Electric vehicles lead pack in greening corporate fleets

Electric vehicles lead pack in greening corporate fleets

In the increasingly competitive race to create the greenest fleet in North America, Frito-Lay took another small step forward this week, adding five all-electric delivery vehicles to its Northern California routes. Since 2010, Frito-Lay has put 176 electric delivery trucks on the road in North America.

Designed by Electric Vehicles International, the new trucks boast a 90-mile range, top speed of 65 miles per hour and a 99 kWh lithium phosphate battery system. It’s a new direction for Frito-Lay, which has previously used Smith Electric Vehicles to green its fleet.

The Frito-Lay EV pilots are part of parent company PepsiCo’s long-term goal to build the greenest fleet in North America, according to Mike O'Connell, senior director of fleet capability at Frito-Lay North America. That will be a tall order given the number of companies currently jockeying for that title.

Schwan’s Home Service Delivery, State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company, Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSK), AT&T (NYSE: T) and Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) grabbed the top five spots on industry magazine Automotive Fleet's most recent Top 50 Green Fleets list, which ranks commercial fleets according to the number of propane, compressed natural gas, flex fuel, hybrid-electric and biofuel vehicles they have.

But size alone isn’t always the best indicator of success.  Comcast, for example, has 3,690 green vehicles (predominantly flex fuel, with 190 hybrids) on the road, which wins it third place on the Automotive Fleet list – but its green vehicles make up only 10 percent of the company's total fleet of 36,500 vehicles. Schwann’s, on the other hand, has greened up 84 percent of its fleet. And all the way down the list at the No. 21 spot, Florida Power & Light has converted a whopping 92 percent of its fleet to greener vehicles (including hybrid and biofuel).

And some companies are focusing their efforts on adding more of the greenest vehicles – EVs – instead of on switching larger portions of their fleets to hybrids, flex fuel, biofuel and CNG. Ranking 37th on the Green Fleets list, FedEx made significant investments in EVs throughout 2011 and will no doubt climb up the ranks on the 2012 list. General Electric has similarly committed itself to going electric, last year announcing its intention to replace half of its 30,000 vehicles with EVs by 2015.

The Department of Energy’s National Clean Fleets Partnership has helped to hit the gas (or greener fuel) pedal for greener commercial fleets in the U.S. When the partnership launched in April 2011, AT&T, FedEx (NYSE: FDX), PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), UPS (NYSE: UPS) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) -- which collectively own and operate more than 275,000 vehicles -- agreed to replace their gasoline and diesel powered vehicles with those that run on electricity, natural gas, biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or propane.

The Obama Administration announced its plans to shift government fleets over to greener vehicles, as well. In addition to providing a market for new EVs and other alternative-fuel vehicles, the partnership will help smaller companies access lower pricing on such vehicles: By joining the partnership, companies of any size can access group purchasing benefits.

The Department of Energy also has developed a wide range of tools -- including cost calculators, interactive maps, customizable database searches and mobile applications -- to help companies find the right green vehicles for their fleets.

It’s not that these companies were lagging behind or disinterested in green vehicles before, but that options were limited. As technology has advanced -- and companies have embraced EVs in particular as good for both marketing campaigns and fuel budgets -- the shift to a greener fleet is accelerating.

Photo by iQoncept via Shutterstock.

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