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Tina Casey headshot

Startup Takes the Guesswork Out of Fleet Electrification

Refueling, repairing and maintaining a fleet of gas or diesel vehicles is a huge cost for companies, but this startup has a fleet electrification solution.
By Tina Casey
fleet electrification

Los Angeles International Airport, as seen from the LAX Control Tower, January 2021

Even though fuel prices are beginning to fall, the expense of refueling, repairing and maintaining a fleet of gas or diesel vehicles is still a major headache for businesses. Fleet electrification can solve all three problems at once, and there is no need for fleet managers to reinvent the wheel. A growing number of specialty companies are beginning to offer fleet electrification as a service with no up-front investment.

The fleet electrification advantage

Electric vehicles (EVs) still cost more up front than comparable gas or diesel vehicles, mainly due to the expense of the battery pack. Fleet owners don’t have to wait for the cost of EV batteries to fall, though. EVs involve less maintenance and repair than comparable gas or diesel vehicles, and charging a battery costs far less than filling a fuel tank. As a result, the total cost of owning an EV – including fuel plus maintenance and repair over time — can be equal to or less than owning a gas or diesel vehicle.

EVs provide other advantages, too. Because they are emissions-free and practically noise-free, they can improve community relations along residential routes, and they can enhance worker health and workplace well-being.

In addition, EV charging stations can eliminate the infrastructure costs, environmental impacts and potential hazards involved in fueling infrastructure, including pumps and underground storage tanks.

Another emerging benefit is the ability to participate in community-wide grid management initiatives. A growing number of utilities are recruiting EV owners to deploy their batteries in virtual power plants that help shave down peak use periods and thereby enhance grid reliability and stability. EV batteries can also be deployed on an individual basis as emergency power generators.

Above all, EVs provide businesses with another important tool in their decarbonization toolkit. In an era of heightened awareness about the impacts of climate change, fleet electrification enables businesses to demonstrate they are part of the solution.  

Leaping the up-front fleet electrification cost hurdle

The total cost of owning an EV is attractive, but obstacles remain. To make the switch, fleet managers have to invest in new vehicle technology and charging infrastructure, and they have to learn how to juggle charging times along with route planning and scheduling. 

The startup Zeem Solutions provides a good example of how innovators are mining these challenges for new opportunities. Zeem has just launched its first EV depot near Los Angeles International Airport. It’s a turnkey solution with no up-front costs to the fleet manager.

For a flat monthly fee, Zeem provides fleet managers with electric trucks, cargo vans, transit shuttles and other vehicles according to their needs, along with a facility that includes fast-charging stations, parking and a break room for drivers. Including EV charging, maintenance and insurance along with the cost of leasing the vehicles, Zeem calculates that its flat-fee system is less than the cost of owning a gas or diesel fleet.

The choice of the Los Angeles Airport location for the initial facility is no accident. Of all the opportunities for fleet electrification, electric fleets at transportation hubs — including seaports and rail yards as well as airports — are the most impactful in terms of benefits to local communities. 

“By operating zero-emission EVs, fleets benefit from a quiet and clean ride for drivers and passengers as well as improved air quality for the communities they serve, including historically disadvantaged communities near transportation centers and freight corridors where Zeem Solutions’ EV depots will be located,” the company explains.

Expanding to fill demand for EVs

Zeem anticipates that a growing number of fleet managers will be eager to adopt a service that provides immediate bottom-line and community relations benefits without a huge capital investment. The company has already embarked on a massive expansion plan in partnership with LAZ Parking Realty Investors, assisted by a $50 million capital investment from affiliates of the firm ArcLight Capital Partners.

The LAZ Parking connection provides a platform for rapid expansion. The company operates more than 3,500 parking locations in hundreds of cities across 39 states, and bills itself as the fastest-growing contract parking operator in the US. Its Realty Investors branch will provide Zeem with extensive experience in site acquisition and construction for its planned network of EV fleet hubs.

An ambitious showcase for fleet electrification

As for Zeem’s new EV hub at the Los Angeles Airport, that is no pilot project. EVs and charging stations are not a new thing anymore. They are proven technologies with widespread adoption. 

The new EV hub launched last week with almost 100 EVs available for lease, along with 77 fast-charging ports. The facility also includes several dozen Level 2 chargers for use when longer charging times can be scheduled. Zeem anticipates that it will be the largest privately owned EV charging facility in the U.S. when operating at full capacity.

That scale is a good fit for Los Angeles Airport, which claims it is the second-busiest airport in the U.S. and the fourth-busiest airport in the world.

The new hub is also a good fit for the sustainability plan issued by Los Angeles World Airports, which has set a timeline of 2045 for achieving net zero carbon emissions from LAX and Van Nuys Airport.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has limited the ability of the EPA to decarbonize power stations, the climate action ball is in the hands of the private sector. The technology is in hand, the bottom-line benefits are clear and companies like Zeem have the solution.

Image credit: Ryan Miller via Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey