GSA helps agencies choose just the right electric car

It's not so easy picking out cars and light trucks for your federal fleet. No more garages full of Chevy Luminas. Now the General Services Administration (GSA),...

It’s not so easy picking out cars and light trucks for your federal fleet. No more garages full of Chevy Luminas. Now the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees these things, has issued an online tool to help fleet managers pick out electric vehicles. For more details,  Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with GSA’s Executive Director for GSA fleet management, Christina Kingsland, and the Assistant Commissioner for Travel, Transportation and Logistics, Crystal Philcox.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin In looking over the field of electrical cars. I mean, there’s not just one thing. There’s all electric, there’s hybrid electric, there’s plug-in electric, there’s this, that and the other. Hydrogen, if you’re in certain parts of the country, little hindenburg’s. So what does this tool do? And I mean, how do you begin to pick out the next round of cars to replace those gas guzzlers?

Crystal Philcox Yeah, great question. So first, let me just say that we are really excited about this effort. GSA fleet has been working with our telematics provider, Geotab, to deploy telematics and to collect necessary fleet data and find ways to use that data to help agencies transition to zero emission vehicles. And so, we are really proud to now finally introduce the electric vehicle suitability assessment, EVSA for short. And it’s a long name, but we promise that the user interface is very simple. So what this tool does is it uses fleet telematics data to make sort of informed vehicle replacement recommendations regarding fleet electrification. And so it’ll use real world performance information from vehicles that are out operating in our fleet today. And then it suggests the type of EVs to acquire based on that data. So it really makes planning for transitioning to EVs as seamless as possible. It helps users kind of optimize for EV acquisition and deployment strategies and using these predictive analytics. So GSA is really leading sort of this federal wide transition to zero emission footprint in our vehicles. And we really believe that this tool is just one more option in the Federal Fleet Managers toolkit. It helps them achieve that goal.

Tom Temin Well, Christina, let me ask you this. If the telematics should show that there a couple of drivers and every day they leave an office and they have to drive 250 miles into the desert to do something, maybe check water tables for the cactuses and then go back to the office. Then there’s no charging station out there and it’s a 500 mile round trip. Chances are it would say, well, maybe you need a hybrid. Whereas if you are doing point to point driving all around the Bay Area where there’s a charging station, there’s more of those than Wawa’s, then you can maybe get by with a fully electric. Is that the type of thing that helps you do?

Christina Kingsland That’s exactly right, Tom. So it looks at the actual operating data on the vehicle. So how many trips per day, how many miles per trip? The fueling and experience on an electric vehicle is very different than that of a gasoline vehicle. And given the time that it takes to charge, it’s often just better to do it where the vehicle is garaged. And so this tool is doing exactly what you said, looking at those, the operational information of how many miles are you going at any given time, and then allows the user to set essentially an acceptable range of how many times you want to publicly charge for that vehicle and then looks at a whole year of data. Hey, we predict that you’ll have to publicly charge maybe twice, and that’s going to be completely acceptable. It’s helping folks get those low hanging fruit and select electric vehicles where it makes the most sense for the mission requirements. It also helps them compare the cost and the fuel savings and emission savings as well.

Tom Temin And no charging stations within 100 feet of a tavern, because then you have to get in the car afterwards, I suppose. But where does the telematics come from? Is this logs kept by drivers or do the cars in the fleet now pretty much broadcast what they’re doing?

Christina Kingsland Yeah. So actually it’s the telematics are included and GSA leased vehicles in particular. So when we get a new vehicle, we have a telematics device automatically put into that vehicle when it’s delivered to us. And so we get the basic information here at GSA fleet and then our customers have the option also of doing a what we call it the pro plus plan, where they get access to additional information. And for the use of the EVSA tool, it’s really important to have GPS data, to understand where a vehicle is going to better understand the electric vehicle suitability. And so they would need to do that additional service in order to capture the full telematics data through either our OEM provided telematics devices. But it all goes through our telematics partner Geotab. And so we are collecting that information, and you need to collect a few months of data for it to be useful. It’s all there and it’s all coming together. And the only [FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program)] authorized telematics database today.

Tom Temin Right and Geotab also does this commercially?

