ACT Expo Convenes Fleet-Only Session to Dive into Realities of Electrification

May 28, 2024

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How do the nation’s fleets respond to the challenges of electrification? They help each other out. During ACT Expo, North America’s largest advanced commercial vehicle technology show, my colleague Nate Springer and I held a fleet-only discussion attended by more than 200 fleet representatives on the challenges and opportunities with fleet electrification. ACT Expo’s High Volume Fleet Committee, a group of the largest fleet purchasers throughout North America that advises on ACT Expo annually, requested the closed-door discussion to talk in full transparency about what’s been going right, what’s been going wrong, and how to navigate this transition to clean transportation.

Leading members of the High Volume Fleet Committee — Walmart, NFI, Bimbo Bakeries, and First Student — shared their lessons and best practice before breaking into small group sessions among government, for-hire carriers, and private fleets. Each of those sections carried on their own discussions about what they’re running into, what they need to learn more about, and the successes they’re each experiencing.

While I am under blood oath to not share who said what, these key findings and outcomes of the event can be useful to any fleet operator beginning to scale electric vehicles.

Timelines: We began by asking a question about timelines, and we specifically asked about the first project these fleets undertook. Each of them had one commonality: They all thought it would take way less to get the infrastructure in than what it actually took. Some were off by a few months. Some were off by well over a year.  In summary, give yourself time and start with the infrastructure first (not the vehicle).

Partners: ACT Expo has been very clear this year that the right partners are critical to making projects happen; this session was no different. Each fleet stressed how critical it was to find the right partner and, in particular, vet them. Really do the due diligence on ensuring that your partners have the experience and sustainability to get this project done and to stay around after. So, whether it’s vehicle OEMs, charging hardware, charging service provider, installation/maintenance partner, etc., make sure they’re qualified, have done projects at a similar scale before, and have the capability to stick around for years to come!

Cost: Fleets in the room really echoed how critical grant funding is to making the economics work. But we also got into the surprise costs that have made their way into projects, specifically in instances where primary service was required instead of secondary service, as well as where permitting challenges really dragged the project out longer than it should have been. In terms of operational costs, we discussed the varying prices of carbon credits and how the significant reduction in those credits has reduced the operational savings for electricity for fleets. We also discussed how it’s simply too early to be putting together total cost of ownership calculations when these trucks haven’t hit the end of their useful life in operation. These units should be lasting seven-plus years (and in the instance of one fleet, they run their diesels for 10-14 years), so the longevity of these units hasn’t been put to the test.

Supply Chain Visibility: One really important consideration put in place by these fleets has been the need for visibility into all of the parts of the vehicles, who makes them, and what their details are. If a vehicle is comprised of a ton of proprietary parts and technology, and a startup who makes that technology goes out of business, there is a huge risk to that fleet that those vehicles are out of commission.

Start somewhere: The fleets on the stage really stressed the importance of starting a project, regardless of how small. A really great use case for electric has been yard trucks and forklifts, and so many of the fleets who were on the session really stressed the importance of replacing your diesel/propane/natural gas units with electric versions as a great way to get started in an electrification journey.

Workforce benefits: One area that received overarching agreement was the immense value to workers on these vehicles. They are helping in driver retention. They are quieter and provide a much better work environment and are an overall hit with drivers — nice perk of going zero emission.

Lastly, all of the fleets really agreed how important it was to talk with each other more often, that none of us are in this alone, and if you’re a fleet who is running into a challenge, talk to another fleet at a place like ACT, the ACT Fleet Forum, or through efforts like trade associations and other industry events. Find a way to connect and lean on each other.

This event was the first of its kind at ACT Expo, so, as the session was wrapping, we asked: “What do you think, should we do it again?” All of the hands shot up in agreement. It’s definitely going to make a comeback in 2025.