Betz makes sure to communicate with the company’s different business units and keeps them informed when planning to place electric vehicles with their group. - Photo: DTE

Betz makes sure to communicate with the company’s different business units and keeps them informed when planning to place electric vehicles with their group.

Photo: DTE

Electric vehicles (EVs) are all the rage right now. You hear about them just about everywhere you go. But…how do you start implementing them in your fleet, especially when you work with trucks rather than sedans or even SUVs? Matt Betz, expert fleet optimization for DTE Energy, spoke to Work Truck about the steps his company has taken to create a framework that eases drivers and other stakeholders into the process and facilitates a smooth transition.

Current State of the Fleet

“We’re working to replace 20% to 25% of our current motorized fleet with vehicles using greener fuel technology by 2030,” said Fleet Director Amy Joyce. “This aligns with DTE’s focus on reducing carbon emissions. Operationally, our goal is to minimize fuel and maintenance costs and reduce vehicle time out of service.”

Out of DTE’s current fleet of 4,700 vehicles, 434 are electric or have electric components. While its bucket trucks are not fully electric, they have something called a job site energy management system (JEMS, an Altec product). In essence, it’s like a giant battery pack for a truck. This enables the vehicle to drive under diesel power to a job site. Then, the driver can shut off the engine, turn on the JEMS unit, and work off of battery power for a full eight-hour shift. The bucket can go up and down, AC can be running in the cab, and communications equipment will work. If the power does start to run out during the day, the engine will automatically turn on. This way, a worker can be up in the bucket working on a power line, and if the battery’s running low, the vehicle senses that and automatically turns the engine on and charges the batteries.

“Even though those aren’t electric vehicles, by adding those JEMS units, you get roughly 80 to 90% of the benefit of an electric vehicle without buying one,” Betz explained.

Giving Everyone a Heads-Up

Betz makes sure to communicate with the company’s different business units and keeps them informed when planning to place electric vehicles with their group.

“We intentionally went about building a very specific, repeatable process. At DTE, we are fortunate in that we not only have the resources in terms of a good fleet department and funding, but we have an entire Change Management Department, so we have a lot of support for all the process improvements and adjustments we need to make,” he said.

Part of the process involves looking at the individuals that are going to be driving an EV, and considering a few key points. How is it going to impact how they do their job? What are they going to be concerned about? How do you minimize the negative impact of change?

DTE has a system in place to get feedback from mechanics as they work on the vehicles, and drivers answer quarterly surveys. For example, in spring, the company will send a survey and ask questions that pertain to the winter driving season such as, “Did you notice any loss of battery life?”; “Did the range decrease drastically because of cold weather?”; and “Did you have enough range to get your job done every day?”

DTE is cautious about how it chooses where a vehicle is placed in the fleet, and what driver will be using that vehicle. - Photo: DTE

DTE is cautious about how it chooses where a vehicle is placed in the fleet, and what driver will be using that vehicle.

Photo: DTE

Providing for Drivers

“We’re committed to advancing the use of EVs in our fleet while ensuring our employees drive vehicles that enable them to serve our customers most effectively,” said Marca Brown, senior manager of Fleet Strategy and Procurement for DTE.

DTE will be conducting a full rip and replace for its chargers. The company has 28 locations around the metro Detroit area, most with a garage and business office. DTE has about 5,000 plant and field employees. Each team has a different function requiring unique tools and equipment.

“We’ll make sure we not only have a vehicle that works for the business group and the individual driver but that they have the infrastructure in place and everything they need to make the vehicle most effective for them,” Betz explained.

When DTE takes delivery of EVs, it puts them in what it calls an “experimental rolling laboratory.” It’s cautious about how it chooses where the vehicle is placed in the fleet and what driver will be using that vehicle.

“We look at factors like job function and want to make sure we have drivers that are going to be willing to give us feedback,” Betz said.

Part of the program involves creating instructional videos to help ease the fears of those who may not be familiar with driving an EV. The company already creates a safety video for each kind of make and model it uses, and splices in content from the manufacturer on topics like lane departure. DTE then has its director introduce the subject, and an employee is filmed going around the vehicle and pointing out all of the safety features. For EVs, video topics will include how to safely charge a vehicle, what to do if a driver is in a crash with an electric vehicle, and information for the mechanics on how to safely work on an electric vehicle.

Each vehicle will then have a QR code on the dash or window so any driver that gets in that vehicle can simply scan the code and be taken directly to DTE’s SharePoint site where they can review those videos. Each video is only three to five minutes long.

DTE has formed truck committees to get input on how well the current fleet is working and to get feedback on possible new models. Betz is creating an EV ambassador group that will get first dibs on all new information regarding the company’s use of electric vehicles.

Show and Tell

Part of getting drivers ready for EVs involves letting them have hands-on experiences with vehicles. For example, DTE took ELMS vehicles to one of its locations and had drivers observe and drive them around the parking lot as a part of a “roadshow” of sorts.

DTE’s first EV delivery will include Ford F-150 and Maverick hybrids, with Lightnings soon to follow. It also has one Class 6 battery-electric truck. Betz said he would be spending a week going around to different DTE locations and have set times where drivers can come check out all the new EVs.

Part of Betz’s job will be to socialize this program throughout DTE. He’s working with a corporate communications group to develop graphics and ways to illustrate what the company is doing. Maps are being made that show where 280 chargers throughout all of its locations will be to help ease drivers’ range anxiety.

“We’ll also give them access to PlugShare or some other app they can use to locate chargers out on the road,” he noted.

Test vehicles will be labeled as such on each side just in front of the rear wheels and across the tailgate. This enables the general public in the Detroit area to see the company is investing in electric vehicles, and inform mechanics and drivers as they approach the vehicle.

The company will also be looking for third-party verification programs as a part of its recommended steps to put it on the path to a solid EV strategy.

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