5 Different Types of Electric Vehicles for Fleets

July 21, 2020

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Key Takeaways

BEVs, plug-in hybrids, and other types of EVs vary widely in range, fuel economy, and charging speeds. Learn the difference between the 5 main types of electric vehicles so you can choose the right type of electric car or truck for your fleet.

Consumer electric vehicles (EVs) like the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf are becoming more prevalent in the U.S. But EVs stand to have the greatest impact on the sustainability and efficiency of the commercial sector.

In part, that’s because a single commercial vehicle can cover 100,000 miles per year, compared to the 13,500 miles logged by the average personal vehicle.

Whether you’re investing in plug-in hybrids for a local government fleet or battery-electric buses for a city bus route, this article will guide you through the different types of electric vehicles available on the market today.

What is an electric vehicle? What are their different types?

Today’s electric vehicle marketplace is more varied than ever. There are plug-in electric vehicles and hybrid versions of popular gasoline-powered cars and trucks. General Motors alone plans to roll out 20 new electric vehicle models by 2023. 

But not all EVs work the same way. The type of electric vehicle you buy affects the range, fuel economy, and charging time of your fleet.

Here’s a look at the five types of electric vehicles available in the United States today:

Type of electric vehicle


Automakers who make this type of electric vehicle

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) run entirely on rechargeable batteries and have no internal combustion engine

Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, BMW i3, Kia Soul EV, Hyundai Ioniq

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have a rechargeable battery and an internal combustion engine and rely on regenerative braking to recharge the battery

Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford Focus Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid

Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have an internal combustion engine and a battery — charged either through regenerative braking or by plugging it into a charger

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Fiat 500e, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion Energi, Chrysler Pacifica, Volvo XC90 T-8, Karma Revero, Kia Optima

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) use hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, rather than an internal combustion engine and rely on a rechargeable battery

Hyundai Nexo, Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Extended Range Electric Vehicles (E-REVs)

Extended range electric vehicles (E-REVs) are EVs that run on a battery but have a back-up energy source such as a gasoline engine to extend the range

BMW i3, Chevrolet Volt, Audi E-Tron, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Toyota Mirai

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs)

Battery electric vehicles  fully electric vehicles. They’re also known as “pure electric vehicles” or “all-electric vehicles” due to their lack of an alternative power source. Because BEVs use electric power from a rechargeable battery and don’t have an internal combustion engine, they have fewer moving parts than other types of EVs and require less maintenance.

Additionally, because they don’t have a gasoline engine to supplement battery power, BEVs need to plug into external power sources to recharge. As battery packs become more powerful and charging stations become more efficient and widespread, recharging becomes less of an issue for many EV owners.

BEVs also use regenerative braking to recharge the battery while the vehicle is in use. This means that every time the vehicle slows down or stops—for example during traffic—its kinetic energy is conserved and saved for later use.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid electric vehicles are like BEVs in that they contain a rechargeable battery and make use of regenerative braking. The main difference is that they also have an internal combustion engine, which is the primary source of power.

While the battery helps to conserve energy and increase fuel efficiency, it’s rarely the sole energy source. In most HEVs, the battery assists the gasoline engine, and powers the vehicle for  short distances at low speeds.

HEVs are a great way to cut down on fuel use without sacrificing range. But having internal combustion can add to the initial purchase price and maintenance costs.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrids are a more versatile option, with the ability to run on either the internal combustion engine or the battery. Unlike standard HEVs, you can plug them into an external power source. They don’t rely only on regenerative braking to recharge the battery. This means they have greater fuel efficiency than other HEVs.

Since PHEVs can travel a greater distance using stored battery power, they have a “zero-emission range,” which means they produce no exhaust or pollutants.

For longer trips, the combustion engine will kick in when the battery runs out, and you can always refuel with gas if a charging station isn’t available.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) 

FCEVs are a type of hybrid vehicle that relies on hydrogen rather than gas to power the motor. Just like with an HEV, FCEVs have a rechargeable battery that stores energy, but it’s powered by a fuel cell rather than by fossil fuels or alternating power (AC) power.

Hydrogen fuel cells are appealing because they don’t produce any carbon emissions and they also have a range of up to 300 miles, which is more than most electric vehicles.

The downside is that hydrogen refueling stations are relatively rare outside of Southern California, and hydrogen fuel costs more per gallon than gasoline.

Still, FCEVs may prove to be more economical as hydrogen fuel becomes cheaper, and refueling stations become more widespread.

Extended range electric vehicles (E-REVs)

Finally, there’s the extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV), also referred to as a “series hybrid.” They’re often overlooked or grouped with other hybrids, but it operates on different principles. For example, the Chevrolet Volt is technically an E-REV, although it’s sometimes categorized as a plug-in hybrid.

