The head of Ford’s electric van programme has outlined the company’s strategy for promoting electric vehicles to commercial users, and said there is a ‘strong’ desire to reduce vehicle emissions within the business sector.
Mark Harvey, director of Ford’s electrified van programme spoke to airqualitynews.com ahead of his presentation to the LowCVP conference in London this week, at which he revealed details of the company’s trial of 20 plug-in hybrid Transit vans for commercial users in the capital (see airqualitynews.com story).
The 12-month Transit plug-in hybrid trial will involve users including Transport for London, Metropolitan Police, British Gas and Addison Lee and will commence later this year.
Ford has revealed that the trial will use a telematics system to collect data on each vehicles’ financial, operational and environmental performance to understand ‘how the benefits of electrified vehicles could be maximised’.
Mr Harvey explained that the trial forms part of a wider commitment by the car maker to target the electrical vehicle market. He said: “Within Ford we have announced that we are investing $4.5 billion globally in electrified vehicle programmes between now and 2020 and that will deliver 13 new electrified vehicles in that time, of which the Transit Hybrid Custom vehicle that we are talking about is one.
“It’s a massive commitment from us and recent organisational changes in Ford also highlighted the importance of electric vehicles with Sherif Marakby [who has returned to the company from Uber] in a role in that space so it is absolutely exciting times.”
He also acknowledged that there are a number of challenges in encouraging uptake of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, particularly for trade users, and the trial would aim to address these concerns.
He added: “There are a number of hurdles and we are lucky that we’ve got some really strong partnerships with fleets that we’ve been getting that feedback loud and clear in where they think some of the issues could be. What we are trying to do is to develop some business model innovation around that to overcome some of those barriers to electric vehicle adoption and that is a key focus of my team moving forward.
“The trial in London will help to give us the direction of travel so that when we get to mass production of the van in 2019 we should have those suites of services to overcome those barriers to adoption.”
Some commercial users have expressed concerns over the relative performance and range offered by battery and hybrid-electric vehicles, but Mr Harvey said that there is a ‘strong push’ from businesses to address vehicle emissions.
“In certain use-cases, particularly in the commercial world, a plug in hybrid or an electric vehicle is not going to be the right choice, so there is a big educational job to be done, but the feedback from the fleets I am meeting with who are participating in the trial is loud and clear that there is a strong push from them, they recognise the importance of air quality, both from a corporate social responsibility perspective but also for better business and they want to be getting into electric vehicles early and understanding how they can suit their business needs.”
He also identified the access to and speed of charging infrastructure as a key development going forward, and said that the trial would seek to provide greater insight into the needs of vehicle operators.
“In terms of charging that is going to be one of the major learnings from the trial for me,” he explained. “For a commercial customer, how long they are going to be able to plug-in during the day is going to be fascinating and something we are looking forward to learning about. The depot infrastructure is developing quickly, the home charging infrastructure for technicians, for example a Sky satellite installer who takes his van home at night, that is going to be interesting particularly if it is someone who lives in a city location without access to a driveway. That is going to be one of the key learnings from the pilot.”
On the issue of transport air pollution generally, Mr Harvey said that there is strong recognition from Ford over the need to address concerns over air quality.
“It is massively important,” he said. “Our chairman, Bill Ford, was promoting his blueprint for mobility probably six or eight years ago, which was addressing some of these global megatrends of urban population growth, growing middle class, congestion and air quality and was trying to get the whole industry and policy makers to recognise this very early.”