Lancer Insurance
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Last year, EmpireCLS Worldwide—the massive network with locations in the Northeast, Southern California, and Chicago—announced that it had added a handful of Cadillac LYRIQ electric vehicles (EVs) to its fleet. Now operating 60 EVs, with more on the way, the company has been tracking and compiling real-life data on how its new vehicles stack up to traditional gas-powered vehicles (ICE). COO Joey Phelps, who spearheads the company’s operations, spoke with us about his experience leading up to the new fleet additions, and his advice for other operators considering the move.

EmpireCLS Worldwide EmpireCLS Worldwide COO Joey Phelps Chauffeur Driven: What was the process of adding EVs to your fleet?
Joey Phelps: The direction towards sustainability is evident, driven by commitments from states and car manufacturers, as well as the growing interest from large corporate accounts of ours. These companies are prioritizing sustainability in all aspects of their operations. We understood the importance of proactively addressing this issue, which led us to conduct extensive research and introduce our own initiative. We are committed to leading the industry by aligning with the evolving needs of our environmentally conscious customers and contributing to a greener future.

CD: What kind of vehicles did you adopt?
JP: Currently, we have the Cadillac LYRIQ, Lucid Air Grand Touring, Genesis Electrified G80, and the Mercedes EQS SUV in our company-owned fleet.

CD: How many EVs are in your fleet?
JP: In total, we currently have approximately 60 EVs between New York and Los Angeles. The majority of our Los Angeles sedan fleet is already EV, and we are on track to convert the rest by the end of this year. California has been at the forefront in terms of charging infrastructure, which has facilitated our transition. However, with the recent rollout of various programs in the New York/New Jersey area and Chicago, we are planning to shift our sedan fleet to EVs in those markets as well.

CD: Would you consider larger EVs?
JP: Absolutely, we are open to considering larger electric vehicles. However, one of the challenges we have encountered is finding a full-size SUV with six seats and ample legroom. Our focus is on the upcoming release of the Cadillac Escalade in electric form, as we believe it will be a game-changer for the industry. We have expressed our interest to GM, and we will be placing an order for a significant number of electric Escalades. [note: Cadillac has announced the all-electric Escalade IQ will be released next year.]

CD: What metrics are you tracking?
JP: When comparing the costs between electric and gas vehicles, electric charging is approximately one third of the cost on average compared to gas. This significant difference in operating expenses makes EVs more cost-effective and economical in the long run. From a maintenance standpoint, electric vehicles are essentially maintenance-free. We’ve also found that we can command a higher ticket price for EVs because they offer a substantial upgrade from a typical sedan in our industry. Our clients recognize the advanced technology, environmental benefits, and overall superior experience.

CD: How many months of data do you have?
JP: We now have about six months of data with well over 300,000 miles on the Cadillac LYRIQs alone, so it’s substantial.

CD: Any surprises?
JP: Nothing negative so far. On a positive note, our monitoring systems show that chauffeurs driving EVs exhibit improved driving habits, likely due to their focus on efficient driving to reduce charging time. This unintended consequence is a beneficial outcome that we all appreciate, which of course aligns with our commitment to responsible practices as well.

CD: What impact does weather, using AC, or driving in mountainous conditions have on the battery life?
JP: If it’s a day of airport transfers, gap time between runs allows us to frequently charge the vehicles. On a long hourly run, we take advantage of nearby charging stations when we’re staged and waiting for long periods of time. We advise chauffeurs to frequently top off the charge, similar to topping off the tank in a gas engine. We have successfully run the LYRIQ throughout the year without substantial issues affecting our operations. While adjustments are expected, weather conditions like cold or wind do not have a significant impact on how we operate. However, for long-distance trips without an extensive charging network, EVs are not yet a viable option with guests in the vehicle.

CD: What have been the reactions from your customers?
JP: Based on our guest surveys, we can confidently say that the feedback regarding our EV fleet has been overwhelmingly positive. The experience these vehicles provide surpasses that of other legacy sedans in the industry. They’re a significant upgrade in terms of comfort and are a truly exceptional experience for our guests.

