When the McKinstry team needed to take one of its EVs from Seattle to the Denver area, leadership drove the vehicle and documented the trip along the way, allowing employees to see leadership engaging in the process.  -  Photo: McKinstry

When the McKinstry team needed to take one of its EVs from Seattle to the Denver area, leadership drove the vehicle and documented the trip along the way, allowing employees to see leadership engaging in the process.

Photo: McKinstry

For McKinstry, a national construction and energy services firm, fleet electrification is just a piece of the sustainability pie. The Seattle-based company has an ambitious goal of a 50% emissions reduction by 2025, with an aim toward running a net zero operation by 2030.

Targeting Emissions Reduction in Fleet

McKinstry’s fleet accounts for 50% of the company’s emissions output. In 2022, the company began the process of electrifying its fleet to help cut that number down.

The fleet of 625 vehicles can be broken down into three primary categories: service, construction, and logistics and pool vehicles.

Throughout 2023, the company began to explore fleet electrification, with 10 EVs of various makes and models spread across those three categories. It’s a sort of pilot phase, geared toward familiarizing drivers with the vehicles.

Among the makes and models in this pilot phase are the Rivian R1T, Chevrolet Silverado EV, and Ford E-Transit.

Brian Fisher, director of supply chain for McKinstry, is working with Holman on the company’s electrification process. Holman’s team has collaborated closely with McKinstry to find vehicles that will work for each specific job.

McKinstry is financing the vehicles through Holman with the same terms and remarketing schedules it uses for all of its vehicles. The team hopes to gather enough data in the coming years to continue to adjust.

Keeping Stakeholders Aligned with EV Progress

Among the EVs currently on McKinstry's fleet are Chevrolet Silverado EVs. Holman will help the team onboard approximately 100 more within the next year or so.   -  Photo: McKinstry

Among the EVs currently on McKinstry's fleet are Chevrolet Silverado EVs. Holman will help the team onboard approximately 100 more within the next year or so. 

Photo: McKinstry

The key to gaining support from stakeholders and the company as a whole, Fisher said, is to keep them in the loop and include them in the journey from the very beginning.

“With any kind of adventure like this, the first step was to engage all those groups [across the different campuses]...understand what matters to them, learn about what their fears are, and figure out a paced approach that is comfortable for them,” Fisher explained.

The McKinstry fleet team has received support from their colleagues at the leadership level as well.

“We're very fortunate that we've had widespread support from leadership on everything that we're doing here, and we engage them often. I think that's been a great part of our success,” he explained.

Early on in the process, when the team needed to take one of the EVs from Seattle to the Denver area, leadership drove the vehicle and documented the trip along the way. This allowed employees to see leadership engaging in the process.

What Drivers Are Saying

When Fisher and his team began the process to determine which fleet applications could be handled by an EV, he wanted to ensure he had driver support as well.

“We made it optional, but we were careful in selecting those who were excited to embrace that they were doing something new, unique, and different,” Fisher said.

After a few days behind the wheel of an EV, Fisher has found most drivers feel more comfortable, eliminating concerns about range anxiety and using new technology.

“The driver’s experience is one of the most critical parts of success for a seamless transition to EVs.”

Drivers have also voiced an appreciation for the quieter nature of EVs.

“When you're not bumping around as much, and you have a quieter cabin… it makes for an overall better experience for drivers, so they’re better suited to arrive at their job sites and do their work and perform even better,” McKinstry Net Zero Program Manager Nicholas Davidson said. “This is like an added benefit.”

The positive feedback from fleet operators has also helped the company in promoting its electrification goal.

“They're out there being ambassadors for our mission, even though we didn't tell them they had to be,” Fisher said.

Jeremy Dewey, manager of EV operations at Holman, recommends engaging potential EV skeptics to help build a consensus.

“Get them engaged and excited, make them a part of the transition, and let them help drive change,” Dewey said. “If you’re able to convert the skeptics, they’re likely to bring way more people along.

The biggest piece of feedback Fisher’s team has received, which he would categorize as challenging as opposed to negative, is a lack of access to chargers. While McKinstry’s Seattle campus has onsite chargers, that doesn’t always help a driver who’s 100 miles away on the job.

To address this, the company has installed some home chargers for drivers. While not ideal, public chargers are available when needed. This is a piece to the puzzle that the team is still working on with Holman’s help.

Together,  McKinstry and Holman are collaborating on creating solutions that will ease processes for things like reimbursements for energy consumption from home charging.

“That way it doesn’t become administratively cumbersome for the driver to transition to an EV. The way we approach it is trying to streamline it as much as possible, automate the collection of data to total out what they should be reimbursed, and then process the reimbursement directly to the driver,” Dewey said. “The driver’s experience is one of the most critical parts of success for a seamless transition to EVs.”

