How GE is Going Green: Interview Tamas Littner
Fleet Europe’s award-winning European Green Fleet Manager of the Year, Tamas Littner, explains GE’s Fleet Energy Transition programme. And it’s an ambitious one.
As soon as General Electric (GE) made the bold corporate commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, Tamas Littner, Leader of Fleet Operations, Europe, Russia & CIS, could hear the clock ticking down to mid-2025, the date at which the company will realistically order its last internal combustion vehicle.
“We had already kickstarted our electrification programme in 2019 with GE Renewable Energy, a business known to be environmentally-minded and that would want to demonstrate its green credentials,” says Littner. “We started on a small scale with 1,500 vehicles, and it proved successful. They were highly motivated and we achieved some good results.”
When 1,500 vehicles represent ‘small scale’, the size of GE’s challenge becomes apparent. Operating 7,700 company cars in 36 European countries, and each country at a different point along its roadmap to electrification, with a wide variation in tax incentives, subsidies and charging infrastructure, GE’s transition to battery power within a decade is a massive undertaking
Support from the top
On the plus side, support has come from the top of the organisation, with GE’s 2020 pledge to be carbon neutral by the end of the decade. For some GE businesses, such as healthcare, vehicle emissions account for a significant percentage of their carbon footprint, although this percentage understandably declines for the industrial giant’s manufacturing operations.
Having set stretching interim targets for reductions in the average CO2 emissions of its fleet, from 152g/km in 2019 to 70g/km in 2024, GE spent almost two years developing and implementing new green car policies in each country, which had to be approved by work councils. Once accepted, the policy was followed by a Europe-wide RFP for electrified cars, both battery electric and plug-in hybrid.
Wider choice of EV
This opened up GE’s car policy to a much wider selection of manufacturers than its previous four OEM choice list, in order to offer all available battery electric and plug-in hybrid models to its drivers. In terms of vehicle choice, GE is aiming to keep drivers in the same grade of car, even if the lease rates for electrified models are higher. Littner points out that lease rates for all new cars, whether powered by petrol, diesel, battery, or hybrid technologies have risen due to car price inflation and smaller discounts.
The company has, however, sharply reduced the number of ICE vehicle options on its choice list. Today, 70% of the cars available to drivers have a plug, a proportion expected to rise further as the 2030 deadline approaches. Almost a quarter (24%) of GE’s current European fleet already has a plug (560 BEVs and 1,310 PHEVs), and their penetration is growing rapidly. In Q4 2022, three-quarters of its orders were for electrified vehicles, with BEVs accounting for 28% of orders and PHEVs for 47%.
Accelerated EV uptake
GE has negotiated with its leasing supplier, Arval, that in major Western European markets, drivers can early terminate ICE cars in the final 12 to 18 months of their contracts without paying a penalty, so long as they choose an electric replacement.
The end goal is a 100% battery electric list – in Europe, GE will have 800 BEVs by the end of this year, up from 152 in 2020 – but the reality of patchy local charging infrastructure means that PHEVs still account for anywhere between 60% to 80% of orders in some countries, a position unlikely to change until public charging stations can support longer journeys.
“I consider it a good sign that drivers are open to some kind of electrification, but there is also the risk with PHEVs that drivers will not charge their cars enough, so we have detailed wording in our car policy about how to use PHEVs, how to charge them, as well as an opportunity for controlling their use,” said Littner.
Drivers also have to confirm when they order an EV or PHEV that they will be able to charge it, either at home, on public chargers or at GE workplaces. Once again, the pace of the change is astonishing – in 2021, GE had 81 workplace charge points and 24 home chargers; by 2024 it aims to have 720 workplace chargers and 2,500 home chargers.
GE aims to provide the most suitable combination of home, office and public charging solutions, taking into account local market support and conditions. In the UK, for example, drivers are expected to fund their home wallboxes, a small outlay given the huge benefit in kind tax savings for electric vehicles, whereas in France, state tax breaks make a significant contribution towards the cost of installing a home charger. As for the immediate future, Tamas Littner and his team are focused on the smooth transition of GE’s fleets as the company splits into three different businesses.
GE Healthcare was spun off on January 3, 2022 and GE will create two other independent companies, GE Aerospace and GE Vernova, its energy and renewables business. Once spun off, each business will be free to set its own vehicle fleet policy, but the trajectory seems clear – GE’s green fleet journey has started and is on track to meet its 2030 deadline.
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