Frito-Lay will be operating 176 medium-duty electric box trucks purchased from Smith Electric Vehicles by mid-year.

Frito-Lay will be operating 176 medium-duty electric box trucks purchased from Smith Electric Vehicles by mid-year.

At a Glance

Benefits Frito-Lay is achieving through use of Smith Electric box trucks include:
● Reduced maintenance and repair expenses.
● Increased driver morale.
● Positive public interest.






The “Promise of PepsiCo” is the sustainability vision and strategy used by PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. One of the strategy’s key planks is fleet operations and the goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) impact and fossil fuel usage.

“We’ve set some aggressive internal goals of a 50-percent reduction by 2020, so we study the people, processes, and technology in the industry to optimize and reach those goals,” said Mike O’Connell, senior director of fleet for Frito-Lay. “We studied the technology arena, and electric vehicles or alternative fuel is something we looked at.”

Frito-Lay operates the seventh largest private fleet in the U.S., consisting of approximately 17,000 delivery vehicles. Around 1,000 tractor-trailers are used over the road. The total truck count for trailers and trucks is approximately 22,000 vehicles. The fleet runs mostly on diesel, and on the electric side will operate 176 medium-duty electric box trucks purchased from Smith Electric Vehicles by mid-year.

Working with Smith Electric

All of Frito-Lay’s medium-duty electric box trucks are Smith Electric Vehicles (SEV), built on the same chassis. According to O’Connell, a few different vehicle designs are used in New York and other locations, but the changes are mainly on the box of the truck, while the chassis remains the same.

Frito-Lay has been working with SEV for a few years, starting from vehicle inception. “When Brian Hansel and the team at Smith decided to come to the U.S. and bring the product here, we were first in line to meet with them and we partnered with them,” O’Connell said. “We looked at several different alternate solutions. We’re utilizing natural gas for our tractors, aerodynamic fairings, and a whole host of other projects that help us improve fuel economy. Electric vehicles just happen to be one of the bigger initiatives we’re taking on.”

Understanding All-New Challenges

Incorporating the electric vehicle into the Frito-Lay fleet didn’t present too many new challenges versus a typical new-vehicle introduction; however, it had a few unique differences.

“When we introduce a new vehicle into our fleet, there are usually many kinds of challenges,” O’Connell explained. “These include driver and mechanic training, fueling, procedures and policies, etc. It’s different from the standpoint that it’s electric. When you talk about fueling, you’re talking about plugging in, not going to a pump.”

O’Connell noted that at first, people believe an electric vehicle denotes a big difference.

“It definitely is, but it’s not a lot different from a normal procedure or policy we would do for any new vehicle we introduce,” he said. “We teach drivers how to plug it in and what to watch out for.”

Frito-Lay also runs its drivers through the control panel on the vehicle, ensuring drivers know how to locate all gauges, light switches, etc.

“We teach drivers the differences associated with the cab of the vehicle, how to drive it, and how to ensure they know how to deal with all the circumstances. From that aspect, it hasn’t been a lot different than introducing a new vehicle into the fleet,” O’Connell said.

The biggest specific challenge is setting up the charging infrastructure.

“You don’t go to a fuel island or a gas station down the road and fuel. You would actually plug in at our distribution center, which would be kind of like putting fuel at the distribution center. That’s a little bit different for us. It is leading-edge technology, so we’re learning a lot about that in partnership with Smith, but frankly it’s working extremely well and our drivers love it,” he said.

Using the New Smith Electric Trucks

The Smith Electric vehicles have an 80 kilowatt pack, enabling travel up to 100 miles. Frito-Lay is currently targeting routes in the 65-70 mile range.

“We have a computer tool that routes our vehicles, so we do the most efficient route first. The truck will leave our distribution center and go to five or six stops. The salesperson goes into the store and sells our products and merchandise, then comes back to the depot and distribution center. It’s pretty consistent,” O’Connell explained.
When the truck returns to the distribution center, it gets plugged in and takes usually between 6-8 hours to charge, depending on how much energy was used that day.

