John Hitch | Fleet Maintenance
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Lessons from a serial early EV adopter

June 18, 2024
Pitt Ohio has gleaned much about where and how EVs can succeed in the LTL space, though it’s come at a cost.

CLEVELAND—During testimony to Congress on April 30, Taki Darakos, Pitt Ohio’s VP of maintenance and fleet services, pleaded for state and federal governments to pull back on greenhouse gas emissions timelines because the charging infrastructure just isn’t there yet.

“California’s Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) and Advanced Clean Fleet (ACF) rules are designed to move the commercial vehicle industry as quickly as possible toward zero-emission technology, ignoring the lack of supporting infrastructure,” Darakos explained. “Therefore, these regulations are destined to fail.”

That doesn’t mean Darakos, who is also chairman of the ATAs’ Technology & Maintenance Council’s S.11 Sustainability & Environmental Technologies Study Group, and Pitt Ohio aren’t doing everything they can to see electric vehicles succeed. Since 2022, Pitt has run Class 7 Volvo VNR Electric straight trucks out of its terminal in Parma, Ohio, a southwestern suburb of Cleveland, for local hauls. A few Ford E-Transits can carry 3,000 lbs. as well. The LEED-certified terminal uses a 1-MW microgrid supported by wind and solar power, so the two 75-kW DC Tritium chargers, located not far from the terminal’s shop and DEF fueling station, supply actual green energy, making these true zero-emission vehicles.

In March, Pitt also became the owner of the first two serial production Class 7 Freightliner eM2s, the electric version of the medium-duty M2 106 Plus.

While Darakos noted the LTL carrier does “encounter challenges related to costs, vehicle range, durability, and charging infrastructure that complicate broader deployment of heavy-duty battery-electric trucks,” the eM2 drivers and terminal manager had only good things to say about these EVs after six weeks of real-world use.

“We can go on 18 to 20 deliveries and still make 12 to 14 pickups,” terminal manager Mike Todd said. “With a conventional vehicle, we’d be doing the same as we’re doing right now.”

One of the eM2s, driven by 10-year Pitt veteran Joel Melon, has an urban route through Cleveland, and the other, driven by Manuel David, who has been with the company for seven years, heads south into Medina County.

“[The eM2] is enabling us to diversify a little more,” Todd said. “It gives us the advantage of going further with more weight capacity.”

Pitt’s VNR Electrics have a maximum range of 150 miles per charge and a payload of up to 8,800 lbs. The Class 7 eM2 has up to a 250-mile range and 13,000-lb. payload. Volvo has since improved the truck’s battery capacity. The 6x4 straight truck has a 190-mile range, and the 4x2 version has a 230-mile range. For any electric vehicle, a certain amount of energy, usually 10-20%, is not accessible.

To ensure the EVs were placed on the right routes, Todd went through the historical data, examining the schematics of various areas. The extra range allows him to be less discriminating.

“With technology and the way it’s changed, I can go in and select any route that I want because these eM2s can go anywhere,” Todd explained.

Melon, who previously drove a diesel M2 and the Volvo EV, said his route is about 100 miles round trip.

“Sometimes I come back and the battery is at 55 to 60%,” Melon said. “I don’t feel that stress anymore with range.”

David might travel around 200 miles per shift. “One day I drove for 190 miles and still came back with a 40% battery,” he said.

Because his route is longer, David drives more conservatively, rarely going above 55 mph.

“If you take the highway, you know it’s gonna drain a little faster, especially if it’s heavy,” David said. “But if you take regular streets, the battery can last you for a long, long time.”

He leaves the truck in Range mode. This limits the torque at launch, providing a more methodical takeoff. Melon drives in Economic mode. The other option is Performance.

Melon and David both noted how quiet the EVs are and how they vibrate less. Neither has to worry about aftertreatment system regeneration.

“With the diesel, we would do a regen twice a week,” Melon explained. He would wait until his lunch break to burn the soot off the DPF, and the smell would force him from the cab. “You get a headache,” he noted of the noxious fumes.

For David, sometimes the regen warning light would not come on.

“And then you have to tow the truck, come back here, load everything out, and put it back onto a different truck,” he explained. “You waste the whole day.”

Melon also noted that because Volvo placed the battery on the side of the truck, it made backing up to a dock more difficult. Daimler Truck engineers placed the battery of the M2 between the frame rails, which Melon prefers.

He also found that in comparison to the old diesel straight truck he drove, the liftgate is a lot lighter. Because he likes to play basketball in his off time, that feature is especially appreciated: “I don’t feel pain in my shoulder now,” Melon said.

The potential health benefits for the drivers, reduced maintenance, and elimination of emissions from the vehicle are all big factors as to why Pitt Ohio is continuing to investigate further EV adoption. Todd noted that in Parma, there are more than 10 acres of land that can be converted to additional solar fields as the electric fleet expands.

But unlike California, Ohio does not subsidize EV purchases via tax credits. That has made being an early adopter a costly proposition.

“In our fleet, we have found acquisition costs to be roughly three-fifths of the total cost of operation,” Darakos told Congress. “For many fleets like ours, that calculation is often complex and cannot be done without significant trial and error and at great capital expense.”

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).

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