Big fleet owners are always looking for ways to save money without impacting day-to-day productivity of their users. Many have adopted hybrids and PHEVs because their low tailpipe emissions make them cheap on tax, but they can still be filled with petrol to give more flexibility if travelling long distances. An increasing number, however, are sticking their necks out investing in EVs as a future-proof solution.
The trouble is that no matter how good EVs currently are, for time-pressured fleet operators whose users do big miles on the motorway, they're simply not practical. But for other fleet types, EVs are actually the perfect fit, enabling them to go green, improve local air quality, lower fuel and maintenance costs and get a bit of positive PR at the same time.
Leasing specialists, Leasefetcher, have done a bit of digging and found that when it comes to going electric, in the UK at least it's universities that are leading the way. It has crunched the numbers on 110 university fleets from across the country and found that higher education is a bastion of electric vehicle uptake. To add an extra dimension, it also studied consumer attitudes towards EVs, universities and their environmental responsibility.
In its consumer survey, Leasefetcher found that over three quarters of people felt that universities should lead by example when it comes to adopting electric cars. And you would imagine that unis and EVs are indeed a natural fit as younger people are far more open to the idea of owning one. For example, last year the AA found that young people were twice as likely to want to own an EV as their parents.
It's good news on this front with 49 per cent of universities in England and 45 per cent in Scotland having at least 20 per cent of their fleet made up of EVs. The top five performers were Kingston (64 per cent), Bournemouth (53 per cent), Manchester Metropolitan (52 per cent), Sunderland (47 per cent) and the University of Kent (44 per cent).
In the case of the University of Kent, it has been using Renault Kangoo Z.E vans across its 300 acre campus for nearly five years as part of its goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 23 per cent from 2015 levels by 2020.
The bottom line is that for many universities, EVs are almost a no-brainer, so there is a strong willingness among them to phase in electric vehicles.
“The campus environment is perfect to operate electric vehicles making short journeys and having ready access to electric charging," said University of Warwick Transport Manager, Graham Hine. "Our decision to switch to electric vehicles not only supports our strategy to significantly reduce carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels, but also makes an important social contribution to improving air quality for our students, staff and visitors.”
Universities are also major land owners and so can be far more proactive in dictating a greater number of EV charging bays across their facilities. Even a small university with limited parking facilities like Canterbury Christ Church University has ten 7kW charging points for staff, student or visitor use.
In terms of numbers, across the 110 universities studied14.9 per cent of fleet vehicles were EVs. The proportion of EVs has grown relatively quickly, too, with a 6.5 per cent increase since 2017. This does pale into insignificance when compared to the 122 per cent increase in EV market share over the past 12 months across the UK.
People's attitudes towards EVs unfortunately remain firmly in the mindset that they are the reserve of the wealthy, and Universities don't exactly have a reputation for being poor...
The fact of the matter is that despite better-than-average progress in electric adoption, diesel still makes up the biggest proportion of vehicles in university fleets at just under 70 per cent on average. This is unsurprising given their lower cost, wider availability and the fact that they're a known quantity for fleet managers.
Despite this dominance of diesel, there has been a modest 1.6 per cent drop between 2017 and 2019, but nine per cent of universities in the UK still have diesel/internal combustion-only fleets.
Wider public opinion is going against diesel thanks to a series of emissions scandals and an increased focus on harmful NOx and particulate emissions – especially in urban areas where clean air is now a massive focus. According to Leasefetcher's consumer survey, 56 per cent of people are less likely to buy a diesel car now than they were five years ago.
For the time being it's unlikely that any university or other mainstream fleets will go EV-only any time soon, however the data here suggests that the proportion of EVs in uni fleets will grow. Factors such as environmental commitments and even fleet vehicle lifecycle obligations may well see surges in progress as typically, universities will have three-to-five year plans within which their environmental aspirations are made.
As deadlines for environmental progress approach, and as the wider industry – from car manufacturer to leasing companies and government – turns its back on internal combustion, you can bet that universities will be several steps ahead in adoption.