Thought Leadership

Fleet Decision-Makers See BEVs as the Future of Fleet but Need Proof That the Ecosystem Can Deliver

November 28, 2023
Author: Lucas Lowden
Image of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) owner seeking guidance on how to charge his BEV.

Despite headlines proclaiming huge positive momentum, progress toward fleet electrification remains tempered, with most businesses opting for incremental changes rather than large-scale investments.

That’s according to the latest data from Escalent’s Fleet Advisory Hub™, our leading insights program designed to explore the needs, expectations and emotions of commercial vehicle and fleet decision-makers. Issuing the second edition of its Fleet Electrification Brand Landscape Report, the study surveyed almost 1,000 fleet decision-makers to capture the perspectives of those on the front lines of the sector on the state of BEV adoption and their brand perceptions.

Of the participating fleet leaders, 23% indicated that their business has brought a battery electric vehicle (BEV) into their fleet, a 35% year-over-year increase. Even so, in-market BEV penetration remains at only around 1%. This indicates that the majority of fleets are integrating one or two BEVs at a time rather than replacing large portions of inventory—leading to less market traction than many expect.

Image of a data point from Escalent's Fleet Advisory Hub study depicting 23% BEV adoption in fleet businesses, which represents an increase of 6ppt or 35% YOY

Going beyond early adopters to tap into and move more risk-averse mainstream market businesses down the purchase funnel, manufacturers will need real-world ways to demonstrate BEV reliability and performance.

A Halo Effect for Established Automakers

In terms of brand perception, little has shifted in our study in the last 12 months. Tesla has maintained its edge in the light passenger vehicle segment, with 39% of fleet decision-makers ranking it as the leader in the market. Ford, meanwhile, is the front-runner in the commercial van, commercial pickup truck and medium/heavy-duty segments.

While Ford enjoys a commanding lead in the van, pickup truck and medium/heavy-duty segments, its year-over-year leadership score has dropped slightly in all three categories. Similarly, Tesla’s leadership score has decreased by one percentage point in the light passenger vehicle segment.

A halo effect is still at work for established brands, allowing them to dominate in leadership rankings. Legacy automakers have the advantage of long-standing relationships with fleet decision-makers—and the reputation that comes with decades in the game.

Nevertheless, there is hope on the horizon for emerging automakers. While start-ups lag in awareness and familiarity metrics, those who recognize the companies often rate them on par with segment averages for positive opinion and consideration.

In the commercial truck segment, for instance, only 21% of decision-makers reported a favorable opinion of Rivian as a BEV manufacturer. Just 10% said the same about Bollinger. However, among those familiar with the brand, this measure rose to 53% for both companies. If these new players can increase their top-of-funnel awareness, they could gain traction among a broader group of vehicle buyers.

Image of data from Escalent's Fleet Advisory Hub study depicting Commercial Truck—Opinion and Consideration (Among Those Familiar) with emerging brands Rivian and Bollinger

Rivian Pulls Ahead

Within the cohort of start-ups included in the study, one stands out—Rivian.

Rivian outperforms its start-up peers in commercial van and pickup truck segments for familiarity, positive opinion, consideration and leadership perception. Moreover, among those who are acquainted with the automaker, Rivian proves competitive with the overall segment average for consideration in the commercial pickup truck segment.

The Amazon-backed manufacturer previously announced a partnership with the e-commerce giant to get 100,000 electric delivery vehicles on the road by 2030, with some of these units more recently hitting the roadways. One of the most prominent fleet collaborations to date, this likely afforded Rivian a boost in recognition. If the brand can continue to build familiarity and provide a solid customer experience, it could become a successful disruptor.

Opportunities to Improve the EV Experience

Various factors are likely tempering brand evaluations. These could run the gamut from disappointment with in-market products to long wait times for new models. Perhaps most importantly, though, the peripherals related to customer and ownership experience in the EV ecosystem remain a significant obstacle. When ranking the top challenges to adoption, almost 35% of decision-makers noted driving range. Time to charge, along with battery life and replacement costs, closely follows.

