Determining the First Vehicle to Replace with a PEV

It is important to think carefully about which vehicle in your municipal fleet to replace with your first PEV. If the first vehicle is a success, the path to the second, third, and more will be much easier. You want to do what you can to assure that the first PEV will score high marks with municipal staff, be highly visible to your residents, and make good financial sense to the town council. 

It is likely you will want to promote to residents and others the fact that the municipality has an electric vehicle. If so, you want to select a vehicle that spends its time in public in different parts of town so that residents regularly see it. This will both publicize your municipality’s commitment to PEVs and it will help normalize them – “if my town is using PEVs, they must be okay.” While a trash truck clearly would meet that criterion, electric trash trucks are not yet ready for prime time, and are not recommended as a first PEV for a municipality.

Ideally you want to choose a vehicle that returns to base for overnight parking, so that it can easily be charged with only a minor change in routine. You also want to replace a vehicle that typically travels fewer miles in a day than the range of the fully-charged replacement PEV so that you don’t interrupt operations or lose staff productivity in order to charge the vehicle mid-shift. Depending on your municipal operations, the best choice may be a parking enforcement vehicle, a code enforcement vehicle, an inspection vehicle, or a shared fleet vehicle. 

In some cases, a municipality may find that a certified used electric vehicle will be fully suitable for their needs, and cost much less than a new electric vehicle. This would be the case if the vehicle being replaced is being driven significantly less than the range of the older, used EV.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Make a list of all passenger vehicles in the municipal fleet.
  2. Identify those passenger vehicles that spend the most time in public view—that is, on streets and in neighborhoods rather than in municipal lots.
  3. For each of those vehicles, note the maximum miles traveled in a typical day.
  4. Also note the longest trip each of those vehicles has taken in the last year.
  5. Identify those vehicles that are least "mission critical" or have a readily-available backup.

At the end of this process, you will have identified a handful of vehicles best suited for replacing with a PEV.

Now you need to consider whether you want to replace it with a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) or a battery electric vehicle (BEV). [See EVs 101 — Introduction to Electric Vehicles]

  • The advantage of a PHEV is that when its battery is depleted it goes seamlessly to its gasoline engine on the fly, allowing the vehicle to be easily used for trips beyond the battery range or when the battery has run out of charge perhaps due to a driver forgetting to plug it in when parking it at the end of use. Note that it is highly feasible to run many PHEVs almost completely on electricity, so they are still very much electric cars.
  • The advantage of a BEV is that the technology is much simpler, with fewer moving parts, as it does not have the gasoline internal combustion engine that a PHEV has. Thus it is less expensive to maintain. It also makes a stronger environmental statement on behalf of your municipality.

In addition, your decision on what vehicle to purchase may be affected by state, federal, or other purchase assistance programs. [See Resources to Purchase PEVs and Charging Equipment]. Be sure to coordinate early in the decision-making process with the employees who will be using the PEV to assure that any special vehicle requirements will be met by the PEV.

Robert GraffManager, Office of Energy and Climate Change Initiatives