Ask the fleet expert: Sam Clarke, Founder and head of business development Gnewt Cargo.
Gnewt Cargo is a business pioneering electric commercial vehicles and the opportunities and challenges of doing so.
What were your motivations for creating an electric commercial vehicle (eLCV) fleet?
Mine is a personal story. As a dad of two boys growing up in London I’d seen the news linking emissions to children’s health and I thought “I don’t want my kids breathing that in”. Every single day I was putting my kids through that – and I didn’t want that for them or any other children.
How do you ensure the Gnewt Cargo operation is efficient?
You have to model the operation correctly; we analysed what we were doing – driver analytics separate to vehicles separate to cargo and so on, and we recognised we go around in circles a lot!
This was in the main to avoid parking tickets or seeking out loading bays – with our drivers not stopping anywhere for longer than a twenty minutes. This made us look closer at the way our business operation ran and we now have a number of innovative projects live which we hope enables us to counter the norm.
How do you efficiently charge an eLCV fleet?
Starting out we used 3 pin sockets and timers – it was the dumbest smart charge solution ever – but it worked and was very low cost!
We now work with a company (EO) to provide smart hubs linked with ‘dumb’ chargepoints – we have 60 units with 2 hubs – meaning we benefit from economies of scale by separating the charge post intelligence from the post itself. Futhermore we don’t have to dig up the road to do it with costly grid connection upgrades.
When it comes to electric vehicles on a commercial scale need you to look at the whole business. – considering all areas and how they can work in harmony. You can’t have the lights going out just because you are charging your vehicles and boiling the kettle for making a cup of tea…
You also need to consider all the complexities of EV Infrastructure…what vehicles are at what bays, if vehicles have varying range, who gets what charge and when? How does that work with the building, are the lifts running, are loading doors in operation, if only for a minute?
Is vehicle supply of your eLCVs a problem?
Vehicle supply isn’t really a problem, as with the amount of planning needed with our fleet we know when our vehicle replacement cycles are.
My advice would be to prepare if you are planning on going electric – you need to order the vehicles well in advance (sometimes 9 months to a year) but have a complete grasp of the infrastructure you are going to need now and in the future to support those vehicles.
Have subsidies helped adoption of eLCVs?
Subsidies have helped – but for the first few years there was nothing. We have built this business over 10 years, it was only in the last five years or so that that the Plug in van grant was introduced.
The grants work – Innovate UK, who I run one freight trial directly with, have benefited too. By them investing in me, I’m now an ambassador of electric vehicles and I am here talking to you about the benefits. Plus the project we run is showcased to others to learn from.
Is maintenance of your eLCVs an issue?
Not at all.
We have very few issues with reliability, we damage the side walls of tyres more than anything else!
The vehicles have significantly less moving parts – they just keep going. My advice would be to lease electric commercial vehicles for longer. We’re now moving to 5 year leases for some of our vehicles having extended the term several times.
What do your drivers think of the eLCVs?
They love them without doubt.
They drive smoothly, quietly, cleanly, it is an undeniably calmer place and in the world of a stressful occupation, any benefit in that area is welcome.
How strong a business case are you now seeing for other fleets to go electric?
In 2008 green was important. But after the economic crash less so. It’s all change again – and it’s becoming essential.
If you have any vehicles, electric will be important. It’s not just legislation; delivering to these cities is only going to get harder and your clients are going to expect it.
How do you see your fleet changing in the future?
Our data revealed that on average drivers were driving 5 miles and walking 6 miles.
So, we looked again at our business model and recognised that we should also be looking to the past when traffic was not so prolific, and have been able to draw parallels on how things were done in the 1920’s – when they did more on foot with local Porters. We recognised that today 100 years on, we can do more deliveries on foot too.
As a delivery fleet our clients want us to collect as much freight as we can, and deliver it as efficiently as possible. So we will need bigger e-LCVs – and more on foot Porters to deliver the goods in the future.
Do you think we’ve reached the stage where you could roll out an eLCV fleet on a national scale?
Urban yes, national no, the technology is not there yet, but it is coming, I speak to most of the manufacturers regularly and the ability to deliver nationally will be coming in the next 10 years.
Do you have any other advice to fleets thinking of making the switch?
Yes, seek advice!
I am a pioneer of pain it seems… having done ‘first of its kind’ repeatedly for over a decade (which is both rewarding and valuable).
Getting advice from those that have actually been through these journeys is a fast track way to knowledge in an emerging market widely recognised to be at the tipping point of mass adoption.