Image of data from Escalent's Fleet Advisory Hub study depicting the Top BEV Barriers to Adoption for Fleet Decision-Makers

To commit to electrifying their fleets, companies must feel confident that elements such as charging infrastructure and battery life and replacement costs can meet their expectations. Automakers are pursuing a variety of approaches to address these issues. A consortium of seven manufacturers recently joined forces to launch a new EV charging network. Others are striking deals with Tesla to grant customers access to its nationwide North American Charging Standard (NACS) connectors network.

A “Prove-It Approach” to Crossing the BEV Chasm

With the current tempered reality of the electrification landscape aside, 40% of decision-makers said they consider BEVs to be the future of managing the fleet business. So, how can automakers entice companies to cross the chasm? Fleet decision-makers want evidence that BEVs can deliver.

Pilot test programs prove to be the most popular model in spurring adoption. Fifty-two percent of fleet leaders stated that partnering with a company to try out BEVs at a low, fixed cost would make them more likely to contemplate the switch. In addition, decision-makers demonstrate enthusiasm for models that offer turnkey solutions and fleet-as-a-service. Both could help to address the steep infrastructure and learning curves posed by the integration and management of BEVs.

Ongoing education also has a role to play. In its “Run on Less – Electric” program, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) works with fleets already using BEVs to collect data on the benefits and difficulties of fleet electrification. Projects like these can enable smaller businesses that don’t have the resources to take on new risks to better understand the realities of managing BEVs.

A Push for Change in the Regulatory Landscape

In the past few years, much has changed to encourage the adoption of BEVs. Through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the federal government is offering a clean vehicle tax credit of up to $40,000 for electric commercial vehicles. A billion-dollar pool of grants and rebates is also available through states, local governments and municipalities.

In addition, proposed regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—along with state-level initiatives such as two California Air Resource Board (CARB) sister rulings—are designed to increase the proportion of zero and near-zero emission vehicles on the road in the next 10 to 15 years. CARB’s Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) rule is aimed at commercial vehicle manufacturers and the vehicles they produce, while the Advanced Clean Fleet (ACF) ruling is targeted at businesses that buy and operate vehicles.

All that said, a wide variety of businesses operate within the fleet market and, thus far, both regulations and manufacturers have focused much of the electrification push on larger companies. Although this has been to the near-term detriment of small and medium businesses, it does provide an opportunity for vehicle manufacturers and service providers to take learnings from the enterprise level and scale them down to make BEV adoption more manageable for the smaller fleets.

A Dynamic Road Ahead on the BEV Adoption Curve

Given the nuances making most businesses unique, automakers must work to align the promise of the electrified fleet with the expectations and needs of each customer. BEVs are more than just the vehicles fleets have always known—BEVs represent a paradigm shift to a further sprawling ecosystem of services and functions. Manufacturers and service providers must shift with them, where every element of the BEV ownership experience will need to be rock solid to attract and retain fleet customers, and many decision-makers are waiting for more evidence that BEVs can live up to their promise.

Contrary to many headlines, the commercial vehicle and fleet industry remains in the early stages of the BEV adoption curve and the path to fleet electrification will be dynamic, complex and sometimes unpredictable. This is a challenge for both vehicle manufacturers and service providers, as well as companies operating vehicles. This is a journey on a winding road that will take time, testing, flexibility and patience to overcome.

If you’d like to learn more about our study findings or how we can help you better understand the journey and perspectives of commercial vehicle and fleet businesses in their transition to BEVs, please click the button below to send us a note.


Escalent | Lucas Lowden
Lucas Lowden
Insights Consultant, Automotive & Mobility

Innovation strategist and business analyst, Lucas has over 15 years of experience in market research and automotive. He is the program lead for Fleet Advisory Hub™—an innovative, cost effective way for companies to secure a substantial portion of their annual commercial and fleet vehicle insights. Lucas has spent significant time working with senior management to frame Escalent's automotive strategy around the next generation of research and consulting solutions. He also led the facilitation of a cross-functional team to develop Escalent's big data and IoT strategy, capabilities and partner network.