BEV Vs. PHEV: Choosing Electric Vehicles for Commercial Fleets

The United States Postal Service (USPS) runs one of the world’s largest civilian fleets of any kind, with nearly a quarter of a million vehicles. It’s significant that USPS plans to stop buying gas-powered trucks by 2026.

This is the kind of technological shift that exerts serious competitive pressure. The day could soon come when fleet owners who don’t electrify start to lose business.

Instead, the USPS fleet will run on electricity. The agency plans to deploy more than 66,000 electric vehicles (EVs) by 2028, and will continue to replace gas vehicles with EVs until the whole fleet is electric.

Most of the big names in logistics have a similar plan. For example: 

  • In a bid to reach zero carbon emissions by 2040, Amazon plans to deploy 100,000 Rivian EVs by 2030.
  • FedEx pledged to move toward a 100 percent electric fleet of pickup and delivery vehicles by 2040.
  • At least 40 percent of UPS’ fleet should run on “alternative fuels” — electricity, hydrogen, and other power sources that don’t emit carbon — by 2025.

This is the kind of technological shift that exerts serious competitive pressure. The day could soon come when fleet owners who don’t electrify start to lose business. That’s true whether you run delivery vans, work trucks, mobile construction equipment, aviation ground vehicles, or any other type of commercial fleet.

It’s tough to find the right EV for your fleet, however. Confusing matters further, the term “electric vehicle” is an oversimplification. The United States Department of Transportation recognizes three types of electric vehicles: battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

Based on the commercial EVs currently available or likely to hit the road soon, you can probably discount FCEVs from the start. There were only 15,000 of them on the road in 2022, all in California. Compare that to 2.5 million battery-powered EVs sold across the U.S. Infrastructure investments are likely to favor the rechargeable battery, not the hydrogen-powered fuel cell. 

That leaves you comparing BEV vs. PHEV. As you begin to update your commercial fleet, which type of electric vehicle should you invest in? Keep reading to find out — and stick around for some tips on preparing your fleet depots for the transition from gas or diesel to electricity.

Choosing BEVs Vs. PHEVs for Your Commercial Fleet

Comparing BEVs and PHEVs requires some understanding of the technology behind each. Here’s a quick definition for each type of electric vehicle:

  • BEVs are sometimes called “all-electric” vehicles because they run on electricity alone. Users power these vehicles by charging battery packs at EV charging stations, so you need access to EV charging infrastructure to run a fleet of BEVs.
  • PHEVs use electric batteries for power, but they also include internal combustion (IC) engines that run on gas or diesel. A PHEV can burn up to 47 percent less gas than an IC-only vehicle, but it does still produce some carbon emissions. Powering a PHEV requires both petroleum-based fuels and an EV charging station.

If your goal is to reach net-zero emissions, BEVs will get you there faster. But there are some commercial use cases in which PHEVs are making significant headway. Here are a few examples of how PHEVs are showing up in commercial fleets: 

1. UPS publicly includes PHEVs as well as BEVs in its delivery fleet.

If you’re thinking about using PHEVs in a delivery fleet, there’s a strong precedent. While USPS, Amazon, and FedEx are publicizing their commitments to BEV fleets, UPS is taking the pragmatic approach by committing to alternative fuel vehicles more generally. That includes PHEVs. 

In 2022, the shipping and receiving company said its global fleet included “over 13,000 alternate fuel and advanced technology vehicles, including more than 1,000 electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.” The company ordered 10,000 BEVs in 2020, but seems likely to continue using PHEVs, as well.  

2. Municipalities can choose PHEVs for sweeper and road-care fleets.

The Alternative Fuels Data Center lists two models of street-cleaning vehicles with plug-in hybrid electric powertrains:

According to Elgin Sweeper’s sales pages, the company developed these models to support city sustainability initiatives.

3. Ford work trucks can be modified to use plug-in hybrid powertrains.

Ford trucks are common in work fleets across industries. However, the manufacturer only offered hybrid powertrains in a few model years. Under a partnership program, however, Ford makes it possible to get electric or hybrid electric Ford F-series trucks, Super Duty vehicles, E-Series vans, and more.

Ford’s Advanced Fuel Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) program allows third-party developers to upgrade these vehicles with hybrid power. That allows fleet owners to choose PHEV versions of their favorite work trucks, without waiting for Ford to update production lines.

Of course, for all these opportunities, BEVs still seem to be a more popular choice among forward-thinking fleet owners. Next, we’ll explain why.

Why Commercial Fleet Owners Often Choose BEVs Over PHEVs

Fully electric vehicles are a popular choice for commercial fleets for many reasons, including:

  • BEVs don’t create any carbon emissions. If sustainability is your main goal, the PHEV can look like a half-measure.
  • The automotive market seems to focus on BEVs. Legacy manufacturers and a whole ecosystem of start-ups are all competing to produce the best BEVs for commercial fleets.
  • Both PHEVs and BEVs require new infrastructure. Specifically, they need EV charging stations. However, the PHEV also requires traditional fuel, which adds a level of complexity for fleet owners.

Of course, you don’t have to pick between BEVs and PHEVs. Like UPS, your fleet might benefit from a calculated mixture of each. The good news is that the same charging infrastructure can support both BEVs and PHEVs. Regardless of which technology is best for your fleet, here’s what you’ll need to keep your BEVs and PHEVs running shift after shift.

Planning Fleet Charging Stations for BEVs and PHEVs

As we’ve described elsewhere, there are three types of EV chargers: Level 1, which can take a day or more to charge a vehicle; Level 2, which can charge a battery in a few hours; and DC fast charge, which can charge batteries in under an hour.

Most fleet charging applications rely primarily on Level 2 chargers. They offer the best combination of cost to performance, and serve most fleet applications well. While DC fast chargers are terrific for roadside charging stations, fleet vehicles can be charged during scheduled downtime, making Level 2 chargers sufficient.

However, Level 2 chargers are just one component of a total fleet charging station. To keep your BEVs and PHEVs running, you’ll also need:

  • EV Charger Pedestals. To protect your EV charger while providing convenient access for users, you need a purpose-built charger stand. EV Charger Pedestals from BHS, Inc. support up to two Level 2 chargers within a narrow footprint, and they’re ideal for indoor or outdoor installations.
  • EV Charger Cable Retractors. Without a cable management solution, EV charging cables are vulnerable to damage. Vehicles may run them over, exposing electrical conductors, or users may trip over them. EV Charger Cable Retractors use a retractable reel to lift cables out of the way, then release them during use.
  • Structural Bollards. Complete your EV charging station with structural bollards that prevent damage to the whole installation. Steel bollards from BHS come with a weather-resistant powder coat finish, and are typically OSHA yellow for enhanced visibility — but can be finished in a color of your choice.

With this support equipment, your fleet charging stations will provide long, dependable service life. That’s true whether you choose BEVs, PHEVs, or both.

To learn more about EV charging support equipment from BHS, Inc., call our sales team at 1.800.247.9500 today.