“It works extremely well. Most of the time, we’re plugging vehicles in during the late afternoon when they return, and charge throughout the evening hours using off-peak energy, which is more efficient,” said O’Connell. “We’ve accomplished several initiatives utilizing solar, wind power, and other alternatives. We asked ourselves, ‘Where can we put these vehicles where we actually charge them off our solar fields or one of our other initiatives from a green energy standpoint associated with the plant and facilities we’re working with?’ ”

The vehicle’s lifecycle is modeled against the company’s current lifecycle. The snack food distributor keeps its vehicles over a 10-14 year period.

“We expect to keep these vehicles in that same time frame. The battery has a five-, seven-, or 10-year range, depending. We holistically believe we’ll have a secondary life for the used battery, and frankly, may want to come back in five years and change out the battery because the cost will be cheaper, the energy density will be higher, and it will be a better solution,” said O’Connell.

Frito-Lay is currently working on a strategy for recycling the used batteries, to take and put them into some of its distribution sites. These are plant locations where the company can store cleaned energy being generated that can’t be used by the plant in the batteries for use at night or other times, for example during the day during peak demand.

“We’re very excited about that plan. In talking to the battery industry, there are some solutions, especially the lithium-ion technology. Frankly, I think there’s going to be a great secondary market as electric vehicles and hybrids continue to grow in the automotive and fleet industry. There will be a great secondary market for battery stores,” he said.

O’Connell believes there is going to be a tremendous secondary market that will help offset the cost of electric vehicles.

“Today, the motor of the electric vehicle will last forever. In a traditional combustion engine, when you get to an older vehicle, you sometimes blow the engine for various reasons. That will be like these batteries. We may lose a few batteries earlier than we expected, but we lose engines today earlier than we expected and we deal with that,” O’Connell said.

Realizing Benefits of Electric Trucks

In addition to the emissions reductions and fuel savings, vehicle repair and maintenance are also significantly reduced, according to O’Connell.

“There is a lot less fluid, and these units don’t have oil like an engine does where you have to change the oil every five or 10,000 miles,” O’Connell noted. “You eliminate a waste drain. You eliminate the need for the oil. There are a few fluids, but it doesn’t have the same oil and coolant, etc., as a traditional combustion engine. We believe the repair and maintenance will be dramatically reduced.”

Regenerative braking, which was part of the solution for electric vehicles, also increases brake life by four times compared with traditional brakes, according to Frito-Lay, again saving on maintenance expenses.

“On the soft side, we’re seeing increased creature comfort. It’s a work environment, right? The salesperson is either in the store or in the truck. It’s quiet and it doesn’t vibrate. They really enjoy the design and comfort of the vehicle and ride,” O’Connell commented. “Medium-duty trucks are loud. They vibrate quite a bit when riding down the road. The drivers comment all the time on how much less fatigued they are, how much more enjoyable it is driving down the road in a quiet vehicle, etc. So that’s been a very big upside for us as an organization. The awareness of the vehicle to consumers and our customers out there has been a big win as well.”

The biggest challenge Frito-Lay has faced, according to O’Connell, is the people surrounding this initiative.
Drivers are asking “When am I getting my truck?” or, “How do we get more of them?” The salespeople who drive these vehicles get approached by customers in the field due to the different exterior design.

“There is a Smith badge on the front, and many consumers have never heard of Smith,” O’Connell noted. “They walk up and ask, and our salespeople are very proud of being able to share our company story behind our sustainability strategy and then more importantly, why they’re driving that truck and making a difference.”

O’Connell noted a few sales personnel in New York comment that they went home and shared with their kids that they’re one of the first ever to drive the new Frito-Lay electric vehicles. “This next generation is very attune to all that. The schools and teachings, they’re very proud of that work and it’s been very neat to hear those stories. We hear more and more of them every day,” he said.

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

VP of Content

Lauren Fletcher is Vice President of Content. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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