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Study finds testing the technology the strongest initial motivation for fleet managers adopting EVs

According to a report from Frost and Sullivan (Kumar, 2013), fleet managers adopted more than half of EVs sold globally up to 2013. A new study of factors influencing fleet managers’ adoption of electric vehicles has found that testing new technologies was the strongest driver of initial EV adoption, followed by lowering environmental impacts; government grants; and improving the organization’s public image. Thereafter fleet managers adopted or indicated an intent to adopt a larger number of EVs because of the benefits that they offer.

The study by William Sierzchula at Delft University of Technology, published in the journal Transportation Research Part D, used fleet manager interviews and pilot project report to investigate 14 US and Dutch organizations that adopted EVs from 2010 to 2013 to determine which factors influenced their purchase decisions. In addition, Sierzchula also analyzed the reasons why these same firms did or did not expand their EV fleets.

Factors that influenced fleet managers’ initial adoption of electric vehicles. Sierzchula (2014) Click to enlarge.

Researchers have identified several reasons why organizations are good candidates to be early EV adopters, including their high vehicle purchase rates, intense usage, (frequently) centralized refueling stations, and limited number of decision makers. Fleet managers also have a better comprehension of lifetime vehicle costs than do private households. Consequently, organizations are more likely to adopt vehicles that have high purchase costs but offer the potential of lower total ownership costs through reduced operating expenses.

Although studies have acknowledged organizations to be major adopters during EV market introduction, research identifying factors that influence fleet manager purchase decisions was either conducted before the recent broad commercialization or was not based on empirical data. As such, the theory regarding fleet manager EV adoption should be updated now that the automobiles are available for sale and revealed consumer behavior (empirical data) can be analyzed.

…EVs face barriers to adoption because they are a radical environmental technology. Whereas cost competitiveness was an important way that CFLs attracted consumers, innovations like EVs and PV are not cheaper than their conventional alternatives. Adoption of those eco-innovations has been driven in-part by the premium that eco-consumers are willing to pay. Policies such as consumer subsidies and education/experience programs have been shown to address the increased uncertainty associated with PV and CFLs. However, EVs differ from those technologies in that they entail changes in consumer habit (recharging instead of refueling) and a lack of charging infrastructure, raising the level of uncertainty associated with the eco-innovation. Due to these differences, it is worthwhile to study which factors specifically influenced fleet manager adoption of EVs.

— William Sierzchula

Sierzchula said he used a qualitative case study method for three reasons: (1) the low level of EV adoption by organizations generally precluded a large-scale statistical analysis; (2) the method is particularly suited to building theory; and (3) interviews allow for a more in-depth analysis of a case than is possible through quantitative methods.

Data for this study came from eleven 30–60 min semi-structured interviews and three project reports. The study incorporated a range of organizations—six public, eight private—based on their public/private status, size, industry, and the number/type of EVs used. The Netherlands and US were selected as target countries due to their relatively high levels of EV adoption and available press releases about firm EV purchases.

For the study, electric vehicles were defined as automobiles that charged their battery with a plug; this included full electric vehicles such as the Nissan LEAF and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle such as the Chevy Volt. The organizations held a wide assortment of electric automobiles including low-speed EVs; larger maintenance and utility vehicles, such as the Ford Transit Connect; and passenger EVs, including the Nissan LEAF, Peugeot iOn, and Toyota Plug-in Prius. The number of EVs that organizations had purchased varied widely, from three to hundreds.

In addition to the motivations for EV adoption noted above, the study also found organization-specific issues that influenced fleet manager decisions regarding EV adoption. These included government agency decisions being driven partly by state-wide regulations. Businesses, on the other hand, were driven by separate factors, citing first-mover advantage as an important reason why they adopted EVs, even if this forced them to take an initial financial loss. Other reasons included specialized operational capabilities or a compelling business model.

Seven of the 14 organizations chose to expand their EV fleets for firm-specific reasons; the four firms that decided not to expand their EV fleets all cited the lack of a viable business model.

A broad conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that the first wave of EVs is generally a money losing venture for organizations. This result is different than CFLs, which largely depended on cost reduction for adoption. Some fleet managers were able to justify these expenses through non-financial benefits, specifically to test new technologies, leading to EV adoption. Thereafter, organizations that decided to expand their EV fleets did so for more firm-specific reasons. Based on this study, the following hypotheses are suggested for additional deductive research using broad statistical analyses:

  • Most organizations are early EV adopters to test the technology.
  • Organizations expand their EV fleets for firm-specific reasons.

On a more speculative note, fleet managers testing EVs likely will decrease uncertainty about the innovation for these consumers that purchase a large number of automobiles. This would likely lead to increased adoption rates and consequently additional improvements through learning-by-doing and economies of scale. Therefore, addressing fleet manager uncertainty could be a crucial step in more wide-spread EV diffusion.

—Sierzchula (2014)

Based on the findings, Sierzchula recommended that policymakers who want to support EV diffusion should encourage organizations to experiment with the automobiles. This could be accomplished either by providing EVs for testing (potentially through pilot projects), or removing barriers that currently discourage adoption including consumer uncertainty, high purchase price, and a lack of charging infrastructure.




"2010 to 2013". It was only when Nissan lowered there price did EVs become an economic advantage. They should run this test and survey for companies based on the year that they initially adopted the technology. In 2010, it was not possible to buy an EV with economic advantage, but that is not true anymore. What I am saying is that this study slants the data to the negative because it does not sufficiently account for the fast changing price and technology. Additionally there are still only limited plug-ins that have an economic advantage. The Leaf, the Spark EV and the Fiat 500 EV, all others are too expensive, and only the Leaf is broadly applicable.


The Tesla 3 will change EVs in a big way. More than a week went by after the announcement of the Model 3 with no story on here. The Model 3 announcement was probably the biggest story since the Volt January 2007.

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