Case Study: The Ethics And Practicalities Of An All-Electric Fleet

Fleet managers and decision-makers are weighing up the pros and cons of all-electric vehicles. A clamp down of diesel and a number of appealing incentives provide plenty of reasons for making the transition now. But there are also a number of practical obstacles, including limited range, sometimes narrow model options and reduced loading capacity. Nevertheless, for some businesses using electric vehicles isn’t simply a business decision; it’s an ethical imperative. But where is the line drawn and what’s currently possible? London-based company Farmdrop has its own insights…

Farmdrop specialises in providing fresh produce, sourced from local farmers and fishermen, to residents in the likes of London and the south. Founded six years ago, this niche ability to provide otherwise unobtainable freshness has caused the company to quickly expand. From the very beginning, the company decided to utilise an all-electric fleet, pursuing what it considers to be a sustainable and environmentally driven ethos. For its efforts, the company has already secured itself a number of awards including Go Ultra Low Company status, a Fleet Hero award and Eco Fleet of the Year at the Fleet News Awards. In short, the company stands out as having made very significant contributions to pushing electrification.

But the reward for its environmentally-minded strategy isn’t simply pride. In London, Farmdrop’s fleet will avoid having to pay to enter the capital’s new ‘ultra-low emission’ zones and will avoid often eye-watering congestion charges; saving a small fortune for the company in the long-term. David Brown, Farmdrop’s fleet manager, told Fleet News that “the environment has always been the company’s number one priority; it’s what shaped its fleet policy from the day the business started.” He added “air quality is a challenge not just in London, but across the country. It’s something operators of all sizes are having to face up to.”

However, the growth of the business and lingering limitations surrounding EV capabilities is now causing Farmdrop to consider the ‘unthinkable’; taking on diesel vehicles. A limited range of electric vans and insufficient loading capacity constraints have forced the company to change its short-term strategy and eco commitments. As it stands, there are just 9 models of van that fall under the plug-in vehicle grant, compared to the 38 cars it covers.

Larger orders from further afield the company’s traditional base have also highlighted the current limitations of the fleet’s makeup. Mr Brown said “we want to be able to run electric, medium-sized wheelbase vans down from Enfield to Leatherhead and Croydon, but that’s not possible. You can’t get down there, do your drops, and come back without having to factor in an hour or so downtime recharging.” He added “as a result we’re going to have to diversify our fleet. We want to remain 100% electric to our customers – and we will for the overwhelming majority – but we’re going to have to use diesel, for some, in the short term.”

Farmdrop has also found it hard to locate market-ready EV vans with the required refrigeration features. Limited and slow charging infrastructure has also had to be contended with. The cost of a fast-charging facility was ‘prohibitive’ and many options aren’t compatible with the model of vans used by the company anyway. Drivers make do using public-charging facilities. Brown said “We have a pure electric ethos, but at some stage the hybrid route may be an option for us.” Brown believes that the future of EVs in fleets is largely dependent on manufacturers producing appropriate and functional models, he said “when they do, we’ll be the first in the line to invest in them.”

Farmdrop has managed to establish and maintain an EV-based fleet for years, all whilst delivering growth and expansion. The company has pursued an ethos and a brand that highlights its commitment to reducing emissions and protecting the environment. But sometimes will is simply insufficient, in business terms at least, to make such a radical change work. Real, profit-driven considerations have exposed the stubborn weaknesses of EV vehicles and their associated technologies. Until car manufacturers can offer broader product ranges, especially concerning commercial models, what fleet’s can realistically accomplish is greatly reduced. Farmdrop’s choices represent what is possible now and it’s significant; but it’s not quite enough to bring about a revolution in fleet management and transport just yet… Although it seems they have every intention of being one of the first over the crossing line when it is. 

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