt for drivers to consider when looking to transition to an electric company car.
Being used to driving traditionally powered cars all my adult life, I was intrigued to see how my first ever encounter with an electric car would unfold.
It began with many unanswered questions. What would the driving experience be like? What about the day-to-day practicalities and cost of charging? Would an EV suit my driving needs? Could I see myself switching from the familiarity of what I’ve been so used to?
I put all this to the test over a three-week trial period, during which I drove two different EV models.
The charging conundrum
The first issue I had to think about was where to charge. Living in a flat surrounded by public footpaths, home charging wasn’t an option for me. This meant I had to rely on the public charging network throughout the EV trial – something I imagine many drivers who don’t have access to home charging are unsure of.
I was fortunate that Oxfordshire, where I live, seemed to have plenty of places to plug in, so finding a place to recharge wasn’t an issue.
The first thing I needed to learn was the difference between two common types of chargers – AC and DC – and which was right for me. This was important, as each has a different speed of charging. I was given a rule of thumb, which said that if you’re using your own cable, it’s an AC charger, but if the cable is provided, it will be DC. Although I found there are some exceptions to this rule with AC chargers, it did help me to get familiar with the chargers, so I was able to identify them more easily as the trial went on.
- Understanding battery size
Another thing I quickly realised was the importance of understanding the size of EV batteries. The two models I trialled had different battery sizes, and the charging difference between the two was clear. While the smaller battery (52kW) did charge more quickly, it also meant I needed to charge more frequently – often every other day – to meet my mileage needs.
Although the 77kW battery took longer to charge, it often lasted for a few days, depending on my journeys. From a personal perspective, without the ability to charge at home, I found the larger battery model to be much more suited to me.
The size of the battery also potentially affects the rate of charge it can take. For example, rapid chargers are sometimes a good solution to speed up charging time – but only if the car can take the higher kW of charge.
Even where cars say they can take a certain kW of charge, it does depend on the state of the battery, the weather, potentially who else is charging at the same time and the state of the charger itself, among other factors.
When it came to the cost of public charging, I found charging the EVs to be just as, if not more, expensive than filling up with petrol or diesel.
Obviously, home charging is the cheapest option for EV drivers, especially if you take advantage of cheaper overnight electricity rates. As I was unable to charge up at home, I was intrigued to understand the cost implications of relying on the public charging network.
Firstly, it’s important to note that the cost per mile for any car will vary noticeably, depending on where you ‘fuel’ up and, most importantly, how you drive. Additionally, as the weather impacts the efficiency of all cars, and especially EVs who are not fans of the cold, my experience in March will be at the lower end of the efficiency spectrum.
In this exercise, I was prioritising convenience and speed of charging, rather than being particularly cost-conscious, and so there were cheaper, but slower, charging options available. However, the cheapest rapid charger in my area was £0.63/kWh, which for a full charge (0-100%) cost me £48.51. The official range for the car I was in at this time was 323 miles, or 4.2 miles/kWh, which on this basis, equates to about £0.15 per mile.
The range I was actually achieving was approximately 250 miles, in part due to the temperature, but also due to my ‘enthusiastic’ driving style, which meant the cost per mile was more like £0.19, which is about the same as an equivalent petrol or diesel car.
When thinking about public charging infrastructure, it’s important to navigate it smartly. There appears to be less pricing standardisation across the public charging network when compared to petrol stations, with example costs ranging from £0.35 all the way to £0.90 per kWh depending on the location, type and speed of the charger.
Apps can be a big help in this regard, and examples such as Bypass and ZapMap can help you better understand the public charging network, particularly around locations and costs.
On the road
I was also pleasantly surprised when it came to the actual driving experience of an EV. The absence of noise takes a bit of getting used to, but I found it fine after a few days. There’s no doubt that electric car acceleration is rapid, and again, this takes a bit of getting used to.
But I also felt the additional benefit of an EV; the weight of the car and the strong tyres meant for a smoother ride, even with bad road conditions and potholes. Both EV models seemed to ‘sail’ over the road surface, which was a nice, unexpected surprise.
The other factor I had to get used to was pre-journey planning and thinking ahead.
This was far more important when I think about how I used to approach driving my normal combustion engine car. With the EVs, I made sure to pre-plan journey lengths for the following day and consider if I needed to top up the car charge any further. It was relatively easy to factor in, just something new to get in the habit of.
The overall EV experience…
On the whole, I really enjoyed the experience of the cars and how they performed on the road. After a short period of time, and some support from the EV community, I was also able to navigate the public charging network without any major issues, though I was fortunate to live in an area where there is ample public charging.
Both drivers and fleet managers will need to judge the overall balance between journey needs and access to charging. Charging at home will be cheaper and more convenient (if you have the right tariff), but it’s not a possibility for everyone. Additionally, in an EV, annual mileage is somewhat irrelevant; you need to consider daily mileage.
Before my EV trial, I was convinced that only drivers with access to home charging would truly benefit from driving an EV. However, I proved to myself that this isn’t always the case – especially with some careful forward planning around charging to support my journeys and being savvy about charging costs to avoid overspending.
However, if you’re moving from an ICE to an EV in order to save on Benefit in Kind (BIK), it’s worth reviewing your company’s business mileage reclaim policy. For example, if the policy is set at 9p per mile, then charging solely on the public network, especially the rapid network, will become expensive and eat into some of those BIK savings.
In summary, my experience with an EV was eye-opening and extremely insightful. Looking ahead, I would urge drivers looking at an EV to consider at least the following factors to ensure an effective transition:
- Assess home charging ability – those able to charge at home will see the biggest benefits in terms of convenience and costs. Also, investigate a low night tariff with your electricity supplier.
- If you can’t charge at home, research the public charging near to you, or to where you commonly drive to/from. Realistically, you’ll need some rapid charging in there, but be resourceful and charge whenever you can.
- Make sure you have a clear understanding of the EV model’s battery size, real-life range and charging speed implications, so you can identify the best model for your needs.
- Test a few vehicles and find reviews – especially for the winter, where range can be affected.
- Think about your usual daily mileage instead of annual mileage.
- Focus on forward planning for longer journeys beyond the range of the car, so you know when and where you need to charge, minimising range anxiety. There are Apps such as ZapMap or Bypass that can help here.
- Review your company’s business mileage reclaim policy – will it be enough to cover your public charging needs and not erode all of your BIK savings? Will your company pay for your home charging?
VWFS Fleet also has a range of tools and guides available to support your drivers’ switch to EVs:
If you have a specific question or would simply like to discuss your fleet requirements, please contact us.
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