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Future of Transportation

Shifting Into Sustainability: What Fleet Managers Should Prepare For

Fleet managers have helped ensure you received your deliveries — whether food, prescriptions, or other goods — during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“They’re the unsung heroes of the pandemic,” says Maria Neves, vice president of electrification and sustainability for Donlen, a fleet management company, and secretary treasurer of NAFA Fleet Management Association on the Board of Directors.

Now, Neves says, this crucial industry is undergoing a “sea of change” as more corporations and the federal government are pushing for their fleets to shift from gasoline fuel to electrification as adoption of sustainable practices grows. Yet the onus is on fleet managers to organize, institute, and execute this transition.

Keeping up

“China and Europe are far outpacing us from a sustainability standpoint in the transportation industry,” Neves says. “When it comes to instituting these sustainability measures, the corporations have all of these goals — and then it falls on the fleet manager to put them into practice.”

Neves notes that this process is more complicated than one might think. “It’s not just ordering vehicles where you can’t get vehicles because of chip shortages and other supply chain issues,” she explains, “but it’s also dealing with drivers that might be unfamiliar with electric vehicles.” 

Complicated logistics

For one, Neves said that drivers using electric vehicles, or EVs, now have to learn how to plan their route to accommodate for charging. 

However, the total cost of adoption is not only the acquisition of the vehicles, but also the charging infrastructure and the changing of fleet policies as well, Neves says. Fleet managers need to answer questions such as whether their fleet can charge at the most expensive time of day, and what the protocol is for materials collection or taxation if a driver with an EV and a home charger leaves the company. “It all has to be spelled out in fleet policies before any of this moves forward,” Neves says.

What’s more, industries that want to transition their fleets to EVs need not only consider installation of depots and chargers; they also need to consider facility management, utilities, construction, and project management. “We could be talking about everything from increasing the amount of power necessary to charge those vehicles to the orientation of the cars relative to the charging equipment,” Neves explains.

Steady progress

She mentioned the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden recently signed could help jumpstart fleets’ shifts to electrification and sustainability — though it may not be enough. “It is going to depend on private industry to push us over the line,” Neves says.

She said this is an “exciting” time for fleet managers, “but there are lots of things to think about.”

“We’re going to get there,” she says, “and there are companies that are pushing us there, but they’re taking the lead and saying if you want to follow, follow, but you’re going to be left in the dust if you’re not going to follow.”

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