Most hybrid vehicles have a parallel drivetrain. That means both the electric motor and the internal combustion engine can power the vehicle separately or in tandem. But in an E-REV, the internal combustion engine is only a back-up motor. It can act as a generator for the electric motor, but it isn’t directly connected to the drivetrain.

In other words, E-REVs can reduce range anxiety, but without favoring the gasoline engine over battery power, how many other hybrids do.

2 ways to decide if EVs are right for you

Electric vehicles aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The type of EV that you choose will depend on what’s most important to your fleet. You can prioritize range, fuel efficiency, charging speeds, or dozens of other factors.

1. Determine your ideal range

The precise range of your EV fleet will depend on your vehicles’ model, how well they’re driven, their payload, and what heating and cooling systems are used.

A typical BEV has a range of 100 to 300 miles on a single charge — that’s more than enough for many city bus routes. You can charge electric buses during scheduled stops at a fast-charging station. Consider using a roof-mounted connection, so the driver doesn’t have to get out to plug in the vehicle.

Delivery vans, ambulances, and mail trucks are all good candidates for battery-powered operation. If your route goes through remote areas with few charging stations, the option to refuel with gas or diesel may still be necessary. In that case, an E-REV or hybrid fleet may be more suitable.

For now, long-haul trucking may still be the domain of diesel engines. But even that’s likely to change. The Tesla Semi Truck is expected to have a range of up to 500 miles and a charging time of only 30 minutes when it’s released in 2021.

2. Calculate the overall lifetime cost

Another factor is cost. While your initial investment in an electric vehicle fleet may be higher than gas or diesel vehicles, the overall lifetime cost can be far cheaper. In part, that’s because most EVs, particularly BEVs, have fewer moving parts that require regular maintenance, like filters and belts.

For example, regenerative braking puts less strain on the components than standard friction braking, causing less wear and tear.

Charging stations may be one of the highest up-front costs to convert your vehicle fleet, but the cost of charging EVs is likely to go down over time.

McKinsey predicts that up to 8 million electric vehicles will be on U.S. roads by 2030. This means that charging infrastructure will become more widespread, and may include more focus on battery storage systems and renewable energy resources.

Fleet managers can benefit from investing in energy-management systems, such as batteries that capture power at off-peak times when prices are higher.

Why EV fleet management solutions help you get the most of your EV investment

No matter what electric vehicle you choose, fleet management solutions can help you get the most out of your electric vehicle investment.

A fleet management system like Samsara can help you get the most out of your EV investment. For example, driver apps can help you determine the most efficient routes. Or wireless sensors can monitor temperature and cargo, 

For example, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency (MBTA) uses Samsara to track and dispatch buses on over 177 routes, including its newest zero-emission battery-electric buses.

You can get daily or weekly fuel reports to track fuel and battery usage for EVs and hybrids, as well as ICE vehicles. 

Here are just a few more things electric vehicle-specific features Samsara gives you: 

  • Real-time State of Charge monitoring:  No need to call drivers to determine if they have enough power to get back to HQ. You can monitor each vehicle’s charging status in real time and get an alert if any vehicle runs low on power.You can view historical charging reports to help you monitor charging trends and improve the performance of your EV fleet. 

  • EV Charge Stations Map Overlay: With a built-in map overlay, you can view the locations, operating hours, and types of charging stations available along each route.Use this information to plan your routes more, cutting down on the time your drivers spend looking for charging stations and waiting for their vehicle to charge.

  • EV Charging report: Because the price of electricity changes from hour to hour, timing is everything. You can save money by viewing your charging history and scheduling in charging times at off-peak hours to get the best rates.Determine whether it’s more efficient to charge your vehicles at existing stations along their routes, or invest in your own charging infrastructure.

  • Fuel & Energy Usage Reporting: Monitor fuel and energy usage across all vehicles in your fleet, not just your EVs. This makes it easy to maintain visibility, even if you have a range of vehicles with different charging needs and fuel requirements.

You can view all of your vehicle reports from a single dashboard, and can use a Fleet Electrification assessment to determine which vehicles are candidates for replacing with a more efficient hybrid or all-electric vehicle.

Choose the right fleet management solution for EVs 

Electric vehicles are almost certain to be the future of trucking, busing, and commuting. More cities and companies are pledging to reduce their carbon emissions and invest in an energy-efficient fleet—learn how to build your future EV fleet with Samsara as your trusted partner.

With a fleet management solution like Samsara, you can use the latest tools to manage your EVs as efficiently as possible. 

Want to learn more about Samsara’s Electric Vehicle solutions? Click here or sign up for a free trial today.


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