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More Than Fleeting: What U.S. Fleets are Doing Today to Lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

Fleet vehicles (corporate cars, government and military fleets, taxis, buses, car rentals, service vans, delivery trucks) make up an estimated 30% of all vehicles on American roads today.  It’s an enormous number - at somewhere around 75 million vehicles, it is more than double the population of California¹. According to a recent survey² by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the average US fleet operates 2,672 vehicles and is responsible for more than seven million annual road miles - or 300 times the circumference of the Earth! As an example, FedEx alone operates 71,000 vehicles, and the US Postal Service, the world’s largest civilian fleet, operates more than 215,000.

Internal combustion engine vehicles are responsible for about 29% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)³. Fleets are a significant contributor today, but potentially a significant part of the solution tomorrow. Because of their volume, fleets wield an enormous amount of purchasing power.  Not surprisingly, vehicle manufacturers pay a great deal of attention to the trends and demands of their fleet customers. But until recently, the demand for cleaner fleet vehicles with lower GHG emissions wasn’t exactly strident. Among the reasons for a “business-as-usual” approach to alternative-fuel fleets: stalled CAFÉ standards, fewer government-imposed mandates for clean transportation, and a clean energy cause that had not yet found its public voice.  Add to that a long-standing perception that current electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel technology just couldn’t stand up to the extra demands of fleet vehicles.

Enter 2010.  Today, there’s evidence of significant movement toward cleaner fleets and a commitment by companies to make cleaner driving part of their sustainability pledge. Thanks in part to more aggressive government mandates and growing public and shareholder influence, fleets have begun adopting alternative fuel vehicle technologies including battery electric, hybrid, biodiesel, propane, natural gas and fuel cell powered vehicles. Electric and hybrid vehicles are ideally suited for stop-and-go routes such as those of package delivery fleets - and because these routes are often predictable, re-charging infrastructure is easily designed and managed.  More fleets adopting more EVs and PHEVs means faster build-out of recharging networks. Although most fleet charging systems will be privately owned, the demand for clean transportation will encourage technical innovations and drive economies of scale amongst infrastructure suppliers and service providers.

The clean transformation of American fleets won’t be accomplished overnight, but both corporate and government fleets are making progress. In October 2009, President Obama signed an executive order on sustainability mandating a 30% reduction in government fleet petroleum use by 2020. The US government operates more than 435,000 vehicles, which includes some 195,000 military vehicles with their own clean transportation conversion plans aimed at shortening the logistics tail by reducing refueling costs4.

On the corporate side, the State of Green Business 2010 annual report shows emissions from fleet vehicles down 17% from 2008 levels and 18% from 2006 levels. Some of this improvement is due to a weak economy and increased adoption of cleaner vehicles, but most is actually a result of incremental fleet-specific measures that make a big difference due to the sheer volume of fleet vehicles on the road. Among those measures are the actual tracking of fleet emissions (EDF estimates only 5-10% compliance in 2005), right-sizing of vehicles, improved routing, reduced vehicle idling and a focus on driver training to encourage efficient driving habits.

Although significant, these measures are finite and are just the beginning. Both private and government fleets are enabling the bigger leap by switching to cleaner vehicle technologies. With a plethora of choices soon to be available in hybrid and electric fleet cars and more than 35 models of hybrid and electric trucks already on the market today, fleet owners and managers have more choices than ever. Increasingly stringent emissions standards, cost efficiency pressures, local, state, and federal mandates and incentives, and growing public support are expected to drive this trend toward clean fleets both at home and abroad. 

1 US Census Bureau 2009
2Corporate Fleet Emissions Survey Report (2009), study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in conjunction with the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA), and Utilimarc?, a nationally-recognized automotive fleet consulting firm.
3U.S. Department of Transportation Report to Congress (2010) Transportation?s Role in Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
4Fleet Report U.S. Government Agency

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