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How to overcome charging challenges for e-fleet customers – A quick guide

Dr. Philipp M. Haaf

Largely because of strict carbon emission regulations, the automotive industry is undergoing a shift towards electric mobility. A critical success factor for large-scale sales of electric vehicles (EVs) will be the provision of a comprehensive offering to business fleet customers, including necessary services that go beyond the sale of the vehicle itself. This holds true for both the initial set-up of EVs and for their operations phase.

Business fleet customers represent an important electric mobility segment

It’s safe to say that the market for e-fleets offers a promising source of income for the industry. In 2018, Germany’s fleet registrations amounted to 818,900 of a total of 3.4m new vehicles, and the total fleet leasing business amounted to €10.5 billion in 2018 (representing 77% of all new leasing business, which totals €13.6 billion according to Verband Deutscher Leasingunternehmen, 2018).

Currently, the average share of pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids in the country’s company car fleets looks rather low at 3.6%. However, company cars account for 44% of all new EV registrations, and there are signs that this take-up could accelerate. Already, 28% of companies have implemented electric cars in their vehicle fleets or plan to do so in the near future. For instance, SAP plans to increase the share of EVs in its fleet from 5% to 20% until 2020.

To facilitate acceptance of EVs by business fleet customers, the industry needs to ensure that the purchase of an EV is not associated with any apparent disadvantages compared to a conventional vehicle. That means that a convenient and comprehensive solution for home charging is indispensable. A central point of discussion is the provisioning and payment model for fleet customers’ home charging solutions.

E-fleet customer experience is currently fragmented

For business fleet customers, the set-up phase involves the purchase of private charging hardware (wall boxes) to enable charging at the employees’ homes. This is needed to ensure convenient EV usage, as more than 57% of charging processes will be conducted at home according to a recent Capgemini study.

The service experience associated with home charging solutions goes beyond the sale of hardware components and professional installation services. After procurement and installation of charging hardware has been arranged, business fleet customers frequently encounter difficulties in the operations phase.

At present, there is no convenient billing management solution for home charging by EV business fleet customers. That means that if you drive an EV as a company car for business purposes and want to charge the car at home, you must pay the cost of the energy consumed up front, and then get reimbursed by your company in some way. As well as creating a poor driver experience, this also demands administrative and financial effort by both drivers and businesses. This puts EVs at a disadvantage compared with conventional vehicles, because in the latter case drivers are generally equipped with fuel cards, the costs of which are paid directly by the company.

Players in the e-fleet market face many challenges

A comprehensive solution for home charging is clearly needed but creating that solution means overcoming major challenges. For example, the challenge of providing proper home charging solutions for fleet customers depends on the collaboration of a high number of stakeholders involved in an industry that is characterized by high regulation and complex processes.

Besides minor obstacles, such as the need to separate EVs’ energy consumption from other home energy consumption, there is a much bigger challenge – the fact that the information needed is distributed across a multitude of different company IT systems. Imagine you are a fleet manager with a number of EVs and need to ensure accurate home charging billing. There’s a strong chance your employees are using a range of different utility providers, and you’ll need to obtain information from each one about consumption and energy prices charged.

Another significant challenge is the need to produce integrated fleet management solutions for EVs. Fleet managers need to be able to manage an e-fleet with a high level of convenience. When managing multiple brands of conventional vehicles, fleet managers use tools that are integrated into company systems to enable frictionless fleet management, including management of billing and related cost issues. It should be possible to manage EVs, too, via existing fleet management systems, but current management systems for EVs tend to be standalone and/or brand-specific solutions.

Figure 1: Stakeholder map for home charging of electric vehicles

How can these challenges be overcome and what could a solution look like?

Business fleet customers need to be offered easy and convenient home charging solutions so that objections to EVs are addressed in the set-up phase. In the current market, there are already players who provide and install charging hardware that facilitates smart metering to track the exact amount of energy used for charging EVs. At present, fleet managers have to partner with these players to ensure their employees enjoy hassle-free access to the required charging solutions. When those employees are house owners, this might seem straightforward, but it is a lot more complex with tenants of shared houses and flats because of issues such as permission, space allocation and shared equipment usage.

In addition to convenient service for provision and installation of charging hardware, the solution should also offer an integrated payment model that pays for the charging hardware, ideally without the involvement of the company car driver.

Any home charging solution needs to offer convenience during the operations phase as well during set-up. For example, there must be a billing facility enabling the fleet manager to complete all payments easily, perhaps even automatically. But that means that anyone involved in payments – including fleet managers, utilities, car leasing companies, and even MSPs and wall box providers – need to be connected in some way. The solution may therefore need to be integrated into the existing systems landscape of all these stakeholders.

This integration need should be considered alongside the requirement for integration into existing fleet management tools, discussed above. These tools will ideally work for multi-brand fleets and provide a one-stop solution for fleet managers. With so many parties and systems involved, the most viable solution may consist of a platform provided by a data integrator using smart contracting to supply connectivity via multiple interfaces.

Which stakeholder should take the lead?

As mentioned above, it is unclear who stands to benefit most from a solution and who is best placed to provide one. At first glance, OEMs might appear to have the biggest incentive to do so, since providing a suitable and sufficiently comprehensive solution could motivate customers to opt for their brand, increasing their share of a promising market.

However, customers – especially fleet managers in companies – will expect solutions from leasing companies, because they are the channel that the customers use directly. At the same time, utilities already have direct customer contact during electricity provision, plus relevant data and insights about EV fuel consumption that might make it attractive for them to come up with a business model.

Alternatively, a joint solution between leasing companies and utilities could be a feasible and efficient option when it comes to developing accurate billing processes and integrating solutions into fleet management and company systems.

Whoever comes up with a solution that combines convenience and simplicity will have an advantage over all other parties. As discussed above, any potential solution needs to be holistic and fully integrated into existing systems and processes. The race is on.

For further information please contact:

Philipp M. Haaf, Manuel Wiener and Marius Pilch.