The Complete Guide to Electric Vehicles for Fleets

April 13, 2020

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Key Takeaways

Whether you're currently evaluating electric vehicles for your fleet or you've already electrified, consult this guide to learn everything you need to know about electric vehicles.

With fuel costs on the rise and more government pressure to switch to greener alternatives, many organizations are adding electric vehicles to their fleets to help lower operational costs and carbon emissions. Though there’s more interest in electrifying fleets because of cost saving opportunities, some fleets are left wondering what the real benefits are from switching to electric vehicles. 

Whether you’re planning to electrify your fleet or you’re learning about electric vehicles for the first time, this comprehensive guide can help you learn about the benefits of electric vehicles to inform your electrification strategy. Keep reading to learn about what electric vehicles are, how they work, their main benefits, and more. 

What are electric vehicles and how do they differ from internal combustion engines (ICEs)? 

Electric vehicles—or electric cars—are vehicles that run at least partially on electricity rather than gasoline or diesel-powered engines. Because electric vehicles run on electricity instead of fossil fuels, they do not emit exhaust or contribute to air pollution. Currently, there are three different types of electric vehicles: 

  • BEVs—or battery electric vehicles

  • PHEVs—or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles

  • HEVs—or hybrid electric vehicles

But how do electric vehicles differ from internal combustion engines? Unlike internal combustion engines that run entirely on fuel, electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries to power their engines. Simply put, electric vehicles do not use gasoline to operate.This enables electric vehicles to start much faster than their combustion counterparts, due in part from their light weight and ability to produce high torque from the get-go. 

3 different types of electric vehicles 

Before you start evaluating the benefits of electric vehicles for your fleet, it’s important to recognize the differences between the three types of EVs. 

Type of electric vehicle


Automakers who make this type of electric vehicle

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs)

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are all-electric vehicles with rechargeable batteries and no gasoline engine.

Tesla Model 3, BMW i3, Chevrolet Bolt, Chevrolet Spark, Nissan LEAF, Ford Focus Electric, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Soul, Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, Toyota Rav4, Volkswagen e-Golf

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can recharge their batteries in one of two ways: with regenerative braking, and by plugging in to an external power source.

Chevy Volt, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Mercedes C350e, Audi A3 E-Tron, BMW 330e, Fiat 500e, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid, Toyota Prius, Volvo XC90 T-8

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid electric vehicles are powered through both electricity and gasoline, and utilize regenerative braking to power their engines.

Toyota Prius Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid

What can you use electric vehicles for? 

In the past few years, electric vehicles have become popular for consumers and organizations alike. Consumers increasingly use electric cars for their commutes and short range trips, while organizations and local governments, such as the City of Boston’s public works department, use electric cars to improve citizen services and reduce their environmental impact. 

In addition, public sector fleets have begun introducing electric vehicles into their fleets to save on operational costs and are beginning to fully electrify their older internal combustion engine vehicles. Government fleets have unique requirements for environmental and sustainability management. Investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via electrification transition to EV and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and optimizing vehicle inventory is directly tied to public funds and taxpayer dollars. Government agencies are using smarter tools to monitor smog, idling, fuel costs, PTO monitoring, electrification and electric vehicle transitioning and monitoring.  See how the City of Boston and the City of Sacramento are managing their electric fleet.

With miles of range between 200 and 350 miles, local government fleets and organizations with light-duty vehicles should consider evaluating electric vehicles to replace their current vehicles for shorter trips. 

What is regenerative braking? 

Each time a driver brakes in a traditional ICE vehicle, energy is produced, turned into heat, and then essentially wasted. In order to minimize energy waste and recapture the energy emitted from braking, all-electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles use a system called regenerative braking. 

When a driver operates a vehicle with regenerative braking, the brakes put the vehicle’s engine into reverse mode, causing it to move backwards and slow the car’s wheels. This allows the motor to act as an electric generator which produces energy that is used to power the car’s batteries. 

Not only does regenerative braking improve the fuel economy of a vehicle but it also extends the charge of an electric vehicle’s battery by creating energy that otherwise would not have existed. 

What are electric vehicle charging stations?

Electric vehicle charging stations provide electric power for the recharging of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Although all charging stations serve the same purpose—to make sure your electric cars stay powered—there are three distinct types of public charging stations that are important to be aware of: 

  • Level 1: These chargers are the most standard and derive power from a standard wall outlet of 120 volts. These chargers take the longest to charge—usually about 10 hours to fully charge an all-electric vehicle and a few hours for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.  

  • Level 2: These chargers use the typical EV plug found in homes and garages and make up the largest percentage of public charging stations. 

  • Level 3: These charging stations, commonly known as DCFC or DC fast charging stations, are the least common but charge vehicles at the fastest rate. Tesla’s Superchargers, for example, can fully charge an electric car within 75 minutes. 

