Four years ago, commercial vehicle electrification was still just a theory. At that time, there was a thought process that the requisite charging infrastructure needed to be in place to accommodate an EV fleet of six or seven years in the future. That mindset is out the window today.
Supply chain strains and parts and labor shortages have elongated infrastructure buildout from months to several years, in some cases. The new mindset seems to be “Just get started.” Don’t worry about blasting pavement and upgrading transformers and switchgear just yet. For now, get a couple of EV units on the road with existing power at your facility.
“Just start” was one theme that weaved its way through the new vehicles, products, systems, and services at the 2023 ACT Expo, held May 1-4 in Anaheim.
There’s a good reason the show was born in California: The California Air Resource Board’s (CARB) just-passed New Advanced Clean Fleets Rule mandates that 50% of vehicle purchases by state and local agencies be zero-emission beginning in 2024, and 100% beginning in 2027. The new rule also essentially bans the sale of all diesel-powered medium- and heavy-duty fleet vehicles by 2036, four years sooner than the previous target.
AC Fast Charging
Rizon, Daimler’s new EV truck unit for the U.S. market, is set up to ease the charging transition. Rizon’s Class 4-5 electric cabover will not only accommodate DC fast charging through its CCS1 port, but it also supports AC charging from a standard NEMA 5-15 outlet. The truck can max at 19.2 kW of delivered power, meaning it can be recharged from five to six hours from empty with enough juice for a day’s worth of urban deliveries.
Using AC power to charge a commercial EV isn’t exactly scalable. But it allows fleet operators to get into a couple of units today without waiting on utilities’ schedules or serious capex on upgrades.
Mobile Charging Units
Independent electric truck makers understand that helping fleets solve charging needs immediately puts their trucks on the road quicker. As a result, many also offer mobile charging solutions that aren’t dependent on the site’s existing grid capacity.
The concept isn’t new — and the units aren’t cheap — but looming regulations, new incentives, and units’ improved functionality are making the option more feasible.
Xos, makers of medium- and heavy-duty EVs, had on display its second-generation mobile power unit, Xos Hub. The unit can pull juice from a 480v, 3-phase circuit, which is common in warehouses and industrial applications.
Lightning eMotors brought to Anaheim its next-generation Lightning Mobile charger, which is available for purchase, lease, or rental. Shyft Group’s Blue Arc EV unit also offers the Power Cube mobile charger, which can charge up to 30 vehicles per day and is augmented by solar panels.
Fast Charging with Battery Storage
EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) providers are also coming up with grid workarounds.
FreeWire was on the show floor with its Boost Charger, which doesn’t require trenching, digging, cabling or construction to provide fast charging (up to 200 kW, up to 200 miles in 15 minutes). The charger works with existing low-voltage electrical infrastructure by storing energy in an onboard battery and delivering it to the EV on demand. FreeWire calls the unit “semi-permanent” and says it can also be easily moved between sites.
Like Rizon’s AC charging capability, the Boost Charger is a good option for fleets to start without grid upgrades.
FreeWire also launched at ACT Expo a service to help fleets understand where EV charging makes the most sense by ranking potential charging sites with the highest EV charging incentive eligibility compared to driver utilization opportunity.
Another option is to outsource charging altogether and leave it up to the experts with Charging-as-a-Service. CaaS alleviates the capex of upgrades and bundles operating and energy costs into a fixed rate.
Groups such as Zeem Solutions, WattEV, and TeraWatt are building and opening charging hubs near metro areas, logistics hubs, and trucking corridors. WattEV will open its 26-truck charging plaza near the Port of Long Beach on May 15.
Taking outsourcing one step further, Zeem Solutions and WattEV can provide electric trucks as well, in Trucks-as-a-Service (TaaS) schemes.
SparkCharge takes CaaS one step further with SparkCharge Fleet, in which fleets can get charging delivered like ordering food from Uber Eats. SparkCharge shows up in electric delivery vehicles with onboard batteries to charge the vehicles.
SparkCharge also has a hybrid solution similar to FreeWire, in which fleets can deploy a fixed, battery-powered DC fast charging station without a grid upgrade.
Dealers as Commercial EV Experts
The direct-to-buyer model simply doesn’t work in the commercial vehicle world: Truck dealers know their fleet customers’ vehicle specs and duty cycles, which are infinite compared to passenger car uses. As well, truck dealers are by necessity first adopters in large-scale charging infrastructure projects — and will pass along the learnings to their fleet customers.
In setting up distribution for Rizon, Daimler understands a new EV brand is only as strong as its dealer network. Rizon will distribute trucks through Velocity Vehicle Group, one of the largest truck dealerships in the U.S.
Forward-thinking dealers like Velocity, Tom’s Truck Center, and Randy Marion Automotive Group are not only partnering with new electric OEMs to distribute EVs, but also to understand the intricacies of incentives and rebates and who qualifies, and write the applications for the customer.
“We need to be the knowledge center in this new environment. Our fleet customers rely on us,” said K.C. Heidler, president and CEO of Tom’s Truck Center, in a conversation on the show floor. “We’re the bridge between the way things were done and the way they’re going to be done.”
NEVI Money Will Finally Flow
These frustrations should be temporary. With great fanfare in November 2021, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Ac t (IIJA), which commits $5 billion for EV charging infrastructure and created the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program.
As the federal regulatory framework is evolving to formulate how to disperse the money, states are only just now opening NEVI applications. These billions will start flowing later this year, and it’ll take a few more quarters after that to start seeing results in the form of installed charging infrastructure.
This buildout of charging corridors and infrastructure will facilitate state-to-state travel and radically and permanently alter the transportation landscape. It will also necessitate the further evolution of the products at ACT Expo. Yet even this is likely to take longer than expected.