Sales of electric cars have never been higher, at least among passenger car sales. Commercial vehicle buyers have been much slower to join the EV hype train though, citing high costs and limited range as the main barrier. Despite this, Navigant Research believes that by 2023 commercial plug-in hybrid and EV sales could exceed 800,000 total sales, as fleet managers and automakers respond to government mandates.
According to Navigant, advances in battery technology and decreases in charging time and costs will make electric vehicles more and more appealing, especially as government mandates push for higher efficiency.This will lead to a tenfold increase in sales, from less than 16,000 in 2014 to over 160,000 in the year 2023. While pure electric buses are sure to play a bigger and bigger role in mass transit, Navigant thinks plug-in hybrids might see the biggest gains.
“Electric hybrid vehicles are now being used in commercial applications where the improved technology offers major benefits for specific drive cycles that involve city driving in stop-start traffic,” says the Navigant report. “Plug-in vehicles are being developed for niche applications that can use onboard electrical energy to replace idling diesel engines or provide temporary power to buildings or tools at remote sites. Low-emissions zones in cities are being introduced that will result in greater demand for vehicles that can be driven in electric-only mode.”
The report seems to focus mostly on the impact of plug-in hybrids, which can drive a limited distance on just electricity. While plug-in hybrid commercial vehicles certainly make a lot of sense, the next-generation of EVs should have enough range to make daily urban deliveries with overnight charging. The Nissan e-NV200 only has 80 miles of range right now, but if the next-gen LEAF can double that driving range per charge, Nissan’s small delivery van ought to benefit too.
There are still challenges to overcome, and not just of the technological kind. The people in charge of buying fleets of vehicles have to be convinced of their economic benefits before taking the plunge, and the first go-around at commercial plug-ins didn’t go too hot. Companies like Smith Electric were able to find buyers to keep the dream alive, but other entrants into the plug-in vehicle market have fallen by the wayside as their ideas didn’t pan out. It may take more enticing by governments like France to get more commercial EVs on the road.
Things definitely seem different the second time around, and if gas prices spike again, that could be all it takes to convince fleet managers to take the plug-in plunge.