Christina Kingsland They sure do. Of course. Yep. And we worked with them to develop a federal instance for it and kind of make it fit with our business model as well, so that they know exactly what vehicles are available on our schedule. And they have included the monthly and mileage lease rates for points of comparison.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Christina Kingsland. She’s executive director for GSA Fleet Management. And Christopher Wilcox, assistant commissioner for Travel, Transportation and Logistics at GSA. So this tool then is tuned down to the vehicle. That is to say, if you have multiple uses and use cases, and I imagine every agency does, that doesn’t say, you need all this kind of car or that kind of car. But it’s fine grained per user, you might say.

Crystal Philcox It’s actually fine tuned to sort of the class of vehicle that folks are driving. We have a number of groupings of types of vehicles that we have out there. Everything from, small compact sedans to large trucks, like very large trucks. So it’s looking at, this tool is really looking at the the range data. It also looks at operating cost of that current vehicle and it estimates the fuel consumption and the carbon emissions of that existing vehicle. So there’s a lot of data there to help you figure out and decide.

Tom Temin And does it recommend brands? Or how does it map across the need the Buy American for the fleet? Because not all of them are in like Volvos, for example, that’s owned by the Chinese now, even though they have some great hybrids and stuff. So how does that all work such that you get an actual choice of something you can go take a bid on?

Christina Kingsland Yeah, that comes back to the instance that they specialized for the federal fleet. So they actually use the models that we have awarded that are available to federal fleet customers. And this very model specific information Crystal mentioned, the range that comes down to the model and pairing that with the existing vehicle and the use of that existing vehicle. It’s pretty cool.

Tom Temin I just wanted to get to brands and names, but does it filter out the ones you can’t buy as a federal agency?

Christina Kingsland It does. It only pairs with the ones that are available to them to purchase on our existing contracts. .

Tom Temin And just refresh my memory. Does GSA buy them on behalf of agencies or does GSA just keep tabs and the agencies buy them on their own?

Christina Kingsland So for the federal leased fleet, we buy and open them on behalf of the agencies. And then we lease those vehicles that we own back out to our federal customers. And then on the agency owned side of the house, we set up all the contracts, and the contracts are directly with GSA. So technically we buy the vehicle from the supplier and then resell it immediately to the federal customer.

Tom Temin And what are you hearing from federal customers with respect to the fact that a lot of these cars are expensive relative to the plain old gas counterparts?

Crystal Philcox Yeah, there is a sticker price difference for on electric vehicles. It’s a bit higher than the regular gas vehicles at this time. So EVSA tool, it takes that price difference into account. And it also kind of lets agencies see the lifetime cost savings of transitioning to zero emission vehicles. We’re using that real data on actual awarded costs for makes and models that the GSA fleet has available. And and we give agencies this comprehensive evaluation of the cost of operating that electric vehicle.

Tom Temin And just a question on that point. You made zero emission. What about hybrids? Which are not zero emission because there’s an engine in it. You may never use it that much. And the plug in hybrids, you may never get to the engine, even though there’s gas in the tank, I guess there. Do those count.

Christina Kingsland So the PHEV’s do. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicles do count, but the standard hybrid does not. So if you have the option for that zero emission operation, which the PHEV does provide, that does count within the executive order today. The standard hybrid, not so much, but the tool does give you that option, too. Just like you mentioned, Tom, in the beginning about, hey, maybe full battery electric doesn’t work for you, but a PHEV absolutely would.

Tom Temin So this tool then is not just for GSA use, but you expect it to be used by the fleet managers throughout the government.

Crystal Philcox All of our federal agencies have this tool available now to them. Anyone who leases vehicles from GSA fleet, that’s about 227,000 government vehicles out there. And if agencies are enrolled in our telematics program, particularly this ProPlus subscription that Christina mentioned, they then have access to this tool now. And we’re offering federal agencies really two ways to use this tool. So it’s either self-service or full service. And right now, as we’re initially rolling out this new capability, GSA fleet and Geotab are offering a full service model where we run the CBSA analysis on behalf of the customer agency. So we’ll analyze the results, will present the findings back to the agency as a consultation. And we’re currently offering that at no additional cost. So, and then after agencies get familiar with the tool and how to interpret those results, then our ProPlus customers will be able to use that system themselves, use their own dedicated database, and we’ll have support available to them to help agencies set up and follow this instructions.

Tom Temin Any indications of take up of this yet? Or is it too early?

Christina Kingsland We do have several expressions of interest already. We have, I believe, three agencies that are already getting started on it and taking a whole agency wide approach as well.


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