Fuel card standardisation an obstacle for electric fleets
Seen an electric car on the roads recently? Nope, neither have I, though I did see two Teslas in the one day a few weeks back, which was quite a surprise. There's no doubt about it, electric cars are few and far between on Australian roads. While public opinion surveys seem to show that there's plenty of interest and we're keen enough to buy them, sales are currently held back by a daunting combination of price, range anxiety, a shortage of charging options and a lack of vehicle choice.
British research company Cornwall Insight has recently written about how fleets will lead the adoption of electric vehicles but it's also highlighted some important policy problems that need solutions if they're to become mainstream in the fleet industry. One of them is the problem of fuel cards for electric vehicles.
Fuel cards to Electricity cards
Fuel cards, like Fleetcare's fuel cards are an essential part of fleet management, providing an efficient way to pay for fuel while greatly simplifying accounting. As electric vehicles become increasingly common for fleets there's an obvious need for similar cards to pay for electricity at a charging point. Right now, no one's doing that and the prospect of multiple charging networks owned by different suppliers, not just established fuel companies, makes establishing a standard payment method pretty difficult. Sorting it out will require a cooperative approach between fleet companies, energy suppliers and possibly governments to develop common standards.
It's a problem that's become apparent in Britain, where the adoption of electric vehicles for fleets is more advanced than in Australia.
“The issue of [a] lack of standard payment methods for EV charging was recognized in the Electric Vehicle (Standardized Recharging) Bill, and without a universal payment method for EVs, this will quickly become an administrative headache for fleet managers,” he said, “especially those with a broad geographical range, who will end up having to manage multiple different memberships and fees to operate as they do today,” said Cornwall Insight's Tom Lusher.
Lusher says that what's needed is legislation that "would ensure that fuel cards, as well as other types of credit/debit card[s], can pay at a charge point without the need for a subscription or an app associated with any charge point network in the country.”
Cornwall Insight mentions one possible solution being trialled in Britain. It's a smart phone app that stores fuel card details and links them to a bank account. That also solves the problem of employees being reimbursed for their expenses when they recharge vehicles from home.
To Australian fleet operators it's a problem that may seem pretty pie-in-the-sky at a time when electric vehicles are rarer than an honest politician. But with predictions that electric vehicles could be as cheap as internal combustion ones by 2026, and cheaper after that, the electrification of Australia's fleets is inevitable.
Before that happens, however, there's practical policy work to be done among the fleet industry, governments and electricity suppliers. That's vital if we're to make that transition as smooth as possible so that we all benefit from vehicles that are cheaper to own and operate and gentler on the planet.