A new survey of small business owners around the world has found two-thirds of them expect their fleets to be completely reliant on electric drivetrain technology within 20 years and many of them think they will be fully automated too.
But the same high expectations do not translate into the Australian market – highlighting that Australia trails not just in the uptake of EVs, but also in its thinking about the future.
The survey, which was conducted globally by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, found that 66 per cent of the small business owners surveyed believed corporate fleets – of more than 50 vehicles – would be completely electric within the next two decades.
The view is quite different in the near-term. Only one-fifth – 20 per cent – of business owners believed that electric vehicles would dominate their fleets within five years. And that’s despite the fact that the vast majority of respondents (93%) described sustainability as important and very important to their business.
Jump 10 years ahead, however, and the outlook improves dramatically, with 50 per cent of business owners agreeing that their fleet could be fully electric by that time.
Asked if they thought autonomous technology would be a factor in business operations in the future, over half of the 3,257 respondents said yes within 20 years, but only 38 per cent thought this would be the case within 10 years.
The survey also discovered that 71 per cent of business owners saw vehicular connectivity – such as communicating with customers or other drivers within a fleet – as important for business.
“These results show that the electrification of fleets is increasingly on the minds of our customers – not just for the financial efficiencies that EVs can deliver, but because environmental sustainability is clearly crucial to the future of their businesses,” said Ashwani Gupta, senior VP of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi for light commercial vehicle business.
“I’m impressed at how optimistic these fleet managers are about the speed in which their vehicles will be fully electrified.
“Renault is the global leader in making vans. Nissan makes great trucks and Mitsubishi are at the top when it comes to the production of frame vehicles.
“Combined, we are a truly global powerhouse, and working together on connectivity, powertrain developments and autonomous technologies will allow us to meet the rising demands of our customers and their businesses.”
Meanwhile, in Australia, the outlook is considerably less optimistic, more than likely thanks to the persistent lack of commercial electric vehicle choice for Australian business owners.
Only 23 per cent of the 250 Aussie business owners surveyed saw electrification of their fleets as viable within 10 years, less than half that of the global average.
Citing sustainability and business efficiency as major drivers for adoption of new tech, followed by cost savings, only 16 per cent saw fully autonomous driving being adopted in their fleets in the next 10 years, compared with 43 per cent of their Chinese counterparts.
A further 34 per cent of Australians surveyed didn’t think autonomous driving would ever be a factor.
About one third did think that some form of autonomous tech would be incorporated into their day to day operations, however only 11 per cent believed this would include driverless deliveries – much less than the half of their Chinese counterparts.
The figures are unsurprising – the options for Australian fleet owners to switch to electromobility are few and far between.
Of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, there are three main models that fulfill the role of all-electric light commercial vehicle: the Mitsubishi Miev, the Nissan e-NV200, and the Renault Kangoo.
While Japanese carmaker Mistubishi blazed a trail for electric vehicles in Australia in 2010, its all-electric Miev minicab – which had around 100km of range and a 16kWh battery in its 2014 model – was not available here for long, and secondhand models do not often come up for sale.
The Renault Kangoo ZE, with 200km real world range, 4m3 load room and 33kWh battery, is available in Australia, along with the Renault Zoe, which were both launched to fleet businesses only in 2017, then opened up to the public market in 2018. To date there have been 20 Kangoo EVs sold within Australia.
An updated Nissan e-NV200 was unveiled in April 2018 with a 40kWh battery and range of 300km, and will now be the only form of NV200 van to made by the Japanese auto giant following a recent announcement that all production of the NV200 will be stopped next northern hemisphere summer.
While the survey suggests that there is at least a modicum of interest in the Australian commercial fleet market to switch to electric transport, Nissan Australia has not yet been able to comment on whether the business case will mean the e-NV200 can be expected on Aussie shores any time soon.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.