Arval senior consultant David Watts speaks to Natalie Middleton about why it’s important not to overcomplicate electric vehicle take-up for company car drivers.

If electric vehicles weren’t already big news for fleets, the Government’s announcement of the 2030 ICE ban has helped focus minds on the need to start thinking EV now.

After all, 2030 is only 2-3 vehicle replacement cycles away for many fleets.

But in fact, while many businesses may have concerns about how to adopt EVs, the message from Arval is that the process is very simple – and that an electric vehicle can work for every car driver in the country.

Arval senior consultant David Watts – who has been a leading advocate of electric vehicles in the fleet industry for more than 10 years – says: “My main approach to electric vehicles in company car fleets is that fleets need to stop overthinking it. Don’t overcomplicate it. In the grand scheme of things, they are just cars that you fuel up slightly differently. Stop thinking of them as being completely different and that your approach and your policies for them should be completely different.

“There are some slight nuances but in essence an EV it’s just a car”
“From a car point of view, an EV will work for every single person in the country. There is no reason why it will not.”

David Watts, Arval senior consultant

Watts, who has routinely contributed to white papers and articles and spoken at fleet and EV events over the last decade, says car fleets’ concerns over EV adoption have been partly driven by a lot of messaging out there that they need to take comprehensive actions, such as driver profiling, to ensure that drivers are suitable for EVs.

But he adds: “We see an awful lot about stuff that is arguably more van-orientated in terms of the process of thought and the application, and it is just generally referred to as ‘fleet’, which then becomes misleading for car fleet operators.”

Watts did stress that the starting point for car fleets’ adoption of EVs has to be ensuring that the choice list policy – whatever form it takes – is based on some form of appropriate whole-life costs.

He continues: “Plug-in vehicles and EVs will never sit in the right place on your choice list unless you are incorporating whole-life costs, particularly the National Insurance element as actually Class 1A National Insurance is a very big factor these days in the difference between one car and another.

“So that’s your starting point. And then beyond that, there’s very little that you should be thinking about.”

He continued: “Now clearly this a whole new subject for most people. To paraphrase the words of Phil and Kirstie, it’s about ‘education, education, education’ – you can’t provide drivers with too much education on electric vehicles.

“Now whether that education is coming from the business, from the leasing company, or providing them with links or useful websites, you can’t give drivers too much information before they make that decision.

“Because fundamentally it’s a personal decision; ‘Can I make this car work for me?’”

Suitable for everyone

Watts also says that from a practicality perspective, electric cars can be suitable for everyone but there is a spectrum of how easy or hard they will be to deploy.

“If you can change at home and you’re routinely not doing journeys beyond 200 miles and then don’t really need to access the public charging network, then EVs are really, really simple and are easier to use than a petrol or diesel car because you don’t need to go to a petrol station anymore, you just plug in at night and all’s good.

“However, at the other end of the spectrum you have people who can’t charge at home and who routinely – four or five days a week – are doing journeys well in excess of 200 miles.

“Now it’s not to say that’s impossible but it’s noticeably harder for them to use an EV. And depending on which EV they have, will depend on how easy or hard it is. If they have a car with a much lower range, it’s going to be harder to deal with. If they have something like a long-range Tesla, then it’s going to be easier as your charging requirements are going to be less.

“But essentially it’s a spectrum of easy to hard and the end of the spectrum is not impossible, it’s just really hard.”

From the perspective of the company car policy, Watts says that as long as the car is priced appropriately within the structure and “therefore the business is essentially fuel-agnostic or fuel-neutral in terms of what car they use”, then what does it matter in terms how easy or hard it is for the driver and whether they are willing or note to deal with those hardships?

Instead, he outlined that car policy decision-makers shouldn’t impose their own perceptions about the challenges and barriers that an individual may or may not have, because it’s fundamentally the driver’s choice.

“It’s something I routinely hear businesses say: ‘We’re not going to allow our drivers to order an EV, it depends on whether they can charge the car at home.’

“Why would you do that? That policy will have to stop in 2030. So why would you have a policy today that you know categorically has got a life span on it of the next 9.5 years. So some might argue that the infrastructure will be different. Well, yes, but why are you making the choice on behalf of the driver? Let the driver make the choice. Give them the information. Let them understand what the implications are and let them make that choice.”

It’s a process that Arval has already deployed for its own inhouse company car drivers – the business recently revamped its scheme to support EV adoption and within six months had seen half of staff switch to EVs, compared to around 2-5% before. This was in part spurred by allowing its employees to early terminate their cars, despite the cost to the business, to fast-forward adoption of EVs, so its employees could have more constructive conversations with fleet customers about EV adoption.

Arval also deployed an EV order declaration form, which it’s made available to its customers and which includes around 6-7 questions to make sure drivers are aware they will only be paid the advisory electric fuel for business mileage or asking if they regularly tow, just to provide a checklist for the driver and also to be used as a backup later if the driver says they don’t want the car anymore as it’s unsuitable.

However, Watts stresses that EV adoption does not require a whole new car policy – just an EV section within the existing car policy that reiterates things like if a driver is doing a business journey that’s beyond the range of the car, they can’t hire one and they can’t take a pool car. “Essentially they’re just slight nuances more than anything else,” he adds.

Treat workplace charging separately

Watts also says business decisions on charge point installations should be treated as an entirely separate consideration to decisions on electric vehicle adoption, helping to support all drivers making the switch.

“You should be thinking about putting charge points in at work, not because of your company car policy but because your employees who are based in the office at some point, if they’re not already, will be transitioning to EVs. Whether they’re in a company car at not, they will at some point over the next 15 years transition to EVs. And for those people who can’t charge at home, you are going to make that significantly easier for them to be able to do so.

“Disconnect those two elements; the infrastructure policy and the car policy. Infrastructure in your workplace is a completely separate issue and is nothing to do with whether you have EVs on your company car choice list.”

To help fleets debunk myths on EVs and decide if they’re the right fit for the business, Arval has also published a free guide. To access the guide, click here.

“You should be thinking about putting charge points in at work, not because of your company car policy but because your employees who are based in the office at some point will be transitioning to EVs”

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