24 Jun 22

Ann Larosse, ALD Automotive Belgium: "The TCO of fuel cell vehicles equals electric cars"

Should your fleet include vehicles running on hydrogen? ALD Automotive thinks so. As an early adopter, the leasing company is well aware that car models are rare and that the station network is in its early stages of development. But it firmly believes in a complementary future for both BEV and FCEV and enrolled as an active member of hydrogen organizations like Waterstofnet. The trend? Last year the share of leased fuel cell cars rose by 45%, albeit 13 units, for ALD Automotive Belgium.

With her comprehensive experience developing pioneering business concepts, Innovation and CSR Manager at ALD Automotive Belgium Ann Larosse talks about the corporate challenges for a hydrogen fleet and how to assess them: "If you believe in something, you have to take a little risk."

The mission of ALD is to lower the threshold for hydrogen cars with an attractive leasing price. And, as your press release notes: "to reduce risks". Can you explain those risks?

The residual value in the resale of the cars is the biggest one. We take away that risk for our customers because we want to give them the best mobility solution and simultaneously offer them the possibility to reduce their carbon footprint. Calculating residual values is always complex, but the challenge is even bigger for new innovations such as hydrogen cars. ALD Automotive takes away that burden for the customer, which is backed by the convenience of a full-scale package including insurance, maintenance, road assistance and a fuel card.

ALD Belgium already started offering FCEVs in 2019. With contracts increasing year after year, is a profile of the typical hydrogen car leasing customer becoming apparent?

For the moment, important clients are those companies directly involved in the hydrogen economy, which are located near the existing filling stations. You know, many parties are involved in this whole new economy. They choose these cars from their belief in the technology, but our offers also appeal to early adopters. Those who look at hydrogen as they did with Tesla seven years ago. They want to do something different, try it out and contribute in an innovative way. They play a crucial role in getting the message through to the whole market.

How can fleet managers be persuaded to take the step? And which attitude can they adopt to introduce a hydrogen fleet within their car policy?

They will have to look carefully into their corporate case and they can be assisted by our consultancy arm to see if their profile fits. From our EV proposals, we see companies that don't have the possibility or don't want to invest in chargers at the office while relying on public charging is expensive. Adopting only plugged EVs will also put a strong demand on the grid. Fuel cost will also be a differentiator. I've made some calculations, and with the current spike in fuel and electricity prices, the energy cost for a hydrogen car is identical. However, with the production of green hydrogen increasing, the pump price will continue to fall over the coming years, bringing about a positive price difference for hydrogen. Fleet managers must further be aware that hydrogen cars are premium vehicles at this point. Think C-level people. But promising signs are popping up. From Toyota, for example, which is busy with the Corolla and the Yaris. The adoption will follow a path comparable to that of electric cars: the higher segments come first and then the lower ones, pushing the broader reach. But in the end, BEVs and FCEVs are complementary. That's our take. It's a diversification strategy.

Mentioning fuel, residual value and battery-powered vehicles. Can you tell us something about a TCO comparison between both zero-emission drivelines?

Our calculations show the same TCO for both drivelines. And because we can put them on the same level, we offer attractive pricing. Take the Toyota Mirai, for example. It’s on a par with a Ford Mustang Mach-E, Jaguar i-PACE or BMW iX. Based on an average kilowatt per hour price of €0.45 and a consumption of 25 kWh per 100 kilometres, electricity usage will fluctuate between 12 to 13 euros per 100 kilometres. That's comparable if not identical. So with equal fiscal deductibility and equal investment cost, there's already a positive story for hydrogen today.

Some companies are developing a business case of what you could call Hydrogen-as-a-Service. An ecosystem, expanding the offer towards on-site mobile fueling stations for depot-based fleets.

For electric vehicles, we provide a charging unit at home as an option in the lease contract. We're not pursuing such an investment for hydrogen yet, but we have contacts with companies in that field. We are partnering up with energy and fuel supplier DATS24, a co-pioneer in this adventure. We see initiatives, like in the harbour of Antwerp, from firms installing their own filling stations for trucks, and making them semi-public. That's a nice evolution.

Analysts claim that green hydrogen for road transport should be preserved for the transportation of goods. A quarter of ALD Automotive's fleet comprises of LCVs. Are you also thinking of implementing it for commercial vehicles?

We did some webinars around this segment last year, listening to our customers' needs. They are pushed to become greener and they come to us for advice and solutions. So, I have been in contact with Hyvia, the joint venture between Renault and Plug Power. But given the high prices, it will probably come down to subsidies because today these vehicles are more expensive than their counterparts on diesel. But I see the potential. Companies have to pay LEZ fines in cities like Brussels for their LCVs. We see hydrogen vans as a solid solution for these challenges, also because they don’t depend on charging infrastructure which can become complex in urban areas.

How does your roadmap look for hydrogen car leasing? What share do you expect by the end of the decade?

For the moment, it's a pilot. So, I don't have something like pushy numbers. But our ambition is to be the leading company. So we want the biggest part of the sales if the cars are there. Ask me again in 2025! (laughs)

Image Source: ALD Automotive

Authored by: Piet Andries