Eric Van Egeren | FleetOwner
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Fleets Explained: How are electric vehicles different?

May 20, 2024
While they both have tires and a steering wheel, electric vehicles and conventional, fuel-powered vehicles are vastly different. Learn about EV basics, like vehicle characteristics and charging, and compare EVs and conventional vehicles.

There are about 3.3 million electric vehicles in operation in the U.S. today, according to an Experian Automotive Market Trends report from March 2024. While that sounds like quite a few, with 337 million total vehicles on the road in the U.S. and Canada, EVs make up only 1% of total vehicles on the road.

While EVs aren’t new, with so few people driving them, there are likely things about them that aren’t considered common knowledge. For example, did you know an EV’s range depends on multiple factors and, in some cases, might not meet the retailer’s estimated range? Did you know that one EV can be responsible for more emissions than another EV of the same model, depending solely on location? Keep reading to learn more about electric vehicles.

Understanding how electric vehicles work

BEVs are all-electric vehicles that do not have an engine or transmission. The vehicle’s electric motor draws power from a large—and quite heavy—battery pack that usually sits beneath the vehicle’s body. The combination of the battery pack, electric motor, and other EV components make up the EV chassis, sometimes referred to as “skateboard.” Batteries charge by plugging in the vehicle to a charger at home, a depot, or a public electric charging station. Because of the weight of the battery pack, BEVs are typically heavier than conventional vehicles, sometimes decreasing payload capacity compared to a similar ICE vehicle. 

Additionally, the range of a fully charged BEV is typically less than that of a full tank of fuel powering a conventional engine. Multiple factors can negatively affect the range in an EV. These include extreme temperatures, aggressive driving, and heavier payloads or towing. 

EVs must have access to charging to function, much like conventional vehicles need access to fuel. At-home chargers are available through manufacturers of smaller vehicles, electric pickup trucks, and commercial vans. Larger medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles require more robust charging, which is more favorable to a depot setting.  

There are different types of EV chargers, from Level 1 to Level 3, with Level 3 being the most efficient.  

  • Level 1: 

    • Level 1 chargers provide up to 2.4 kW. These chargers plug into a typical household 120V outlet. GreenCars.com suggests using Level 1 charging for PHEVs.
  • Level 2: 

    • Level 2 chargers provide about up to 12 kW. EV manufacturers might provide these chargers upon the purchase of an EV, but users can also purchase them.
    • The U.S. Department of Energy lists nearly 64,000 Level 2 chargers available for public use on its website here.
  • Level 3: 

What’s the difference between an electric vehicle and an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle?

There are two main reasons why EVs are gaining momentum in the automotive and commercial spaces: cost savings and environmental concerns. 

Because electric vehicles do not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through a tailpipe like a conventional vehicle, BEVs are considered zero-emission vehicles, whereas gas-powered engines emit roughly 20 lb. of carbon dioxide per gallon. With local, state, and federal climate goals and regulations in place, business owners and individuals alike consider EVs as their next vehicle purchase, whether gladly or out of necessity. Although all BEVs are considered zero-emission vehicles, depending on how the local utility generates electricity, one EV could be more environmentally friendly than the next. A utility powering an EV in one town might generate electricity through wind turbines, leading to a cleaner operation than that of an EV in a town where electricity is generated through burning coal.

Then there are the cost-savings of operating BEVs instead of conventional vehicles. BEVs have fewer moving parts than conventional vehicles, which leads to fewer maintenance requirements. Also, the cost of electricity needed to charge an EV is less than fuel. An analysis from telematics provider Geotab found the average lifetime savings of a BEV versus an ICE vehicle in the U.S. is nearly $15,000.

What does charging infrastructure look like for electric vehicles?

An obstacle to EV adoption is the charging infrastructure necessary to operate them. Both federal and private funds are being put forth to build this infrastructure, but building charging infrastructure on even one site can take up to 24 months or even 15 years. This is because utilities often must consider a variety of factors before building charging infrastructure, such as permits, the utility’s energy capacity, the availability of transformers, and more.

About the Author

Jade Brasher

Senior Editor Jade Brasher has covered vocational trucking and fleets since 2018. A graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in journalism, Jade enjoys telling stories about the people behind the wheel and the intricate processes of the ever-evolving trucking industry.    

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