Switching a fleet to run on electricity involves much more than selecting the right truck. Whether testing the waters with one battery-electric vehicle or gearing up to bring on multiple units, a fleet will need an ecosystem of support built from the ground up.
This conversion plan for your fleet will need to be forward-thinking and encompass everything from the vehicle to its charging plan and dedicated charging infrastructure to the financing or leasing of some or all of these elements.
Like any blueprint, there will be no one way to map out a fleet’s electric ecosystem. There will be first things first to determine, such as the right trucks for the duty cycle and the type of charging they will need. From there, charging infrastructure must be plotted and other details sorted. And throughout, thought must be given to scalability, to help future-proof the whole setup.
Complicating matters is there will be no one way to charge electric trucks, especially medium- to heavy-duty ones. Most fleets will need two types of chargers: “Slow chargers” for single-shift trucks that return to a domicile overnight and “fast chargers” that can rapidly charge up a truck in service so its range can be extended for a longer or second shift.
All charging stations must be installed to meet legal requirements, such as building and fire codes, and personnel operating them must be trained for proper safety. In addition, fleets will want to make use of the data generated and collected from the charging stations on vehicle efficiency and electricity costs.
“Almost all OEMs have a BEV offering they plan to deliver in the next 24 to 36 months,” says Ryan Salvail, Ryder System’s director of sales of advanced vehicle technology. “With that said, OEMs have not produced any meaningful quantities at this time. For a company interested in early adoption, the evaluation would start at the route level. Load, range, highway versus city miles, climate, and truck utilization are all considerations for determining the best fit of both truck and charger type.”
Salvail says he can’t stress enough the importance of evaluating the changing capacity at a site and understanding the cost, timing, and charging needs to support fleet goals.
“Current infrastructure, site planning, future-proofing — so you only pour the concrete once — and the vehicle(s) all need to be evaluated,” he says. “Once charging is in place, someone also must maintain the charger. It’s an asset that is early tech, too.”
He recommends looking at the process as developing the best use case for the vehicle and charger paired to provide the optimal range. “Our approach is to support customers on planning and selecting assets,” Salvail says. “It’s not bundling services, but guiding them to select the pieces, from site planning to applying for grants.”
Looking ahead, he says it is conceivable leasing companies might bundle the truck and the charging. “There’s a lot of new ways of thinking about electric trucks, and the goal will be the most cost-effective and viable solution for a fleet.”
Start with a plan
Brett Pope, director of electric vehicles for Volvo Trucks North America, says fleets should develop a plan for battery-electric vehicles that goes beyond which truck to select, covering charging infrastructure as well as operation and maintenance.
“The plan should take into consideration the number of trucks, site layouts (starting point), dwell time (time for charging), and future expansion capabilities,” Pope says. “Once that’s decided on, for example, as a three-year plan, talk to your OEM to identify vehicle energy needs. This should include consideration of vehicle performance and auxiliary power (body requirements, liftgates, etc.).”
Done this way, he says a charging plan can be developed for the successful introduction of fully supported electric vehicles. He notes that “complete solutions” are offered in support of the Volvo VNR Electric truck, from charging infrastructure to maintenance and turnkey financing.
Daimler Trucks North America is taking a multipronged approach to consulting on the electric ecosystem as it rolls out its Freightliner eCascadia and medium-duty eM2.
“Wanting to talk beyond the truck and help get chargers into customers’ depots, we decided to build a consulting group that offers a packaged approach, with three tiers that range from free to access to costing thousands of dollars,” says Nate Hill, DTNA’s head of charging infrastructure. “We’re also training our dealers to help customers in going electric as well as developing financing packages.”
Detroit eConsulting’s top-tier Megaline package helps with planning for charging infrastructure, solar panel and stationary energy storage, and interacting with local utilities. The Powerline package is similar, but without support for solar and storage or utility interfacing. The Baseline package is free to all Freightliner battery-electric vehicle buyers. It features best practices and dealership-level consultation. The top two packages are open to buyers of any make and model of electric trucks.
Hill says the company is also working on software to support site optimization. This will be algorithmically based using charging schedules and utility rates to determine the number of chargers. He says there will also be software from third-party suppliers, matched to vehicles, to manage the actual charging systems. This software will monitor the state of health of the chargers, schedule charge events, track which vehicles plug in, and manage charging around electric costs.
The Lion Electric Company, which makes battery-electric trucks and buses, has a division called Lion Energy focused on making electric-charging infrastructure easier for fleets. Lion Energy packages charging infrastructure design and review, project management, utility coordination, and customized consultation for its customers to help ease the complex process of charging station installation.
Paccar is working with Faith Technologies and Schneider Electric to provide charging infrastructure solutions for its medium- and heavy-duty EV offerings. Kenworth and Peterbilt customers will be able to order electric chargers from Paccar Parts. Paccar Financial will provide flexible financing options for infrastructure and charging systems. PacLease will bundle the cost of charging systems within full-service lease offerings to customers.
“PacLease has lease programs for Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks that let our customers step into the world of electric trucks without having to figure out all the nuances,” says Mike Willey, assistant general manager. “We offer lease and finance options on not only the truck but charging stations as well.”
He says PacLease can act as a third-party provider, offering lease, finance, maintenance, and charging solutions to customers.
“We can help uncover grants and apply for them directly in some cases, offsetting the cost of the truck and charger. Packaged with a multiyear lease and a maintenance program, we can offer steady, more predictable costing over the life of the equipment.
