Cultivating a Supportive Environment for Alternative Fuel Vehicles

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Because of the multitude of benefits they offer, alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) provide a tantalizing investment prospect for many organizations However, valuation of these investments can vary significantly within an organization. An AFV purchase decision can be influenced by several individuals who have varying job functions, levels of knowledge, goals and responsibilities, or even personal convictions. It is important that these decision makers fully understand why an AFV investment is in the organization’s best interest, as well as their own. It is also important for those involved in the use and maintenance of AFVs fully commit to the successful adoption of the technology. Educating and motivating employees is a critical step in the implementation process – a step that should begin even before the AFVs are deployed.

We often recognize advocates within an organization championing AFV adoption, however, just as often there are sceptics and those who oppose AFV acquisitions. Reasons for resistance vary but the concerns, regardless of how valid, are real to the individual and must be addressed. One vocal, influential individual can thwart attempts to introduce AFVs into the company fleet. Reservations about AFVs are understandable, when viewed from an individual employee’s perspective. Employees sometimes associate AFVs with financial risk, increased workload (more record-keeping, driver assignments, etc.), troublesome refuelling logistics, policy and procedural changes, increased downtime and refuelling times, range anxiety, and poor vehicle performance.

However, these misconceptions are usually unfounded and based on misinformation. A little education and familiarity with the technology are effective means for dismissing these misconceptions. Attitudes and opinions often change once the AFV is properly incorporated into the fleet. For example, fleets that have implemented plug-in electric vehicles often express surprise to the degree they experienced less maintenance and associated downtime, reduced refuelling time, larger than expected cost savings, good vehicle performance, and other unforeseen benefits such as HOV-related time savings.

Resistance sometimes results because the company benefits don’t accrue to those tasked with ensuring a positive AFV experience. The impetus for AFVs is not uniform throughout the organization. For example, AFVs offer an opportunity to enhance public relations and reinforce company culture. Companies like to be seen doing the right thing, making a statement, setting an example, and distinguishing themselves from the competition. However, these benefits are valued most by the CEO, the company Sustainability Officer, the Marketing Director, or others who are often far removed from day-to-day fleet operations. The overworked fleet manager, even if they appreciate AFVs, may simply not have the time to investigate or make accommodations for an AFV. Company branding is not typically a job performance metric for fleet managers pre-occupied with keeping vehicles on the road at minimal cost. The risk averse fleet manager may not see the immediate returns, like those higher up in the organization who value the public image benefits.
Even the fuel cost savings, one of the biggest attributes of AFVs, sometimes get passed on to individual departments rather than being reflected in the overall fleet budget.

Getting Everyone On Board

The most successful AFV fleet programs proactively engage a broad spectrum of employees in effort to promote a shared common vision. The commitment to AFVs at the top of the organization should be strong, clear and conveyed throughout the organization. There should be a concerted effort early in the decision-making process to bring everyone on board. Drivers, fleet managers, mechanics, procurement personnel and others should understand why the organization is investing in AFVs and what objectives are driving the decision. Training and educational outreach throughout the organization is critical. Everyone should understand the technology and how to use it to maximize the benefits. Employees should be recognized – even rewarded – for contributing to the program success, especially those that do not receive a direct benefit. Policies and procedures might need to be revised to encourage adoption and acceptance. For example, fleet operators often do not have the latitude to purchase AFVs that have favorable total ownership costs but higher purchase prices. Organizations should be flexible and supportive of fleet buyers with these non-routine AFV purchases.

A motivated employee base will help ensure the AFVs are assigned to the right application, properly maintained, driven appropriately, refuelled properly (e.g., with the alternative fuel in the case of bi-fuel vehicles), etc. Implementation is as important as acquisition since the goal is not the total number of AFVs in the fleet but rather maximizing the mileage from those AFVs. That goal can only be met after the wheels hit the road.

Cultivating a culture of sustainability takes time. However, the payoff is big. Employees will feel a sense of pride that their company is doing the right thing. They will share this pride with customers and others they interface with during the workday. I have witnessed reluctant adopters turn into AFV ambassadors. They were proud of their company’s leadership and happy to explain the importance of their clean alternative fuel vehicle.

Remember to support and invest in the people who must make the technology work.