A May report from Pike Research forecasts that, between 2010 and 2015, more than 1.3 million plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will be purchased for use in fleet operations, with nearly 400,000 vehicles being sold annually by the end of 2015. Pike is a market research and consulting firm that analyzes global clean-technology markets.

It appears that commercial and government fleet managers are looking at a variety of technologies to protect budgets from increasing fuel costs and to meet emissions-reduction targets. Fleet operators are increasingly finding that hybrid electric vehicles and all electric PEVs can help accomplish both goals, improving fuel economy between 5 and 40 percent and lowering emissions 10 to 50 percent below comparable vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Pike found that, during the next few years, corporations and governments will be highly focused on improving the efficiency of their vehicle fleets. While traditional hybrid-electric vehicles will continue to play an important role, with the twin goals of reducing lifetime operating expenses and lowering emissions from their vehicles, fleet managers will increasingly turn to PEVs as a solution.

“Plug-in electric vehicles are primarily known for their consumer applications, but they will play a greater and greater role in fleets as well,” said Dave Hurst, Pike’s senior analyst. “Fleet managers will be drawn to the fuel-efficiency benefits of PEVs, in many cases to satisfy requirements to reduce overall fleet emissions. Tax incentives are also a powerful motivator to some fleet operators, though others will not factor this into the equation, either because they do not qualify or because the tax incentive is not put back into their budget.”

Hurst said automakers will look to the fleet markets in these early years of PEV sales to help bolster production and reduce overall vehicle costs. As a result, passenger cars will be the leading segment in the PEV fleet market over the next five years, representing more than 80 percent of total sales in 2015. Small SUVs will also be an important segment, though their adoption will lag significantly behind passenger cars. Early adopters of fleet PEVs will include operations that have local, predictable routes such as delivery vehicles and taxis. Hurst anticipates that many fleet operators will maintain their own EV charging stations and will be relatively insensitive to range and charging infrastructure concerns.