Data: the factor that could drive businesses to join the EV revolution

Many fleet managers remain doubtful about electric vehicles’ sustainability credentials and the lack of charging infrastructure. But the sheer amount of data these products can provide may win them round
Aerial view of an EV pulling into a charging station

It’s been a fast but bumpy ride for electric vehicles (EVs) so far. Governments have introduced regulations and tax incentives to encourage their use, while Tesla has made them attractive to aspirational consumers. About 10.5 million new EVs (both plug-in hybrid and fully battery powered) were delivered worldwide last year, 55% up on 2021’s total, according to the EV-Volumes database. But the industry has yet to provide satisfactory responses to those concerned about the environmental impact of the manufacturing process and the continuing lack of charging facilities.

One aspect of the EV revolution that’s tended to go under the radar is the access it offers fleet managers to large volumes of accurate, timely data on vehicle usage and driver behaviour. Employers with big fleets have a chance to use this wealth of information to make improvements in areas such as cost-efficiency, sustainability and customer service. 

“Data is critically important to any fleet manager,” stresses John Randerson, chief technology officer at WN VTech, a manufacturer of zero-emission buses. “In the case of diesel- and petrol-powered vehicles, this could be provided only by overlaying software on to each vehicle. By contrast, the ability to provide data is an integral part of modern EVs, meaning that more of it is available from them.” 

He continues: “Every fleet manager will have their own specific data requirements, depending on the size of their fleet, its sector and the environment in which it operates. When creating EVs, manufacturers can work with software architects to produce a vehicle that provides data to suit each manager’s needs.” 

Data platforms that can be built upon

An EV can offer a host of information, ranging from the topography of the route it’s taking to how smoothly it’s being driven. Certainly, this telematics data could solve some of the problems that electrification has been causing many fleet managers. 

Philip van der Wilt is a senior vice-president at Samsara, a software developer specialising in the internet of things (IoT). He stresses that, “for the transition to EVs to work, fleet managers need IoT-enabled data to manage their vehicles and plan their operations”. Without such data, “the scenes over Christmas of cars queuing for hours at supermarkets and service stations to be recharged will be nothing compared with the sight of whole fleets left stranded because they’ve run out of charge”. 

For the transition to EVs to work, fleet managers need IoT-enabled data to manage their vehicles and plan their operations

Van der Wilt points out that fleet managers need such data to plot the most efficient delivery routes based on the range of each vehicle, accounting for variables such as the load it’s carrying and the weather it’s likely to encounter. 

“They need to be able to make intelligent decisions about where and when recharging stops should be made – preferably during drivers’ scheduled breaks and at booked charging stations – so that they can get moving again as quickly as possible,” he says.

Aidan McClean, CEO of all-electric car rental service UFODrive, makes an analogy comparing a conventionally fuelled vehicle and an EV to an old analogue telephone and a smartphone respectively. 

“The analogue phone remains very good at a few things, but the smartphone is the platform to build on,” he says. “Traditional telematics and data enable you to aggregate and track specific data points. Engaging directly with those data points takes a lot of work, but the result is that it helps you to build automated operations and real-time management processes.”

For example, a fleet manager can use the cameras on an EV to provide ID verification that allows the driver to access the vehicle, saving time and administration costs, McClean adds. While it’s being driven, data from the EV can be analysed to provide a continually updated prediction of the vehicle’s range. Platforms such as the one run by UFODrive can identify the most cost-efficient charging option en route and automatically book a slot for the vehicle. 

Charging points and decarbonisation

Waste management specialist Veolia has about 200 electric street-cleaning and refuse-collection vehicles. It’s integrating different data sets with operational systems such as battery, vehicle and charging infrastructure to make decisions aimed at optimising routes and prolonging its EVs’ working lives. 

“The data that we monitor has changed from preventive maintenance predictions to proactive performance optimisations, such as integrating next week’s weather forecast with our route planning to maximise battery performance in cold conditions,” says Veolia’s CIO in northern Europe, Stuart Stock. “This approach is crucial to making electrification a viable long-term decarbonisation solution by achieving significant efficiency savings. The data revolution also affects our people, who are learning new skills to make the transition to EVs as smooth as possible for our customers.”

Research by Statista indicates that the global EV market’s revenue will grow at an average annual rate of 17% between 2023 and 2027, by which time the industry will be worth about £720bn. It’s likely that the market for tech that can extract and analyse data from EVs will boom alongside it.

Greg Hanson is a vice-president at Informatica, a specialist in cloud data management, where he leads sales teams in EMEA and Latin America. He says that, in the future, “data from the thousands of sensors on the outside of an EV could be used to predict its battery life and range more accurately, accounting for factors such as the temperature and wind speed. They could also collect information on weather patterns. So, for instance, a car-hire firm with thousands of cars in action nationwide would have valuable real-time meteorological data and could share this aggregated information with interested parties.”

Concerns about the lack of charging points and the cost (both financial and ecological) of EVs will continue as the technology develops and the infrastructure is rolled out. Nonetheless, the wealth of actionable information that these vehicles have to offer – which could help firms to achieve crucial cost-efficiencies in tough times – may give sceptical fleet managers the reassurance they require to join the electric revolution.