2 Apr 20

Don't go for plug-in hybrids without considering telematics first

Making smart use of telematics and big data before ordering the next generation of PHEVs will increase the chances of maximising efficiencies and minimising emissions

As many fleets have already discovered, bringing a higher proportion of Plug-In Hybrids onto your fleet isn’t quite as simple as plugging them in and driving away.

First generation PHEVs such as the Mitsubishi Outlander and the VW Golf GTE were initially popular among company car drivers when some EU states introduced generous tax breaks, but the promised fuel savings (and ­– by extension – emissions reductions) sometimes failed to materialise.

Car-makers are preparing to launch the next wave of PHEVs across Europe – promising improved electric-only ranges and even lower emissions. But unless they are driven economically by drivers with access to comprehensive charging infrastructure, this new generation of PHEVs is unlikely to match diesel cars in terms of fuel economy and CO2 emissions.

For company car drivers covering lower mileages, or those who commute into city centre offices, a PHEV might make sense – particularly if the electric-only range is sufficient to get them to the office without using the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE).

But for drivers covering long distances on motorways, with restricted access to rapid chargers, realising the claimed fuel economy and emissions could prove to be a challenge. Once the battery is fully depleted, the typical PHEV becomes a standard ICE which has to carry a heavy battery around.

Many fleets who have opted to make the switch to electric vehicles have used telematics to help smooth the transition. Before making the switch, the real-world data produced by the telematics can be used to identify drivers whose operational requirements could be met by a PHEV.

The telematics data can also be used to highlight any additional charging infrastructure that may be required to support drivers making the transition – such as dedicated charging bays at work, or access to a home charger.

Balázs Szabo, CEO of specialist EV consultancy Konetik Deutschland said: “We consider PHEV vehicles a transition between ICE cars and EVs. Analysing the vehicle's current usage data and calculating the total cost of ownership based on journey patterns will clearly indicate whether a PHEV can be a viable solution.

“In several scenarios, PHEVs remain the most environmental alternative, but this will change over time as new pure battery EVs with longer ranges are launched.

“PHEVs can help drivers learn how to use electric vehicles without range anxiety. Investing in PHEV models can start the education process that ultimately leads to all-electric mobility.”

Jan O’ Hara, director of UK-based telematics specialist LEVL said: “Getting the support infrastructure right is just as important as selecting the right vehicles. In the short term, PHEVs will probably better meet high-mileage drivers’ needs, but they will need good access to charging points to ensure the efficiency gains over ICE cars.

“Analysing the data from telematics platforms like Geotab provides a clear picture of what additional charging infrastructure may be required to support a PHEV fleet and – in the longer term – a fully electric fleet.”

Fleet telematics specialist Geotab offers fleets which aren’t currently using a telematics package a relatively simple way to conduct an audit of their fleet utilisation patterns to establish which ICE vehicles could be replaced with PHEVs or full electric vehicles.

Geotab GO provides easily installed ‘plug and play’ tracking units to monitor activity across some or all of the fleet for a 90-day period to build up a robust dataset to inform fleet managers’ decision-making.

And once a fleet has made the transition, smart use of telematics can also monitor drivers’ charging patterns and address any issues this raises.

“In some countries, we were finding that drivers imply don’t bother to plug in their PHEVs and achieve fuel economy figures that are way below the manufacturer’s stated numbers,” said Edward Kulperger, vice president of Geotab Europe.

“Geotab allows fleet managers to see which mode a PHEV is operating in and how regularly it is being charged. It can also highlight any issues with driving style. By analysing this data and introducing a course of driver training and education, one of our clients was able to improve the electric range of its vehicles by 27 per cent.”

“For many fleets, PHEVs will be a stepping stone to full electrification in the medium term, and working out how to establish and utilise the charging infrastructure and ensure drivers make full use of the battery power will be important aspects of making that transition.”

Authored by Mark Sutcliffe

Photo credit: Shutterstock, 2020