Now is not the time to pump the brakes on fleet electrification

The coupled economic impacts of the pandemic and global oil crisis are expected to hit passenger electric vehicle sales hard, with a recent Bloomberg analysis predicting an 18% drop in sales this year. But many commercial fleets and state policymakers are continuing to push forward on their plans to electrify trucks and buses, even in these uncertain times.

We are seeing proof of this across the zero-emission vehicles market. In order to meet their long-term climate commitments as well as near-term policy requirements, fleet operators are continuing to accelerate their investments in electrification.

For example, last week Lyft announced that it will convert its entire fleet to 100% electric by 2030, making clear that corporate fleets are ready to invest in the transition to a zero-emission future. California is continuing to move ahead with a critical rule to advance clean trucks, pushing manufacturers to continue their development of zero-emission alternatives. And nearly 90% of corporate fleet managers still see EVs as the “inevitable future” — despite current economic conditions and historically low diesel prices. Meanwhile, air quality has become an increasingly salient issue in the age of COVID, which is adding social pressure to corporates and policymakers alike to address pollution from dirty vehicles.

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In short, fleet decision makers should keep their foot on the electrification accelerator to remain competitive and protect their brand. Here’s why.

People are waking up to the promise of clean air

In air pollution hot spots like Los Angeles and Mumbai, people are seeing the benefits of clean air for the first time in decades — but for a reason no one would ever want. This will leave a lasting impression even as the global decrease in car and plane travel returns to normal and cities see pollution levels rebound. We need to achieve clear blue skies the right way.

Still, some of the most dangerous pollutants are invisible, and are not declining at the rate people think. NPR recently reported that traffic in the U.S. decreased by 40% in the last two weeks of March, yet ground-level ozone only dropped by 15% or less. While meteorology and other pollutants play a role in ozone formation, the most plausible explanation is that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, such as delivery vans and trucks, remained on the road during the COVID shutdown. This highlights the importance of continuing to push for the electrification of trucks and buses in our communities during and after the pandemic.

Recent studies are making the connection between dirty air and the risk of COVID. According to the CDC those with certain underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or chronic respiratory diseases, may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Pollution from diesel-fueled trucks and buses makes us more vulnerable to the coronavirus because extended exposure to air pollution can damage the lungs — leading to more asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths that disproportionately affect people of color and disadvantaged communities.

Not only are vehicles responsible for these negative health impacts, but they are contributing to the warming of our planet, as transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

These facts could put clean air higher on the list of what people care about most. Fleet owners and cities are seeing a surge in public pressure campaigns to keep skies clean and clear, pushing decision makers to prioritize truck and bus electrification even after the pandemic.

Delaying action is financially risky

Even though oil prices have hit historic lows in the last few months, projections show they will likely rise again at some point. In a time of such economic uncertainty, fuel price volatility would be helpful to strike from the list of things fleet owners have to worry about. By investing in electric vehicles, a fleet owner is investing in a more stable, secure and resilient future, in addition to more reliable energy costs.

Electric trucks and buses are becoming cheaper and more competitive than their diesel counterparts. Due to lower operation, maintenance and fuel costs, fleet owners may actually save money by electrifying their fleets despite the generally higher upfront capital cost. As fleet owners look for ways to recover from this economic downturn and cut costs, electrification should be at the top of their list.

In times of crisis and economic instability, it is human nature to gravitate towards what is familiar and avoid risk. However, by not succumbing to fear and continuing to move forward with electrification plans, fleet owners have the potential to create less risk and more savings. They also have the potential to have a hugely beneficial impact on human health and create a brighter future for our world post-pandemic.

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