Telematics: Breaking even

Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2023   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

A selling point of electric vehicles is that they are cheaper to maintain than ICE equivalents, but data indicates that is not always the case.

Downtime is a killer for van fleets. You want your vehicles on the road as much as possible, so anything that promises to cut the time and the cost associated with maintenance is guaranteed to appeal. 

It is one of the big draws of electric LCVs. They have fewer moving parts, so there is less that can go wrong. There are also fewer components to replace, and maintenance is cheaper – or so we are told. 

There is no question that electric vans have less wearable and replaceable bits than ICE equivalents, and on that basis alone, they are cheaper to run. However, that is a generalisation, and it does not account for the many nuances that play into service, maintenance, and repair (SMR). 

Analysis of real-world fleet data by telematics specialist Epyx, published in October 2022, revealed circumstances in which electric vehicles fare both better and worse in similar types of usage, along with variations by model. 

The firm compared a series of equivalent electric and ICE vehicles – cars and vans – across three metrics: the number of visits to service outlets, the number of days off the road due to SMR issues, and workshop costs including tyres and repairs.

The first example was a hatchback on a three-year, 25–30,000-mile cycle. The EV averaged 5.7 visits to service outlets, 3.2 days off the road, and workshop costs of £431. Across the same three metrics, the petrol version averaged five service visits, 4.5 days off the road and workshop costs of £412. Epyx said there were “no obvious EV benefits” in this case. 

The second comparison was a “large prestige SUV from a major manufacturer – one petrol and one, a purpose-built EV at two years old and 20–30,000 miles. The EV averaged 3.4 days off the road, with workshop costs of £645 and 4.1 service visits. The petrol averaged 4.9 days off the road, workshop costs were £996 and service visits were exactly four days. The firm described the EV as “superior” in the former two areas, and both models as “comparable” in the latter. 

The final example was a van in electric and diesel guises over a three-year, 25–30,000-mile cycle. The EV had 5.7 service visits, 2.2 days off the road and workshop costs of £239. The diesel had “comparable” service visits of five days and 2.9 days off the road, but workshop costs of “more than double” at £522.

The firm stipulated that the number of true equivalent EV and ICE vehicles is relatively small. Out of more than four million company cars, vans, and trucks on its 1link Service Network SMR platform, it said there were “only around 170” EVs of ages and mileages for a true comparison. 

Epyx’s strategy director Charlie Brooks believes fleets should not conclude that electric vehicles will be cheaper to run in every case, and points out that there are differences according to factors such as age and application. 

“To assume all your vehicles, when you’ve transitioned to EVs, are going to cost 35% less, I think, is very dangerous. We have some dashboards that show the average repair value of vehicles, and for [certain EVs] it’s relatively low up to about 45,000 miles. Then, suddenly after that, when it has a repair, it’s a very expensive repair. Whereas for ICE vehicles, you kind of see the average repair value increasing gradually over time.”

He suggested that early technical issues plus the differing characteristics of individual models could contribute to maintenance time and costs. 

“I believe, from a pure SMR perspective, they [EVs] will cost less, but I don’t believe that is necessarily the case across the board. At the moment, we [also] have a number of teething problems, where vehicles are going in a little bit more frequently than you might expect.

“I’m loath to say that this is the future of EVs… this is more what we’ve found to date, because I still feel it’s going to vary significantly by make and model.”

The results also vary by usage. Brooks says anecdotal evidence from a leasing company paints a very different picture of the van Epyx examined. 

“The van example showed a very low usage of tyres. I’ve spoken about that van with another lease company – literally a couple of weeks ago – and they were like, ‘it just chews through tyres’. I just don’t understand how we even vaguely reconcile what we’ve seen with what they’ve seen.”

Some experts believe EVs represent such a small amount of the vehicle parc that it is too soon to draw broad conclusions about their maintenance habits and costs, chiefly due to the tiny amount of available SMR data. 

“Although I would argue that we’ve had EVs for 10–12 years… the scale of information is a bit flaky, and the other part of it is that some of the powertrain warranties seem to differ. There is not enough evidence to be really objective about it,” says Auto Trader’s head of TCO, Mark Jowsey.

Others argue that EVs are cheaper to maintain, including fellow SMR specialist Fleet Assist, which manages 850,000 cars and vans. Battery-electric vehicles accounted for 9% of its jobs in 2022 and, for those carried out between January and October, average labour times were 33% less than for ICEs. Over the same period, the cost of EV parts, labour itself, and fluids were reportedly 51%, 26%, and 39% lower. 

The company added that “average BEV mileages are still tracking lower than the equivalent ICE or hybrid vehicles,” with one-, two-, and three-year-old EVs recording 19%, 21%, and 14% lower mileages respectively at the time of their services. 

“The overriding position is that BEVs are shining through as cheaper on overall SMR costs,” said managing director, Vincent St Claire, who added that both labour time and the types/cost of the most common replacement parts were weighted in favour of EVs. For ICE vehicles they were pads, discs, bulbs, and oil and pollen filters. For EVs, they were collectively cheaper items: pollen filters, bulbs, key fob batteries, wipers, and brake fluid.  

The average age of EVs on Fleet Assist’s books was 1.6 years, compared to 4.6 years for ICE vehicles. St Claire conceded that this would make a difference but claimed overall SMR costs would still be less for EVs – to a point. 

“The general mileage profile will make BEVs look better as an average comparison today, absolutely, but there still is an underlying trend that you can’t get away from – even if you were to take a one-year-old BEV and ICE vehicle, you’ll find that the labour times are less, and the parts required are less.

“Where they [EVs] will potentially [be] costlier is where a[n older] vehicle may have had two sets of brake pads during its life and a set of discs.”

Tyres balance it out

Higher tyre prices and wear rates can offset the allegedly lower cost of EV maintenance. Steve Chambers, senior editor for SMR at Cap HPI, explained that EV rubber is, “generally bigger, therefore more expensive and wears more quickly, but it is offset by the fact that we could, as a broad brush, say the service component is 50% [cheaper].” 

Telematics data from Epyx shows electric vehicle tyres typically cost around £120 more than those of an equivalent ICE model, and that cost can increase. “We know for a fact that, across all the tyre data that we do, EVs, on average, have a tyre that is one inch larger than their ICE equivalent,” says Brooks, “that extra inch that you add to a tyre’s diameter costs about £30 on each tyre. There’s a greater and greater demand to have larger tyres on these vehicles, and they kind of start off at £30, then they start getting exponentially more expensive at the higher end.”

In November 2021, Michelin’s technical manager, Brian Porteous, said some EVs’ range could be blunted by up to 20% if they were fitted with non-OEM-spec tyres. Around the same time, we were contacted by an EV specialist at a major leasing company, who explained that Michelin’s own representatives had claimed EV range would not be impacted, regardless of the tyre. It is a case study in how difficult it can be for fleets to get a true picture of electric vehicle maintenance costs. 

Chambers says the comparative absence of wearable components swings the advantage back in EVs’ favour, but he also questions whether the difference is noticeable if you stick to your tyre replacement schedule, but your mileage is relatively low. 

“When we look at other items, like timing belts, water pumps, alternators – they are never going to be an issue for battery-electric vehicles.

“There are all sorts of things at play but, fundamentally, EVs do cost less to run… but the question is whether or not you’d feel it that much if you are doing very low mileage. If it’s a case of ‘I’ve got to replace two tyres this year,’ do you look back in 24 months and say, ‘I replaced them in the first 12 months, and this is the second time I’ve had to do it’?”



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