The biggest piece of feedback Fisher’s team has received is a lack of access to chargers for drivers who are on a job away from the McKinstry's campus. Public chargers are available when needed. Holman is working with the team to address the feedback.  -  Photo: McKinstry

The biggest piece of feedback Fisher’s team has received is a lack of access to chargers for drivers who are on a job away from the McKinstry's campus. Public chargers are available when needed. Holman is working with the team to address the feedback.

Photo: McKinstry

Attracting Clients with a More Sustainable Fleet

The McKinstry team has found that running more sustainable vehicles can also open them up to gaining more business from companies with similar sustainability goals.

“Our customers certainly look to us as innovators. That's one of the things that we've always marketed and branded ourselves on. Sometimes you’ve just got to go after things that are a little bit uncomfortable and innovate in that space,” Fisher said. “On the customer side of it, they look at us and say, ‘well, if we're going try to do some creative things on a contract, we want to have a partner that is willing to innovate and take risks in an industry that is traditionally very slow to adopt change.”

Addressing Skepticism in the Construction Industry and Beyond

Like many industries, the construction industry can sometimes be slow to adapt. The age-old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” comes to mind. Fisher urges fleet managers to meet people where they’re at.

“Sometimes, it’s helping people understand where the world is going and being prepared for that, for the long-term success of our organization. ‘You work here. I work here. We want the organization to be successful. Our customers are looking at us for this.’ So it has to do with the health of the organization that we all care about,” Fisher said.

This is why, as mentioned previously, it’s important to find those interested in embracing the emerging technology.

“Find willing early adopters who will bring their friends and colleagues along. When the construction tradespeople go out in their EVs…they’re excited about it. They’re doing most of that change management for us,” Fisher added.

If all else fails, the data and numbers help the conversation.

“There are also significant financial considerations as well. We've run our models; we’ve done the analysis and total cost of ownership on these vehicles. We believe financially, it is going to be beneficial for the company in the long run,’” Davidson said.

Preparing for Future Electrification

When Fisher’s team is ready to tackle the next phase of fleet electrification, they’ll be able to leverage the insight from this initial phase for a bit of a head start.

The team will determine how many vehicles it wants to electrify in the next phase, find an EV option on the market suited to meet the needs of job, purchase it, and deploy it, using what it learned from the initial phase to adjust accordingly.

Holman will help the team onboard approximately 100 new Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup trucks within the next year or so. Fisher is also looking into adding battery-powered local delivery vehicles.

The team hopes to get more work vehicles in the field, going to job sites and carrying a bit more weight, to see how those units perform in the field. As time goes on, they hope to move into vans, service vehicles, and larger delivery trucks.

So far, the team has not experimented with the upfitting process. Down the line, it will work with upfitters to see how they can accommodate EVs. It will be a new challenge to face, because that can affect weight payloads, which will inevitably affect charging cycles and battery range.

Fisher emphasized the importance of training drivers who will be using EVs, because they operate differently than the ICE vehicles employees have been driving since they had their learner’s permit.

“We all know through muscle memory how to jump behind the wheel of a typical gas-powered vehicle. Nobody even thinks about it,” Fisher noted. “The person's comfort with technology in [EVs] plays a very big role in their experience out of the gate.”

Other Sustainability Highlights for McKinstry

This year, McKinstry is making a big move toward curbing emissions. Its Seattle campus will run entirely on renewable energy, with the help of Seattle City Light. This will help ensure the vehicle chargers will also be carbon free.

“The way to the zero-carbon future that we really want involves…making sure what we’re powering these vehicles with also has a good strong sustainability narrative to tell,” Davidson said.

The team is also working toward converting some of its warehouse equipment to run on electric. But Fisher wants people to know it’s about more than just operating vehicles and equipment powered by electricity.

“Our sustainability efforts aren’t limited to just EVs. Smart dispatch, using telematics, understanding driver behavior, understanding where you actually need a vehicle and don't need a vehicle. We would love to shrink our fleet in general as part of this mission as well,” Fisher said. “It’s important for folks in this space who are looking at what we're doing and trying to understand that the mission is not just about taking every ICE vehicle and making it EV. There's a lot of other parallel efforts to reduce emissions in general or on the number of miles driven.”

To help meet its sustainability goals, the team is also working with Holman to determine where other alt fuels like hybrids or more fuel-efficient vehicles may be the answer, at least for now.

“We want to be leaders in the built environment, and in the decarbonization of the built environment fleet,” McKinstry Net Zero Program Manager Nicholas Davidson said.

About the author
Christy Grimes

Christy Grimes

Senior Editor

Christy Grimes is a Senior Editor at Bobit, working on Automotive Fleet and Government Fleet publications. She has also written for School Bus Fleet.

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