“It’s a much more involved process when developing a strategy and putting a lease package together for electric trucks,” Willey continues. “Considerations such as routes, application of the truck, duty cycle, how and where the truck can be charged all have to be considered.”
No quick sale
“A sales cycle that was 18 days now can run 18 months or more as you work with a customer on adopting electric trucks,” says Jason Gies, Navistar’s vice president of eMobility Business Development. “There’s a wider focus on what goes around the truck.”
With that in mind, he says the OEM developed its Next eMobility Solutions business unit, which partners with In-Charge Energy to develop charging infrastructure and offer consulting services to fleets.
“Our dealers are also an integral part of the process,” says Chet Ciesielski, Navistar’s VP of on-highway truck business. “They have the relationship with the customers, so we want to enable dealers as well to work with fleets” on electrification. “Some of our dealers are already putting in charging systems. All will have to have chargers to service electric trucks.”
Gies says the Next consulting services are a la carte offerings, “so we do have local contractors that can go with a fleet from site survey to commissioning the charging infrastructure. We’re exploring a lot of business models, including with financing. And in some cases, we can lease the entire charging setup with the trucks to a fleet or lease just one or the other. There’s a need to be flexible.”
Offering more detail on how consulting works, he says that fleet location and climate conditions there come first. Then funding: Is it there to help offset the acquisition costs? And then there’s developing a full charging solution.
“A site survey will get you 80% to 90% there on charging,” Gies says. “That will tell you roughly where chargers will be needed and if any facilities need upgrading for that. You’ll also know how many overnight and fast chargers will be needed.”
Power or not?
“When we talk with a customer [about going electric], we want to level-set the conversation,” says Drew Cullen, senior VP of fuels and facility services for Penske Transportation Solutions. “Let’s assume you’ve decided on the OEMs of the trucks. Then our team can speak to the needed infrastructure. What must be considered will be based on what we’ve learned setting up a charging network in California for our own fleet.”
He says it’s key to tap your local utility for their power — and their support. “You’ll want to know the current power available. Is it 240-volt or 480-volt? Utilities may have surplus capacity. Or they may not have enough power and not plan to have it where you need it. You also want to consider short-, medium- and long-term goals. How many trucks will you convert first? How many later?”
Sean Yentsch, Penske’s VP of facilities, notes that a fleet may find power to a building won’t match what’s needed to charge trucks. “But if you bring more power into your site, the utility may give you a lower rate on it.”
When it comes to installing the charging infrastructure, Cullen says that “in our experience, it’s all about the space planning. Where is the optimal place to put the chargers? Those for overnight charging and the fast chargers for double shifts?”
You also need to determine when to charge the trucks and how can you reduce time-of-use electric rates, Cullen says. “The strategy is built around the timing. You’ll want the charging infrastructure in place and the commissioning of the equipment completed, making sure the OEM gives a thumbs-up on warranty coverage, before you bring in the trucks.”
Charging infrastructure grants and incentives
How about paying for all this? Government grants and other incentive programs for acquiring and operating electric vehicles may be available at federal, state, and regional levels.
“It is important for fleets to remain knowledgeable of these programs as they can allow for reducing costs associated with electric trucks and charging infrastructure,” says VTNA’s Pope.
PacLease’s Willey cautions that grants can be very specific, “so when applying for them you need to consider the location, application, and rules around the grants. For example, we received a grant to install a charging station along with a truck for one of our locations. It came with very specific rules for the use of the equipment and disposal of the replaced truck.”
Some utilities are incentivizing fleet electrification. For instance, Michigan-based Consumers Energy’s new PowerMIFleet program offers consultation to Michigan operations looking to electrify vehicle fleets and charge overnight with use rates. Consumers Energy is also offering $3 million in rebates to businesses for setting up certain types of charging locations throughout the state.
“State incentive programs may provide for both public charging and behind-the-fence fleet installations,” says Kevin Walkowicz, senior director of the Trucks & Off-Road initiative at Calstart. The clean-transportation nonprofit administers the EnergIIZE Commercial Vehicles (Energy Infrastructure Incentives for Zero-Emission Commercial Vehicles) project funded by the California Energy Commission.
The $50 million, multi-year EnergIIZE project benefits communities most impacted by transportation-related pollution by helping public and private fleets replace old equipment with battery-electric and hydrogen options. It uses a “concierge-like model,” working directly with applicants to help plan and fund charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Walkowicz says many states are also creating voucher programs to encourage EV conversions, which can be viewed on Calstart’s website. “These vouchers are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and OEMs must specifically register vehicles in the system. This year we ‘sold out’ of $85 million worth of vouchers in the first round.”
The future is bright for electric trucks, but the view to when that tomorrow will arrive remains hazy. Erik Neandross, CEO of clean technology consulting firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, observes that “pilot and demo programs have shown that operation of the electric truck itself is not different. But charging infrastructure is a massive challenge. Especially at the scale of 50-plus units operating from a single yard.”
He says building out such infrastructure will be extremely expensive viewed within a total cost of ownership framework. “Also, the 24-hour [service] turnaround expected of truck dealers will require a tremendous investment, and parts will be limited at the outset.”
Still, he allows that tightening emissions rules set by California and followed by some 15 other states should help accelerate BEV adoption. For any fleet looking to develop an electric ecosystem as soon as possible, he advises to start by “finding a good resource and asking questions.”