Businesses transitioning to electric fleets need to take careful consideration

Some businesses in Canada are embarking on a journey to transition their vehicle fleets to meet zero-emissions goals, but experts say the road ahead isn’t going to be easy.

The move to cleaner transport and delivery vehicles comes with its own set of challenges that might not always be apparent right off the bat, panellists at an event about electric fleet transitions at the Toronto Region Board of Trade said .

“We have to take into consideration the charging time to bring a battery up to 80 or 100 per cent overnight,” Crystal Rasa, who is leading Ikea Canada’s EV fleet transition, said in an interview following the event.

“What time can the vehicle be ready to be loaded and leave for deliveries? What time will the vehicle be back?”

The company started small with 10 trucks deployed in Montreal and Vancouver.

Since then, Ikea’s electric delivery fleet has expanded 15 per cent in the past two years to include Toronto and Ottawa, with plans to be in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax and Quebec City, Rasa said.

The company has set a goal of having its delivery fleet in major cities be 100 per cent zero-emission by 2025.

While she is confident switching to electric vehicles is the way to go, Rasa acknowledged it requires a shift in mindset and extra planning.

Details such as the most efficient delivery routes and battery life between charges need to be taken into consideration, she said.

The furniture retailer uses electric delivery vehicles of various sizes and has a dedicated team to optimize their efficiency and algorithm-based delivery routes.

“There’s a never-ending analysis of what is the optimal configuration between the vehicle size, the type of order our customers are choosing to purchase,” Rasa said. “Seasonality (also) comes into effect (deciding) how much product can go on a truck.”

Other roadblocks include obtaining electrification permits, choosing efficient chargers and adapting to the lower battery life of cold weather.

“It’s those really small things that can creep up,” Rasa said. “It’s the stuff that’s not flashy and not an Instagram moment … (but) tiny little pieces” that caught the team off-guard.

The switch to electric trucks for small-scale business owners can look somewhat different.

Moatassem Abdelwahed, owner of delivery service MYcourier and an attendee at the event, said he has been experimenting with electric trucks. For him, the vehicles work best for local deliveries but not for long distances.

“Every hour counts,” he said.

If the vehicle runs out of battery power, the driver will have to charge it on company time, Abdelwahed explained in a phone interview. This, combined with winter conditions affecting battery longevity and a lack of public charging infrastructure can be limiting.

Abdelwahed said he can’t fully give up gas-powered vehicles until charging infrastructure improves.