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Fleet profile AAAA looks to electric vans to cut soaring fuel costsUK's largest motoring organisation trials Peugeot E Expert vans on its breakdown fleetBy Tony MeredithTo ensure that it can attend around 3.5 million breakdowns every year, the AA has a fleet of 8,500 vehicles - and a fuel bill of £15m to go with it.It probably came as no surprise to Sarah Dopson, head of group fleet, road operations at the AA, when she was asked to look at the fuel options available and to assess whether the UK's biggest motoring organisation could reduce its fuel bill and help the environment into the bargain.The AA's fleet already uses the TrackM8 telematics system and that has realised 5.9% improvements in mpg, according to Dopson. "So far we have assumed an 8% fuel saving in 2011, as well as reducing engine and tyre wear and tear, reducing accidents and improving duty of care for our busi­ness," she said. "But our biggest saving will be through idling times; if each patrol reduces its idling time by one hour per week we would make a fuel saving of circa £200,000 per annum."Dopson was also tasked with providing a van comparison covering all existing fuel options.She said: "Diesel was unbeatable when it came to range, economy, power and cost. Many of the other alternatives - including electric - posed a range of commercial issues including reduced range, a lack of charging infrastructure and, due to the weight of the batteries, restrictions on payload weights."Despite these issues, Dopson is about to trial two Peugeot E Expert electric vans - based at the AA's Wimbledon depot - which will be used on routine breakdown operations. But the implementation of electric vans has thrown up some other points that need to be addressed.The cost of electric vehicles is an area of concern. "The price I have been quoted for electric vans is currently five times more than I can procure a standard diesel van for," said Dopson. "This means that the base vehicle outweighs any potential savings I would make on fuel."'If each patrol reduces its idling time by one hour per week we would save circa £200,000 per annum'Sarah Dopson, head of group fleet, road operations at the AA

Business servicesManufacturer newsFleetprofileFunding methodsNews digestCar RecruitmentreviewsAdditionally, many leasing companies are not offering the option to lease electric vehicles on contract hire as there is no residual value at the end of the hire term period; this is the same whether the lease term is three, four or five years despite the manufacturer and converter offering up to three years' warranty on the batteries. Parking is also an issue for electric vans used on patrols. In order to improve the charging time, the AA would have to use a three-phase recharging hub. These are available at its commercial partners premises, but a parking fee per annum would be charged. Dopson says this could mean having to provide additional transport for the patrol to travel to and from home to charging location.However, the main operational restriction is the limited range of electric vehicles, especially as the majority of the AA's work is unplanned. The average daily mileage for an AA patrol vehicle is 62 miles but this does depend on a varying workload. The 62Average daily mileage of an AA patrol vehicle'We have seen a 16-mile decrease in range when the EVs are laden'Sarah Dopson, head of group fleet, road operations at the AAunladen range on a fully-charged Peugeot E Expert, for example, is 69 miles. However, this can be reduced by up to 30 miles by using the heater, wipers, lights, carrying equipment, air con and the speed the vehicle is driven. This would mean that, due to the payload and range restrictions, an electric vehicle would only be suitable to carry out a Level 1 break-down, which covers flat batteries and tyres etc. This level of breakdown is currently being undertaken by the AA's motorbike fleet."We always try to deploy the closest patrol to the member," said Dopson. "However, this is not always possible as it also depends if recovery is required especially for members outside of their home area. From initial results we have seen a 16-mile decrease in range when laden. The range also depends on the time charged; on average, three minutes charge will give a 1% improvement on range. It is still early days but the initial feedback is that it is faring well under the conditions."The AA fleetCommercial LCV 3,039 (Contract hire, four years, average annual mileage 25,000)Commercial HGV 280 (contract hire, five years, average annual mileage 150,000)Motorbike 50 (contract hire, three years, average annual mileage 20,000)Driving school (BSM & AA) 4,477 (manufacturer buyback funded via leasing provider, eight-month term, 18,000 miles)Company cars (AA, Saga & Nestor) 428 - AA (contract hire 3yr/60k or 4yr/80k)Titan passenger carriers 138 (contract hire/outright purchase, 3yr/150k)Museum 35 - owned