EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: WattEV Founder Addresses EV Infrastructure for Trucking

August 2, 2021

Before founding WattEV in 2020 and pushing for the more electric trucks in the commercial trucking industry, CEO Salim Youssefzadeh wasn’t just sitting on his hands. After graduating from UCLA with dual Bachelor of Science Degrees in electrical engineering and applied mathematics, as well as graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Business Administration degrees, Youssefzadeh designed a device from the ground up to connect to a home automation system with Siri and Alexa capability.

Youssefzadeh and his team at WattEV are on a mission to ramp up the transition of the country’s commercial trucking industry towards zero emissions. By using a combination of business and technology innovation, he is helping to create electric truck charging infrastructure to help fleet operators experience a lowered total cost of ownership. Youssefzadeh will be bringing his depth of knowledge in this field when he joins the Breakout Session, “Clean Transportation as a Service,” at this year’s ACT Expo. 

ACT News: What are the biggest challenges facing commercial truck fleets that are considering electrification?

Salim Youssefzadeh: There are many unknowns for fleet operators big and small. On the vehicle side, they are faced with challenges and uncertainties in range, price, and reliability and down time due to maintenance. On the infrastructure side they are faced with charging capabilities, cost, permits, facility development and high capital outlay. Mix these with the lack of knowledge on the credits and incentives available, and often times it becomes very challenging for a new entrant to consider transition to electric trucks and this is particularly true for small to medium fleet operators. These very challenges are what WattEV plans to address with its Trucks as a Service (TaaS) and charging infrastructure.

There are many unknowns for fleet operators big and small.

ACT News: How will the partnerships you have formed with other companies help increase the number of heavy-duty electric trucks on the road?

Salim Youssefzadeh: We see ourselves as an enabler within the eco system to overcome the challenges that transporters face in electrification and especially meeting the expectation of shippers and transporters with brand value and sustainability mandates. The goals of the alliances we have formed with other companies are to remove the barriers and make it easy for transporters to transition to electric trucking. Our partnership with transporters increases the number of electric trucks on the road by gaining operational experience and creating success stories that can be used as a model for others to sign up to our TaaS platform.  

ACT News: Could you explain your Trucks as a Service (TaaS) business model?

Salim Youssefzadeh: Our TaaS is modeled based on usage, meaning the transporters pay us per mile. This removes the risk and uncertainty for the transporter on down time due to maintenance, or availability of charging facilities on service routes, or cost of charging. Of course, we could not approach this with a one-size fits all model and depending on the routes and average miles traveled, we adapt our model to make it palatable for our customers. This also guides us in the development of our charging facilities. Right now, we have three locations under development in Bakersfield, San Bernardino and Gardena and in discussion on a number of other sites in California.

ACT News: What types of commercial truck fleets will be the best fit for electrification?

Salim Youssefzadeh: We think the commercial fleets serving the middle mile and last mile currently present the best fit for electrification. Of course, you have other fleets serving the drayage and long haul transport as well, but in terms of miles driven and ability to put the charging infrastructure in place, we think currently the best fit is in middle mile and last mile. We have seen the rate of adoption in last mile being the highest because of a number of factors including availability of low to medium duty trucks as well as certainty in range and usage pattern. But as we are developing a charging network best suited for higher energy usage our own focus is on use of class-8 trucks with the goal of accelerating their adoption in the middle mile and last mile fleet operation.

We think the commercial fleets serving the middle mile and last mile currently present the best fit for electrification.

ACT News: How will you work with fleets that are interested in creating on-site charging infrastructure?

Salim Youssefzadeh: On-site charging is an integral part of our TaaS and charging infrastructure development. There is heavy investment involved in creating and operating charging facilities for heavy duty trucks and it makes more sense to get a faster return on that investment by increasing the usage. So, for fleet operators that want to have depot charging we offer to own and operate the charging facility as a service at attractive rates and if we have the ability to use the facilities for charging the trucks used in our TaaS, there could be further advantages to the fleet operators. This creates a win-win situation that allows us to get a faster return on the infrastructure investment and gives the fleet operators with suitable sites the alternative to get a better price by allowing the use of their property. 

ACT News: What led to the development of the electric truck stop in Bakersfield, California?

Salim Youssefzadeh: We consider our electric truck stop in Bakersfield as our pilot location which will serve as a proving grounds for the technical and operational systems we are developing to be able to scale our business and create a large and cost-effective charging network. The site offers a number of advantages: it is large enough  to create on-site renewable energy, strategically located near a solid user base with clear demand by  the middle-mile market, and within the San Joaquin corridor with the worst emission rates and most aggressive incentives for truck transport electrification. The Bakersfield site allows us to collocate a 25MW solar plant and test deployment and use of second life battery storage while having close proximity to a highway and multiple distribution centers as well as local farm producers. The facility also has a large area to operate megawatt chargers for opportunity charging as well as scheduled periodic charging at lower capacities. The location is also on a major truck route in San Joaquin valley which suffers from one of the highest rates of emission in California. 

ACT News: According to your company, the electric truck stop will solve the chicken-egg problem by creating a solution that includes both the trucks and the charging infrastructure. How did you come to the decision to approach the problem this way?

Salim Youssefzadeh: We first started looking at the charging infrastructure business and quickly came to the realization that it’s not enough for us to wait for the demand to build up on its own. We then saw this as an opportunity to add our Truck as a Service concept to accelerate the adoption and solve the multiple challenges that fleet operators face in electrification. It was a classic case of looking at a problem as an opportunity and accepting the risks in exchange for the significant business opportunity it represents.  

We quickly came to the realization that it’s not enough for us to wait for the demand to build up on its own.

ACT News: What lessons do you hope to learn from this project and how might they influence the creation of other electric truck stops?

Salim Youssefzadeh: The Bakersfield facility will be a great learning experience because it combines many of the different elements that we plan to use in future sites. In fact, some of the lessons learned is already being applied to the two other locations we have in development. By having a site that has all the elements of solar, second life battery, grid interconnect, and future generation charging equipment, we could see the issues and how individual components have to work in order to reduce the cost of energy and increase efficiency. 

ACT News: I see that some of your interests include rock-climbing and flying planes. What lessons have you taken from these hobbies that you can apply to your work at WattEV? 

Salim Youssefzadeh: I always try to keep myself in a position to learn something new and face new challenges. With rock-climbing I can challenge myself to reach higher and cope with difficult situations. Aviation has become a means of constant learning and becoming disciplined with applying routines and processes that are essential growth in a hobby that’s both very therapeutic and humbling. This same thing has translated over to WattEV. There is so much to learn in a vastly uncharted market that we look forward to developing