Ann Larosse, ALD Automotive Belgium: “The TCO of fuel cell vehicles is equivalent to electric cars”

Should your fleet include hydrogen-powered vehicles? ALD Automotive thinks so. An early adopter, the leasing company is well aware that car models are scarce and the station network is in its early stages of development. But he strongly believes in a complementary future for BEV and FCEV and has signed up as an active member of hydrogen organizations like Waterstofnet. The trend? Last year, the share of fuel cell cars on lease increased by 45%, but by 13 units, for ALD Automotive Belgium.

Drawing on her vast experience in developing pioneering business concepts, Ann Larosse, Head of Innovation and CSR at ALD Automotive Belgium, talks about the business challenges for a hydrogen fleet and how to assess them: ” If you believe in something, you have to take a little risk.”

ALD’s mission is to lower the threshold for hydrogen cars with an attractive leasing price. And, as your press release notes: “to reduce risk.” Can you explain these risks?

The residual value in the resale of cars is the most important. We remove this risk for our customers because we want to offer them the best mobility solution and at the same time offer them the possibility of reducing their carbon footprint. Calculating residual values ​​is always complex, but the challenge is even greater for new innovations such as hydrogen cars. ALD Automotive removes this burden from the customer, who is backed by the convenience of a comprehensive package including insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance and a fuel card.

ALD Belgium has already started offering FCEVs in 2019. With contracts increasing year on year, is a typical hydrogen car rental customer profile emerging?

For the moment, the important customers are companies directly involved in the hydrogen economy, located near existing service stations. You know, many parties are involved in this whole new economy. They choose these cars because of their confidence in the technology, but our offerings also appeal to early adopters. Those who look at hydrogen like they did with Tesla seven years ago. They want to do something different, try it and contribute in an innovative way. They play a crucial role in conveying the message to the entire market.

How do you convince fleet managers to take the plunge? And what attitude can they adopt to introduce a hydrogen fleet into their car policy?

They will have to carefully study their business case and they can be assisted by our consulting branch to see if their profile matches. From our EV proposals, we see companies that either don’t have the ability or don’t want to invest in chargers in the office when relying on public charging is expensive. Adopting only plugged-in electric vehicles will also result in high demand on the grid. The cost of fuel will also be a differentiating factor. I did some math, and with today’s skyrocketing fuel and electricity prices, the energy cost of a hydrogen car is the same. However, with the increase in the production of green hydrogen, the price at the pump will continue to fall in the coming years, resulting in a positive price differential for hydrogen. Fleet managers should additionally be aware that hydrogen cars are premium vehicles at this stage. Think of C-level people. But promising signs are appearing. From Toyota, for example, which deals with the Corolla and the Yaris. Adoption will follow a path comparable to that of electric cars: the upper segments come first, then the lower segments, pushing the widest reach. But in the end, BEV and FCEV are complementary. This is our point of view. It is a diversification strategy.

Mentioning fuel, residual value and battery vehicles. Can you tell us about a total cost of ownership comparison between the two zero-emission drivetrains?

Our calculations show the same TCO for both transmissions. And because we can put them on the same level, we offer attractive prices. Take the Toyota Mirai, for example. That’s on par with a Ford Mustang Mach-E, Jaguar i-PACE or BMW iX. Based on an average price per kilowatt/hour of €0.45 and consumption of 25 kWh per 100 kilometres, electricity consumption will fluctuate between 12 and 13 euros per 100 kilometres. It is comparable if not identical. So, at equal tax deductibility and investment cost, there is already a positive story for hydrogen today.

Some companies are developing a business case for what might be called Hydrogen-as-a-Service. An ecosystem extending the offer to on-site mobile refueling stations for depot fleets.

For electric vehicles, we offer a home charging station as an option in the leasing contract. We are not yet pursuing such an investment for hydrogen, but we have contacts with companies in this field. We are joining forces with the energy and fuel supplier DATS24, a co-pioneer in this adventure. We see initiatives, as in the port of Antwerp, of companies setting up their own service stations for trucks, and making them semi-public. It’s a nice development.

Analysts say green hydrogen for road transport should be preserved for freight transport. A quarter of ALD Automotive’s fleet is made up of LCVs. Do you also plan to implement it for commercial vehicles?

We held webinars around this segment last year, listening to our customers’ needs. They are driven to become greener and they come to us for advice and solutions. So I was in contact with Hyvia, the joint venture between Renault and Plug Power. But given the high prices, it will probably come down to subsidies because today these vehicles are more expensive than their diesel counterparts. But I see the potential. Companies have to pay LEZ fines in cities like Brussels for their LCVs. We see hydrogen vans as a solid solution to these challenges, not least because they are not dependent on charging infrastructure that can become complex in urban areas.

What does your hydrogen car leasing roadmap look like? What share do you expect by the end of the decade?

For now, he’s a pilot. So I don’t have anything like pushy numbers. But our ambition is to be the leading company. So we want the biggest chunk of the sales if the cars are there. Ask me again in 2025! (Laughs)

Image source: ALD Automotive

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