The 4 main benefits of electric vehicles 

Despite the challenges and occasional drawbacks of owning electric vehicles such as limited range and charging infrastructure, there are several benefits that can have a big impact on your fleet’s bottom line. By investing in electric vehicles, your fleet can: 

  • Lower operational costs: By eliminating or reducing your fleet’s dependency on fossil fuels, you can save on the cost of gasoline. According to the US Department of Energy, all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have a typical energy cost of $50-80/month, compared to the ICE gasoline cost of $160-200/month. This means you could save up to $200 per month on fueling alone by switching from a gas-powered car to an electric car.

  • Fewer maintenance issues: With fewer moving parts to maintain, electric vehicle owners save thousands of dollars per year on maintenance costs. In fact, electric car owners report spending one third of the cost to maintain their EVs than traditional ICE vehicles. 

  • Environmental benefits: With zero tailpipe emissions, electric cars are better for the environment and can help improve air quality in cities and municipalities.  

  • Vehicle safety: Electric vehicles have shown to be safer than internal combustion engine vehicles for a few reasons: lithium-ion batteries are less flammable than gasoline, and the vehicles are less likely to roll over in a collision due to their lighter weight. Electric car automakers have begun to strategically place the vehicles’ batteries further away from the vehicles’ “crumple zones”—or areas that are susceptible to getting smashed in a crash— in order to mitigate risk of fire in the case of a collision. 

What to evaluate when deciding to invest in electric vehicles 

There are several factors that go into the decision to invest in electric vehicles. When evaluating your electric car options, take the following criteria into consideration: 

  • Vehicle price and total cost of ownership (TCO): Currently, 19 of 40 electric vehicle options on the market have an MSRP lower than $37,000, which is the average cost of a new car in the United States. Despite misconceptions that electric cars have high sticker prices, the reality is that the total cost of ownership of electric cars is increasingly on-par with traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. 

  • Charging station infrastructure: One of the biggest barriers to entry for electric vehicle ownership is ensuring that you have the proper charging station infrastructure to keep your electric cars running. Without ample charging station access, drivers can be left with “bricked” vehicles—or vehicles that run out of charge before reaching a charger. 

  • Battery costs: Despite the cost savings electric cars provide, a lesser known cost is battery replacement. With a typical battery replacement cost hovering around $5,000, this is a cost that you should keep in mind when evaluating electric vehicles. 

  • Battery life: Electric vehicle battery life is another thing to watch out for when deciding if electric vehicles are right for you. Most electric car automakers claim a battery life of up to 500,000 miles, but battery degradation can sometimes happen starting at 30,000 miles—making it more difficult for batteries to hold a charge. Without a battery replacement, electric vehicle owners can begin to see a 3- to- 5% decline in driving range over time.

  • Driving range: Most electric vehicles today have a driving range of more than 200 miles, with the best long range vehicles clocking in around 370 miles. Although 200 miles is typically a long enough range for short trips, if you need a vehicle  for longer trips, you may want to consider hybrid electric vehicles instead. 

What tax credits are available for electric vehicles? 

For over ten years, the federal government provided tax credits to incentivize consumers to purchase electric vehicles. In the United States, all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles purchased in or after 2010 were eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, depending on the capacity of the vehicle’s battery. But starting January 1, 2020, Congress suspended the incentive program. 

Despite losing the federal incentive program, automakers like Tesla and General Motors are optimistic that state incentives will not dampen sales. States like California and Colorado offer electric car tax credit programs, allowing electric vehicle owners to claim tax credits of $5,000 per BEV and PHEV. Learn more about tax credit programs in your state here

Why fleets should use telematics to track electric vehicles

For fleets looking to make the most of their electric vehicle investment, telematics is the next critical step. 

For many EV fleets, not having sufficient battery to complete a round-trip or not being able to find a charging station in time is a major concern. Since electric vehicles can take over eight hours to fully charge, electric vehicle fleets require a major shift in driver behavior. Those unaccustomed to electric cars might forget to stop and charge in time, putting themselves at risk of being unable to complete their job. 

Because of this, planning is even more essential for an electric vehicle fleet. Monitoring data points such as state of charge, nearby charging stations, or charging history are essential to ensure every electric vehicle in your fleet can make it to a charging station and complete their job on time.

3 reasons to choose Samsara to monitor your electric vehicle fleet 

1. Samsara gives you remote visibility into your electric vehicles’ real-time state of charge: With State of Charge Reports you can view current and historical vehicle state of charge to help inform fleet dispatching and operational decisions. You can also easily monitor charging status to determine if your electric vehicles are plugged in and charging. 

2. Samsara helps you stay charged and save on costs: With the Samsara EV Charge Stations Map Overlay, you can see nearby charging station information including open hours, available charging types, and more so you can find the closest station available and plan routes accordingly. Additionally, with the Charging History report, you can reduce costs for charge times during peak hours and save money. 

3. Samsara is one unified platform for all of your vehicles: Whether you have electric vehicles, hybrids, or gasoline powered vehicles, Samsara allows fleet managers to monitor all of their vehicles in one, easy to view dashboard. With features to assess the suitability of electrifying your fleet, Samsara provides our customers with the tools they need to reach their sustainability and cost savings goals. 

Learn how to build your future EV fleet with Samsara as your trusted partner.