CD: What have you learned so far about running EVs?
JP: Through our experience, we have learned that many of our initial fears regarding electric vehicles were unfounded. With effective management strategies, EVs have proven to be highly effective and valuable assets for our company. We are extremely satisfied with the results and would not change our approach. In fact, we are significantly increasing our investments in EVs due to their immense potential and the benefits they bring to our operations.

CD: What changes did you have to make to your operations?
JP: In the beginning, we believed that installing charging stations at our locations would be a crucial component to introducing electric vehicles into our fleet, and they have proven to be valuable. However, a more challenging aspect we successfully tackled was educating our team on dispatching EVs effectively, ensuring chauffeurs wouldn’t face the need to charge the vehicle during a trip and inconvenience guests. It was a learning process, and today, we can confidently say that those concerns are no longer an issue.

CD: We’ve all seen viral videos where an EV won’t charge or is stuck in a software update. Have you experienced any issues?
JP: Our EV fleet has only experienced minimal issues, thanks to our dedicated 24/7 fleet team effectively addressing any concerns as they occur. Initial challenges from being early adopters have been resolved. Our EVs have been reliable, with no significant charging or software-related issues. We have full confidence in the overall performance and dependability of our EV fleet.

CD: Do you think it would have been possible to add EVs without having ICE vehicles as a backup?
JP: Absolutely, there are already existing business models that can successfully operate with electric vehicles alone. The key factor in seeing widespread adoption is the development of the charging infrastructure. As the infrastructure continues to advance, the idea of relying solely on EVs will become increasingly more realistic and manageable.

CD: Have you shared data or had conversations with any other operators running EVs?
JP: We have not but we will certainly do more of that as more operators add them to their fleet. Our journey into EVs was a learning experience for us, but we are open to supporting and assisting other operators in the industry who have questions or need guidance. We have accumulated valuable data throughout our EV deployment and are willing to share our insights and knowledge to help others in their transition to EVs.

CD: What advice would you give other operators?
JP: My advice to other operators would be to consider allowing yourwhich requires chauffeurs to take vehicles home and charge them overnight, which requires appropriate reimbursement procedures. Installing power consumption meters at chauffeurs’ homes can help manage this process effectively. It is crucial to plan long-distance trips carefully, considering the availability of charging networks along the route. Informing your team about the differences in charging speeds as well as having accounts with multiple charging networks like EVgo, ChargePoint, and Electrify America is essential for success. Investing in upfront education and preparation will enable operators to run EVs as effectively as gasoline engines. Additionally, due to the ability to charge higher rates for EVs, they have the potential to be equally as profitable as traditional ICE sedans, while also providing a superior experience for your guests.

CD: What programs or incentives would you like to see to help roll out more EVs in the industry?
JP: It would greatly benefit the industry to have manufacturers who understand our industry and offer more flexible options for purchasing electric vehicles that fit our needs. Currently, when we speak with EV manufacturers who are not familiar with the demands of luxury chauffeured transportation, there is limited negotiation room, making it challenging to obtain favorable deals. However, we have been collaborating with a few prominent companies to develop programs that address these issues. As competition among manufacturers increases and they better cater to our needs, we anticipate more widespread adoption of EVs, which we believe will contribute to the advancement of EVs in our industry.

CD: What about from cities or states?
JP: In terms of support from cities or states, the key area of focus should be on enhancing the charging infrastructure, particularly fast-charging options. It is crucial to have a more robust and accessible network, including the availability of adapters for use by other manufacturers. While Tesla stations are everywhere, the inability for other vehicles to utilize them has presented challenges. There has been some advancement in this area, which will certainly help. Increasing the number of fast-charging stations is essential to reduce wait times and bridge the gap in the charging infrastructure.

CD: What’s next?
JP: Our next steps are driven by the satisfaction of our guests, and we are delighted that they have expressed high levels of satisfaction with our electric fleet and our commitment to sustainability. As we move forward, we will continue to transition a significant portion of our fleet to electric vehicles, which we believe will lead to a reduction in our fleet expense due to less maintenance and increased competition in the market. Furthermore, the cost savings associated with charging EVs compared to fueling traditional vehicles will make the transition more attractive for everyone. As a part of our industry, we have the responsibility to align ourselves with the sustainability goals of the businesses we serve, while also staying true to our own commitment to a greener future.   [CD0623]