Lancer Insurance
Friday, March 01, 2024

EmpireCLS Worldwide has always been a trendsetter, but now the company is embracing one of their most notable challenges yet with the addition of electric vehicles (EVs). As the largest company in the industry to make such a monumental move, EmpireCLS is full steam ahead with an emerging technology—at least for modern automakers—that has many other operators cautiously watching. COO Joey Phelps is thrilled with the results after testing dozens of EVs in their Southern California fleet, with another handful in their New York/New Jersey market. Armed with a year’s worth of operating data as well as numerous rave reviews from their clients, Phelps says the only issue he’s experiencing is keeping up with demand. This is part 2 of the Q&A we published in the June 2023 issue of Chauffeur Driven.

EmpireCLS Joey Phelps EmpireCLS Worldwide COO Joey Phelps Chauffeur Driven: When we talked in June 2023, you mentioned that you had about 60 EVs between your LA and New Jersey offices. What does the fleet look like now?
Joey Phelps: Well, things have changed a bit. We’ve got roughly 70 EVs just in LA now, and the number is on the rise. Our main focus is expanding the EV fleet in LA because the charging infrastructure is solid there. However, we’ve added additional EVs at our New Jersey headquarters as well.

CD: Since you’re currently running the LYRIQ successfully in your fleet, we’re curious what your thoughts are on the three new EV models—the Escalade IQ, OPTIQ, and VISTIQ—that Cadillac announced this year for 2024 and beyond.
JP: These models caught our attention, especially the IQ, although there isn’t much detailed information available yet. We generally lean away from crossovers, so anything in that category more than likely wouldn’t work for us. The LYRIQ is an exception as we see it more as a sedan; it’s an extraordinary vehicle.

CD: Since you are running different brands, is there a standout?
JP: All three brands have proven to be excellent. Currently, the Lucid Air Touring holds the majority share within our EV fleet. We recently closed a deal to acquire more, bringing our total to just under 40 Lucid Touring sedans in the LA operation. The Lucid stands out and ranks among the best cars we’ve ever incorporated into our fleet. Its generous cargo space, including the front trunk and luxurious features, such as the all-glass ceiling, make it a favorite among our clients. The ride is remarkably smooth as well.

CD: The LYRIQ obviously qualifies for the full $7,500 tax credit, but does the Lucid also fall in that range? Are you looking at others?
JP: In short, yes, Lucid has introduced EV credits to match the tax benefits available for less expensive EVs on the market. At the moment, we aren’t looking for others because most vehicles that qualify for the federal EV tax credit don’t meet the specific criteria necessary to be included in our fleet.

CD: Are clients requesting one above the other?
JP: We conduct surveys after every ride is completed, providing us with extensive data on these vehicles. Based on this feedback, we can say that our clients are pleased with all the EVs in our fleet. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive and generally receive five-star ratings. The Lucid Air Touring stands out as a substantial upgrade compared to traditional sedans in our industry, so I would have to say it receives the most attention.

CD: Now that you have a full year of data running EVs, what have been the most interesting findings?
JP: We made a commitment to move in this direction, and we take pride in meeting the demand that our clients consistently expressed. The introduction of vehicles like these requires careful cost management since the upfront expenses are higher. However, the investment has proven highly successful, strengthening our relationship with clients. Beyond the savings on fuel and maintenance, it enables us to set a higher ticket price due to the vehicle’s high demand and increased service level.

CD: Besides initial costs, are there drawbacks?
JP: The main operational challenges we’ve encountered relate to dispatching and allocating time for charging. It’s essential to consider the chauffeur’s time needed for charging, which can create gaps in their schedule. Gaps cost money, especially with an employee model like ours. This is exactly why pricing must be carefully planned to account for these factors. Over time, we’ve improved our processes, and I would say that our dispatching is much more efficient today compared to six months ago.

CD: You previously gave some great advice for EV-curious operators. Any additional tips you would share?
JP: Continuous education is the primary key to success when introducing EVs into your fleet. The learning process is ongoing, and staying informed is crucial. For example, in preparation for an event with over 75 EVs, we encountered a challenge with the flush door handles. EVs typically have them for better aerodynamics. We realized that we had to create a process for our chauffeurs to pop them out when approaching the red carpet so our onsite Events Team could easily access the door handle. It’s these small details that are essential to stay on top of. Neglecting them will create service challenges, something none of us want.

CD: The first half of 2023 seemed to be a pretty strong market for EVs but it kind of fizzled out a little bit in the latter half of the year on the consumer side. Do you think that that’s going to impact our industry’s adoption rate?
JP: From my perspective, the tightening of belts could be a factor. Many consider the long-term benefits of EVs less crucial than upfront costs, especially in the current economic climate from a consumer standpoint. However, in our industry, catering to specific guests, we’re actively negotiating to expand our sedan fleet with more EVs. The demand is substantial, and these vehicles are consistently booked. Our challenge is that we currently don’t have enough.

CD: Even with gas costs down, you’re still seeing customers demanding EVs?
JP: Yes, we are. The demand for EVs is less influenced by fuel prices and more driven by environmental considerations.

CD: Do you think price or infrastructure is the bigger deterrent for our industry?
JP: From my perspective, both are challenges that will require time to address. The availability of charging stations remains an issue in many markets, but this should improve over time. Hopefully, the cost of EVs will decrease, which would relieve some of that pressure as well. To navigate this transition successfully, operators must be open-minded about updating rates and adapting new operational processes.

CD: As an international company, how does the EV adoption rate compare for your overseas affiliates?
JP: The aggressive mandates and initiatives in Europe are certainly making an impact. In places like London, operators are confronted with zero emission requirements for new vehicles. We’re seeing similar initiatives in cities like New York, but I would say that the US is lagging behind in EV adoption compared to overseas.

CD: What about wear and tear?
JP: We were among the first in the country to receive some of these vehicles, so encountering initial issues and working through them was expected. However, I can confidently say that the vehicles, for the most part, are not any different today than they were on the day we received them. There has been little to no change in terms of battery life. Many of our EVs have surpassed 50,000 miles without any significant issues.

CD: Final thoughts?
JP: It’s not as overwhelming as people might initially think when getting involved with EVs. Our team has adapted just as they always have, whether it’s dealing with gas or electric vehicles. If you’re in the right market with infrastructure that can support it, there are many benefits to running EVs. In our experience, any concerns are outweighed by the positives. We place a strong emphasis on providing a high level of service in the car, which is crucial. As long as that remains intact, I believe anyone will have a similar experience operating EVs.   [CD0124]