Data-fueled insights are essential to drive fleet electrification

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt Samsara January 18, 2024
Summary:
A green revolution is coming in the transport industry. But as Philip van der Wilt explains, it's not just about charging points and powertrains. Samsara research points to what's on the mind of logistics business leaders right now, starting with data.

Semi Tanker Trucks Fleet © welcomia - Canva.com
(© welcomia - Canva.com)

A motorway service station in the North West of England may be the unlikely location for the start of a green revolution. But on a southbound stretch of the M61 motorway near Bolton, Rivington Services has installed the first public electric heavy goods vehicle (HGV) charging point in the UK.

News of the new 360kW charger — with an extra long parking bay to accommodate an electric lorry and trailer — came as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that the uptake of electric and hydrogen trucks ‘continues to rise’.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, explained:

Britain’s sixth quarter of rising HGV rollout and increasing uptake of zero-emission trucks this year underlines the sector’s strong position, with operators in all UK regions getting the latest fuel-efficient and very greenest models.

Although the numbers are still small, he acknowledged that the rate of zero-emission truck uptake ‘must increase’ — both drastically and soon – amid ‘significant obstacles to the sector’s transition’.

He said:

With just one public HGV charge point in the UK, a national plan for public and depot infrastructure is urgently needed to make fleet decarbonization a reality for all operators, now and in the long term.

Data — not just petrol, diesel, electricity or hydrogen — is key to fueling fleets

Few people would doubt his assessment of the current landscape in the UK. And while much has been written about the decarbonization of transport and logistics industries and the transition to EVs, it’s not all about powertrains and charging points.

Global logistics leader, DHL, is renowned for setting some of the most ambitious sustainability targets in the industry. Of the 119,000 road vehicles it currently operates, 29,000 are now electric.

As Stephan Schablinski, VP of Operations Excellence - Go Green at DHL Supply Chain explained recently, managing a diverse fleet requires data and intelligence to help understand which vehicle is best to deploy for a given operation. Schablinksi said: 

We need to be able to manage a very diverse fleet, as each of these assets has a very distinct operational profile and capabilities.

Not all the vehicles operate like a diesel vehicle. There is a constraint to range or fueling capabilities or fueling capacity.

As he rightly points out, data platforms are part and parcel of operating successful fleets. Access to data is crucial to help fleet managers understand some of the limitations of EVs concerning issues such as range and recharge times.

There are also differences between driving an EV compared to a petrol or diesel vehicle. And of course, there’s the ever-present issue of finding a charging point to recharge batteries compared to simply pulling into a petrol station and filling up.

The impact of changing regulations on EV uptake

Of course, the challenges faced by those transitioning to EVs may have been one of the reasons why, in Autumn 2023, the UK government decided to delay some key net zero deadlines.

The decision — although widely predicted — received a mixed reception across the industry.

A snap survey of fleet managers commissioned by Samsara in the days immediately following the UK government’s U-turn found that 85% of UK-based fleet businesses already had plans in place to meet the now-delayed 2030 deadline. One in five (18%) were also already in the process of transitioning away from ICE vehicles.

Of those businesses that had plans in place to meet the 2030 deadline, 87% said they were either reconsidering their plans (44%) or taking their foot off the pedal (41%). Only 2% said they planned to scrap their EV aspirations altogether.

The view of many is that while plans to introduce EVs will continue to make progress, the day-to-day operation of fleets will continue to rely on diesel vehicles for the foreseeable future.

In other words, the decarbonization of fleets looks set to go hand-in-hand with a data platform capable of managing mixed-fuel fleets to ensure operational efficiency, reliability and sustainability throughout the transition period.

Minimizing environmental impact is critical to Scotland-based logistics business

One business committed to a sustainable future is b-spokes, one of the UK’s largest independent family-run delivery companies. Founded in 2009, it provides multi-drop delivery services for market-leading brands within the parcel delivery industry, specializing in last-mile deliveries in Scotland and the North of England.

Joe Allenza, Managing Director at b-spokes, said: 

“Like many businesses, our environmental impact is at the forefront of our minds when planning our future development.

Part of our long-term success is to achieve our goals of reducing carbon emissions and avoiding environmental pollution as we work towards a sustainable zero-emissions position.

That includes improvements in our fleet, advancement in technology, and improved efficiency across our business to help us achieve these goals. 

Currently, all of b-spokes’ sites are powered by renewable energy. And it has plans to introduce electric cargo bikes at all of its locations, taking the business back to its roots as a city-focused, cycle-based delivery service.  

But that environmental ambition also includes electrifying its fleet of more than 200 vans. And Allenza knows that it can’t be done without a connected operations platforms to provide a constant stream of useable data: Allenza said: 

“We’re going to have to be really wise about how we manage the batteries. And also teach our staff how to drive EVs, because it is very different to just driving a normal diesel van.

He explained:

Using a data platform will help with that transition because it knows the topography of Scotland, takes into account the weather, and highlights if there are issues with individual driving styles to help educate drivers to drive more efficiently. And that includes pinpointing issues such as harsh braking and the impact this has on batteries.

Amid all the confusion of fleet electrification, one thing is certain. There is much to learn — and even more to do. 

Those who have already invested in technology and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms to manage their fleets will be better off — especially as fleets continue to be challenged by the uncertainty surrounding fleet electrification and the need to double down on fuel efficiency.

Investing in a connected data platform allows fleet managers to identify which routes, vehicles and tasks are best suited to the electrification of their fleets. They’re also using these same fuel-agnostic systems to identify other technologies that will lead to fleet decarbonization.

What’s clear is that businesses are waking up to the fact that it’s not petrol, diesel or electricity that powers fleets — it’s data.

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