Fleets feeling the heat

Friday 25th August 2023

Extreme weather across Europe underlines the urgency of the climate crisis, writes Jon Lawes, Managing Director at MHC Mobility. Fleets must take a long-term view and accelerate their transition plans – for their own good and the planet.

July was officially the hottest month ever on record. Wildfires swept across Greece as southern Europe recorded temperatures over 40C. And the United Nations fittingly declared a new era of “global boiling”.

The climate crisis is quickly gaining pace, shifting from theory and abstract to an unignorable reality. Citizens are being displaced, the landscape is physically re-shaping, and business models of the past are reckoning with their future.

For fleets, Europe’s extreme heat highlights three important realities.

Climate urgency

Firstly, the climate crisis isn’t going away, and ICE vehicles are a significant contributor to global warming accounting for around a quarter of the EU’s total CO2 emissions.

Private car ownership is being overtaken by corporate fleets, which collectively buy over half of Europe’s passenger car vehicles. This means fleet operators can’t ignore the part they play in global emissions, but what matters now is their responsibility in setting out a new, sustainable direction. For most, this means fully embracing the electric vehicle (EV) transition.

With the 2035 ICE ban imposed by the EU on the horizon, a long-term EV strategy is fundamental to most fleet managers’ business plans. Meanwhile, fleets also can’t afford to overlook the impact of the many ICE vehicles within their fleets during the interim and must take every possible step to reduce emissions.

Feeling the heat

Next, the consequences of the climate crisis clearly stretch far beyond the world of corporate fleets, but a new era of extreme weather will only add to future overheads and margin pressures.

Hot weather increases the workload for ICEs, notably for owners and operators of refrigerated commercial vehicles where long, hot days make it difficult to maintain a safe temperature inside the vehicle.

As an ever-increasing number of fleets make the switch, efficiency problems are also felt by EVs. Temperature has the single biggest impact on battery performance, with energy diverted to cooling efforts affecting both range and efficiency. There are also concerns around charging EVs in extreme heat, as it can affect chemical reactions and the transfer of energy within batteries. Conversely, climate change is also characterised by colder weather patterns – and 0C temperatures can negatively impact battery performance by up to 34%.

Elsewhere, with extreme heat comes a higher risk of tire blowouts and tread wear, meaning more maintenance and an increased risk of accidents. Higher temperatures will also mean more AC consumption from long-haul drivers.

All of this could escalate fleet costs and emissions – and that’s before considering more radical impacts like large-scale travel disruption arising from freak weather incidents and ageing infrastructure not designed to handle today’s climate.

Collective action

While the number of EVs on Europe’s roads is on the rise, there is still a long way to go. With Europe’s transition on the edge, it is vital that corporates accelerate their fleet transition strategies.

Most fleet operators by now have already made commitments to decarbonisation - but these deadlines are getting closer. The growing net zero backlash around Europe is not helping with business confidence, and many will be taking the temperature of policymakers and holding out for deadline extensions.

This would be the wrong strategy. Collective problems require collective action, and the transition will only succeed if embraced by the whole sector. It might be inevitable for policy to regress and deadlines to be reassessed, but Summer 23 is a reminder that the moral imperative and business necessity behind the transition remains constant.

Fleets must take a long-term view – for their own good and the planet.