With innovations coming at a fast and furious pace in the automotive and transportation sectors, it is not a leap to say that perhaps at no time in history have these industries been on the verge of such substantial change. In the vocational truck market, the shift began in earnest 15 years ago when in a race to comply with government regulations and cut the cost of ownership, several large refuse operators took the pole position with the early adoption of CNG fleets. The idea that a private operator or municipality could pull methane from a landfill and power their refuse vehicles became a textbook example of the innovation-meets-cost-cutting calculus.
Now, another migration is underway to electric vehicles, largely driven by government mandates and financial incentives as well as emissions and energy-cost concerns—all of which have fueled rising consumer demand over the last decade for passenger EVs. That movement now has full traction in the vocational truck space as fleets across the country begin to bring battery electric vehicle (BEV) units onboard. If you are an operator considering adding BEV units to your fleet, what follows is a primer covering some key points to help you make an informed decision before changing lanes and going fully electric.
Weighing Your Options
There are multiple factors to weigh when considering if a BEV unit is right for your fleet. Unquestionably, one of the first is hours of service relative to diesel. In short, will the battery last for the miles or hours needed for the route or task at hand, especially when you factor in the weight being carried? As you investigate your options, remember to not only factor in the truck’s payload, but also its weight distribution and its intended use. For example, an automated side loader carries more weight on the front axle, while a rear loader has more weight in the rear of the truck. The key here is to be very mindful of the truck’s configuration and its intended application as you research your options—optimal integration will be critical to the success of your operation.
This all makes your particular use case a mission critical starting point of your analysis. Factoring whether the truck’s task is to plow snow in the hills of the Northeast or run routes in the flats of Florida becomes a key decision point as to whether a BEV truck represents a one-to-one replacement for diesel. And while right now diesel hours of service are still better in heavy applications, when it comes to lighter applications such as flatbeds and smaller container trucks, BEVs are pulling ahead.
Another important factor that has an increasing number of fleet operators seriously considering the move to fully electric is the Ops Cost, or total cost of ownership when you compare electric versus diesel. Diving into the details and forecasting down the road, it is here that BEV units really shine as a viable alternative. “The calculus is compelling when you look at the total cost of ownership for BEV,” says Stan Mikalonis, Chief Revenue Officer at Battle Motors. “You have no engine, pistons, or turbos to worry about. There’s also no after-treatment and no fluids, obviously the biggest one being diesel at $7 per gallon. So, when you look at the big picture, including incentive programs, BEV makes more sense.”
Discussions on proceeding with BEV trucks inevitably include the anticipated lifespan of the vehicles. Because it is so early in the lifecycle of these models, no one knows for sure. What we do know is what battery manufacturers such as CATL and Romeo Power/Nikola are saying, asserting product benchmarks that include “million-mile” and 16-year lifetimes, while the average big diesel is on the road for approximately eight to 12 years.
Ready, Set, Charge
Charging infrastructure is often cited by both sides in the viability debate over BEVs. The truth is, however, that thanks to government incentives, robust private sector interest and rapid advances in the technology, much-needed solutions are coming into play at a steady clip, especially when talking about local routes and services. Looking specifically at the refuse space, there is a great use case for BEV because the typical route mileage is 40 to 60 miles on average, with the trucks always coming back home to the charger. Moreover, with all of their stops and starts, BEV refuse trucks benefit from ample regen power, giving these vehicles a real advantage in this sector. And even when ePTO usage for systems like arms and compressors are considered, the industry at large is getting much better at optimizing the use of power across the truck body.
A real-life scenario would look something like this: On a one-hour lunch break with a Level 3 fast charger (396 kWh with a 70,000-pound application) industry sources say a BEV unit can put in a full eight-to-10 hour day or go 100 to 120 miles, putting it side-by-side with an equivalent diesel vehicle (which is typically going to get only four miles to the gallon). Just like with an ICE vehicle, it is not necessary to top-off—a driver could come into the yard at 40 percent, do a quick charge to 80 percent, and go on their way. It is also useful to note that with a Level 2 (240 kWh) charger, a BEV truck with a 33,000-pound load can go approximately 120 miles or eight hours.
PositivEnergy is an example of the BEV charging and storage solutions providers that are building-out the infrastructure for customers, which now include everything from fleets to dealerships to stadiums to meet their power needs. “Our holistic approach across electric vehicle charging, infrastructure and battery storage goes beyond turnkey, as we handle every step in the process for our clients,” said Vincent Benini, Chief Commercial Officer for PositivEnergy. “This includes identifying available incentives, drafting grant paperwork, understanding a location’s needs, selecting the right hardware and software, sourcing everything required for install, all the way through maintenance and service.”
Down The Road
There is little doubt today that the transition to BEV fleets has measurable momentum. You can expect fleets to increase their number of BEV test flights, especially the bigger private companies and municipalities who want to play a major role in the shaping of next-generation transportation. Their rationale is that by sharing their real-world inputs and perspectives with OEMs, they can be a part of the process rather than being sidelined as this evolving technology matures.
Beyond batteries and bodies, the new onboard technologies drivers and fleet managers can experience include leading-edge platforms that are transforming cabs and operations with advanced systems, such as digital dashes integrated with multiple screens and consoles. Powered by a proprietary API and real-time data network, the two-screen Battle Board is one such example that is currently being deployed in multiple BEV fleets. A first in the BEV refuse category, the platform has an advanced feature-set that includes fully integrated routing software and active and passive ADAS systems paired with multiple cameras.
While there are still variables and unknowns on the road ahead, one thing is certain—the money and interest in BEV and related advanced systems are on the rise and gaining traction, whether it is municipal and private refuse or other segments, such as food service giants like Dr. Pepper and Frito Lay. Big box household names such as Costco, Home Depot and Lowe’s also have plans underway to integrate BEV trucks. As an example, Lowe’s is preparing to roll-out zero-emissions distribution centers, and of course, they need zero-emission vehicles to fulfill that mission. As they say on the launchpad, “get ready for lift-off.” | WA
Eric Hiss is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who covers automotive, consumer electronics, and lifestyle topics for multiple global, national, and regional publications.
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