The time has come for Idealease to help its customers understand electric trucks and help them begin to transition to this new transportation technology. At an Idealease educational session held in Kennesaw, Georgia, on Nov. 2, Idealease and Navistar presenters started that process in the Great Atlanta area.
The event included an educational session on basic electric truck technology, infrastructure, and operations, as well as test drives in the new International eMV medium-duty electric truck. Many of the attendees said it was their first time to see an electric truck up close and drive one.
Idealease has been hesitant to move into electric trucks. Lance Bertram, senior vice president of sales, marketing, and distribution and chief revenue officer for Idealease, told Work Truck in an exclusive interview.
“But,” he said, “our customers dictate our demands. And we’ve had so many requests regarding electric trucks we felt the time was right to get involved. We want to learn as much as we can about this new technology so that we can, in turn, educate our customers about what they have to offer.”
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Three Factors Driving Electric Truck Adoption
The eMV available for test drives is one of three new International electric trucks purchased by Idealease. Bertram said they will soon be demonstrated to Idealease customers all over the country.
“We want to help our customers understand what applications the ‘sweet spot’ for these trucks is,” he explained. “They won’t work with every application out there. But they do work very well in certain ones. And we want to make sure we have them available when our customers decide to try them out for themselves.”
Bertram said the forces driving electric truck adoption are gaining steam. And there are three primary drivers fueling that movement, he added: A genuine desire from some fleets to combat climate change, increasingly stringent government mandates, and growing customer demand for green shipping options.
“We have customers calling and saying, ‘I need a clean energy philosophy! I’ve never had to have one of those before!’” Bertram said. “So, we do see shippers forcing fleets into zero-emission trucks.”
However, there is also a sense of low-level panic in the trucking industry today.
“There is definitely a sense of fatalism out there when customers look at the current California Air Resource Board and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions mandates,” Bertram explained. “Many fleets feel that sooner or later, they will be forced into electric trucks. And in CARB states now – which will soon total 16 in number – that’s certainly going to be the case. Fleets aren’t going to have a choice.”
But there are good reasons to consider electric truck adoption, too, Bertram said.
“My feeling is that electric trucks will give fleets a very attractive total cost of ownership,” he said. “You’re not buying fuel, obviously. Maintenance costs will certainly be lower compared to diesel trucks. And I suspect some fleets might get double the service life out of the electric truck chassis. That’s because once their first-life batteries wear out, you replace them with new batteries – which will probably be lighter by then and have more power density and range – and you’ve basically got a whole new service life for the truck.”
Hand-in-Hand Support from Navistar
Jesus Sosa, sales manager, Western region for Navistar and commercial vehicle electrification expert with a background in West Coast utility companies, opened his educational for Idealease Atlanta customers by noting that, “Electric trucks aren’t for every customer. But” he added, “every fleet has a route that is perfect for an electric truck. So, the opportunity to learn about these trucks is there.”
Infrastructure and funding are particularly new – and problematic – issues for fleets investigating electric trucks, Sosa added. This is why he said Navistar has a dedicated electric infrastructure consulting division working hand-in-hand with Idealease to help fleets with every step of the process. That expertise includes site selection, planning, route analysis, securing funding, and negotiating with utility companies: service support and driver training round out the support offerings.
Sosa pointed to charging requirements – and potential issues – as one example of how Navistar can help fleets understand how to use electric trucks effectively and profitably.
“Electric rates are different at different times of the day,” he noted. “So, you need to understand peak demand charges and that rates fluctuate based on demand.”
Navistar has partnered with InCharge to offer its on-site charging system, Sosa added. He said these chargers can be set up and programmed to help manage rate fluctuations.
“If your trucks can charge overnight, and peak rates end at 9:00 p.m., that’s not a problem,” he explained. “If your driver’s shift ends at 5:00 p.m., they can plug the charger into the truck. But the charger won’t actually start charging the truck until 9:05 p.m. – or whatever time you program it to. You can also override the scheduled charges if there’s an emergency or you need to put an immediate charge in a truck for some reason.”
Behind the Wheel of the eMV
Sosa also talked about the features of the International eMV ahead of the test drives offered. Six 35 kW batteries power the truck. It features three levels of regenerative braking. During my brief test drive, the engineer riding a shotgun with me said the general thinking at Navistar on the regenerative braking system is, “Put it in Three and leave it be!”
In the third setting, the brake is highly aggressive. But it can also be easily managed with throttle inputs for smooth braking that puts as much kinetic energy as possible back into the truck’s batteries. Interestingly, Sosa noted that the eMV’s brake lights flash on whenever the truck’s regenerative braking system is engaged as a safety measure.
The eMV’s drive motor is at the rear of the chassis. The truck has an estimated single-charge range of 135 miles. The powertrain delivers 342 horsepower and 1,700-foot pounds of torque. That torque is instantaneous and immediately evident when you put the throttle down. Sosa said the truck performs the same whether empty or loaded. And more than one Idealease customer commented on how brisk and smooth the truck accelerated in traffic.
One key eMV performance feature is Navistar’s active thermal management system for electric trucks, which Sosa said always maintains proper battery temperatures for optimal range and performance.
“Batteries like to be between 65- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit at all times,” he explained. “And our 135-mile range figure is based on a truck with either the air conditioner or heat on and the thermal management system operating.”
As a result, Sosa noted that International’s EV range estimate is a ‘real world’ calculation that takes those factors into account. “In reality,” he said, “the truck could go farther with those systems off. But that’s a proven performance figure we’re comfortable relaying to fleets.”
On the road, the eMV proved exceptionally quiet and highly nimble in heavy Atlanta traffic. As noted, acceleration is impressive. A new graphic dashboard, designed explicitly for electric trucks, gives drivers all the important information they need to drive safely and monitor battery life and range.
Navistar is taking orders for eMV electric trucks now. Sosa said production for the BETs is much faster than diesel trucks, with electric builds beginning 90 days after an order is placed.