Whose car is that?

Electric vehicles are gaining traction fast, autonomous vehicles are already on our motorways and car sharing technology is being trialled. And it seems the fleet industry is moving to mobility as a service.

There is plenty of action on the electric car front globally and locally with media reports proclaiming Volvo as the first to go electric with its plans to build only electric and hybrid vehicles from 2019 and expectations that the rest of the auto industry is likely to follow suit. In turn, the French Government is reportedly setting to ban the sale of any car that uses petrol or diesel fuel by 2040, in what its ecology minister called a “revolution”.

Here in New Zealand Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced in March that electric vehicle registrations had hit 3,000 (now thought to be around 3,500) and we are well ahead of Australia with 1,513 EVs registered in New Zealand in 2016, while in Australia only about 220 EVs were registered. 

Bridges said that infrastructure and charging stations were ever-expanding across the country to support the growing number of EVs on the roads. At that time there were about 50 fast chargers available throughout the length of the country, with more coming, giving EV drivers greater confidence on longer journeys.

These local developments are on the back of the Government’s Electric Vehicle Programme, which it announced in May last year. This is a wide-ranging package of measures to encourage the uptake of EVs in New Zealand with the target of doubling the fleet each year, reaching 64,000 EV registrations by the end of 2021.

SG Fleet NZ’s managing director Geoff Tipene says the car fleet industry is now moving towards being more about mobility, defining it as mobility as a service. It’s about moving people from A to A or A to B in the most cost-effective way possible even if that means using an Uber or a train or another means of transport and technology will drive the change.

He says employees wanting to travel around the city might have access to a fleet of cars and technology on their phones to tell them where there is a vehicle waiting for them in the city, the phone will unlock the car and lock it again at the end of the journey.

Tipene says SG Fleet is already trialling this in Australia as GoGet and it’s headed for New Zealand too. The Australian trial is with one major client which has 6,000 vehicles in its fleet and is now using 1,000 of them with the SG Fleet software and hardware.

In his view large companies, unless they need fit-for-purpose vehicles (such as specialised trucks), are eventually not going to have a fleet, but will have access to a car park and through telematics, the cars that are parked there. 

It means downtown car parks will not be required and he sees it as ludicrous a company having cars in a carpark for eight hours a day when that particular car could be being used by somebody else. He says this is already happening in parts of Europe. 

This works through an app and hardware that is installed into car to say the car is available at this location. You put your phone up to the scanner on the front window and this opens the car. Once the journey is over you scan again to lock the car.

The lease company might be the owner of these cars but three or four different client companies may use them and thus operating costs drop dramatically as clients are only being charged for what they use.

Like other industries he sees so much disruption happening throughout the transport sector with a range of developments driving the industry.

He’s already driven clients in autonomous cars down the Auckland motorway and they are legal to drive in New Zealand.

As a board member of Drive Electric, a not-for-profit with the goal of making electric vehicle ownership in New Zealand mainstream, Tipene says more and more New Zealanders are moving to electric vehicles and of the 3,500 or so in the country around 2,500 are in Auckland. 

As he sees it New Zealand is only restricted by the availability of vehicles. While electric vehicles are still somewhat pricey Tipene says it’s like the first mobile phones which were expensive, but as production ramped up prices came down. 

Aucklanders on average drive only 15 to 20 kilometres a day, and can do that journey and plug it in at home to charge overnight. It’s only if you are driving hundreds of kilometres that you need to go to a charging station, which are also increasing in numbers around the country. 

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