31 mar 22

“Plug-in hybrids don’t facilitate the shift to zero-emission transport”

Shelley Heugen (pictured in the centre) was recently awarded Fleet Mobility Manager of the Year in Belgium by She is responsible for fleet and employee mobility at Belgian retail company Delhaize, Belgium’s fifth-largest employer. She must make sure that the full range of mobility profiles is met, with clerks commuting to HQ, shift workers in logistics underway at nightly hours and representatives on the road most of their time. It makes for an interesting case study, not in the least because of the total absence of plug-in hybrids.

Her background in an environmental NGO shouldn’t be misjudged. This made Shelley a less obvious but refreshing candidate for the change management of electrifying the company fleet (1,300 corporate cars) and overseeing the mobility needs of those roughly 12,000 employees.

Heugens efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. She was awarded the Mobility Manager of The Year Award 2022 from the Belgian magazine and website

Which measures have you adopted to facilitate the switch to electric powertrains in your car policy?

Cars are a very sensitive topic to a lot of people. But setting up the right incentives makes the transition as smooth as possible, beginning with a broad and qualitative offer. With backing from our TCO calculations, we have a much longer and more attractive list of EVs than the former fossil fuel models, mainly thanks to our national fiscal benefits. That list is a surprise to many because it almost looks like an upgrade.

Maybe not for employees who experience difficulties with charging?

We also provide a charging card for all of Europe, a domestic wallbox and compensation for the charging costs next to charging at work. It’s an all-inclusive lease. But communication and information have proven crucial. For example, we are organizing roadshows, and we offer test rides to potential EV drivers. We also switched management to electric driving as soon as possible. That’s a matter of walking the talk.

Do you extract value from your electric fleet by utilizing connectivity tools?

That will be the second phase. As for now, we don’t. The focus lies on trying to convert as many people as possible.

Have the past two years of Covid changed your car policy?

Yes, people have altered their mobility needs after the lockdowns. People who don’t need their company car every day, fueled by new homeworking rules, switched to other forms of mobility. It was also suitable for taking away the hesitation for e-cars, but the most significant change we’ve seen is in the bicycle park. That has grown extensively because even people with a long commute started to bike.

How did you react to that?

By transitioning our bike policy, moving away from the own fleet to leasing, which makes it easier to meet the different tastes of our cyclists. On top of that, we put Mobility as a Solution on the agenda because we want to step down from rigid public transport subscriptions and embrace flexible formulas.

Speaking of different tastes. Even though they are prevalent in European corporate circles, Delhaize doesn’t have a single plug-in hybrid in its car fleet.

Of course, plug-in hybrids are interesting from the point of view of tax breaks. But they don’t facilitate the shift towards zero-emission transport to achieve our company’s climate goals. So, we decided to go for full electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrids emit 2 to 4 four times more CO2 than officially declared. Drivers don’t charge them, tend to fall back on the combustion engine, making things worse, and even when driving on the battery - the fuel is still used for heating the interior. The list goes on and on...

Some companies solve that by applying constraints for whom can apply for a PHEV.

You can apply rules for managing that behavior, but then you start acting like the police. PHEVs relate more to fossil fuel than electric cars when you look at the research and the data around co2 emissions. We want to leapfrog with full electric vehicles being the true future. With Delhaize’s former fleet manager, we decided to skip PHEVs and keep them out of our car policy.

Delhaize has an extensive infrastructure network spread all over the country. Are you involved in that?

Yes. We are working towards a new strategy for charging stations for customers at our supermarkets, anticipating upcoming road works close to our premises and also reviewing our parking policy. For example, with the relocation of HQ we’ve swapped management parking spots for a ‘first come, first serve’ approach. We will now look closer to a system where shift workers can park close to their workplace. The post-pandemic era brings along a new parking mindset. Parking management can also be used to persuade people to get out of their cars.  

What is your top recommendation to fellow Mobility Managers?

Often you’re on an island within the company, just like me, so reach out to other Mobility Managers! All companies reflect on the same mobility challenges. So, shared best - or worst - practices can be helpful. And whether it’s security, safety, comp&ben, internal communications, tax and legal: it’s crucial to get your in-house stakeholders on board and enthusiastic for new mobility projects.

Image source: Lukas Vandendriessche

Authored by: Piet Andries