"First of All, Reliable Deliverability of the Vehicles Must be Guaranteed".

Expert Interview – August 16, 2023

Not only private households, but also many companies now wish to minimize their economic footprint by electrifying their vehicle fleets. But where are we on the topic of green fleets? Where are the biggest hurdles? Axel Schäfer, Managing Director of the German Association for Corporate Mobility, reveals this and more.

Interview with Axel Schäfer, Managing Director of the German Association for Corporate Mobility

Axel Schäfer, Managing Director of the German Association for Corporate Mobility

The electrification of corporate vehicle fleets is advancing as a result of the mobility revolution. What hurdles and what legal regulations are there in the topic of green vehicle fleets, and do vehicle fleets have any relevance in the transport transition?

A very big one, actually. If companies invest in the latest models for their vehicle pool, this can even have a lighthouse effect. Employees are given the opportunity to drive an electric vehicle and even see it as an attractive opportunity. But the topic of mobility itself represents a major significance, because people's attitudes toward it have changed. In order to advance the transport transition as a whole, the focus must no longer be solely on the topic of cars.

How high is the share of electric cars in fleets?

The market share of all-electric company vehicles is now 19.9%. The number of registrations has risen enormously, and these fleet vehicles are therefore driving the vehicle market strongly. The developments are positive, even if there are some dampers, such as the expiring subsidies, which could prevent companies from investing in the expansion of the electric vehicle pool.

Isn't the charging issue also a point in this consideration?

This is not the only issue that plays a role in fleet expansion. Operational fleet management must, for example, identify the real needs of a company through a mobility needs analysis. This involves identifying the various users and evaluating their driving profiles. It is a highly complex interplay of several factors that must be included in the considerations in order to put together the most sensible and effective fleet possible for a company. For this reason, we at the Bundesverband Betriebliche Mobilität (German Association for Job/Operational Mobility) offer an online course for job/operational mobility management for electric fleets.

This analysis also leads to a selection of vehicles. Is there already enough choice of different vehicle models to plan a fleet sensibly? In the area of transport vehicles, for example, the choice is very limited.

In fact, there are still some gaps here. We are now seeing an improvement in transport vehicles, but station wagons are also needed in companies, and there are not yet many models to choose from. Many brands come from abroad and here it is not yet possible to say to what extent these brands will establish themselves in our country and work in a company. In the case of small cars, lower mid-range and mid-range vehicles, models are not yet available across the board. The whole thing is made more difficult at the moment by the existing delivery problems. This makes sensible fleet planning a tricky business. But you can't turn an automotive history of almost 300 years upside down and change it within a short period of time. The topic of electromobility is embedded in the overall package of sustainability. That is why I recommend doing what is feasible and not ignoring it. Follow the developments and don't sleep through them. Doing nothing would be wrong. Mobility and electromobility is and remains an essential component and has a corresponding importance.

Fleets that are visible everywhere, such as cabs, police cars or ambulances, could have a kind of role model function. The signal would be a big one, if you switch to electromobility here, people would trust electromobility even more, wouldn't they?

Here, range and charging times are knock-out criteria. For cabs, the switch would probably be very hesitant because routes are hard to plan or passengers are in a hurry. For emergency responders and police, loading time is an absolute disincentive. These vehicles have to be ready for action quickly and at short notice. So the chase doesn't work if the vehicles have to be charged. However, they would score points in terms of acceleration and speed. But battery technology and range are evolving, and that will come. And in some urban areas, law enforcement agencies are already driving electric vehicles. In Cologne, Germany, for example, there is a bicycle police force.

What measures would be needed to drive the electrification of fleets forward?

First of all, reliable delivery of the vehicles must be ensured. Then the charging infrastructure should be expanded not only in urban centers but also in rural areas. When it comes to promoting electromobility, clear guidelines must be laid down that citizens can follow. And the administrative burden of around 240 different charging tariffs absolutely has to be standardized. A major point is the issue of education to dispel range anxiety and make the potential of electric cars clear. At the moment, however, we are not picking up employees and taking them with us on this journey. The technical discussions are necessary and right. But in order to ensure that all means of transportation work together in a meaningful way, other areas such as the expansion of solar power systems must also make progress. And here, an electric vehicle used as a storage system would be of great benefit.

What legal and tax regulations must be observed when operating an electric vehicle fleet?

There are a large number of legal regulations that must be observed. From accident prevention regulations to compliance with equipment regulations and charging, there are still gray areas and unregulated areas. Data protection also plays a major role. Vehicle users are becoming more and more transparent due to the constantly transmitted data, which then collides with data protection regulations, especially when several drivers can access one car. There will be changes in the area of vehicle insurance, as electric cars will have to be classified differently, making insurance more expensive.

If you include politics in the topic: In which area would they be called upon more - legal framework conditions or subsidies and support services?

Basically, politics is called upon – if a mobility transition is desired - to promote and support it completely across the board. In the company, managing the various means of transport and handling the various taxations is an issue independent of electric vehicles. Subsidies for electric cars are a useful incentive. The market will regulate itself and the vehicles will become cheaper as supply expands, so at some point subsidies will no longer be possible. But if the expansion of electric mobility and charging infrastructure is really going to move forward, much more needs to be done here on both issues. The difficulty with politics is that too many resources are involved. The Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Economics, the Ministry of Finance, a wide variety of political colors within this constellation and therefore also very different points of view.

Planning reliability is surely one of the most important things that fleets need?

Planning reliability, also with regard to the costs that arise. Despite all ecological thinking, economic thinking is just as necessary. Only if mobility is designed to be economically, ecologically and socially compatible will there be good mobility management.

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