Mike Gomes, VP of maintenance at Bison Transport, addresses the audience at ATA MCE.

Two fleets weigh in on their EV transition progress

Oct. 19, 2023
The American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition held a panel featuring two fleet company representatives to discuss the positives and pain points of electric fleet vehicles.

AUSTIN, Texas—Whether they replace diesel completely or are simply being seen as another vehicle type to choose from, electric vehicles and innovation in the electric truck space are not going anywhere. To help fleet owners grapple with this reality, industry conferences are holding educational sessions surrounding fleet electrification.

In a panel discussion at the American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition here, representatives from a fleet company and a company that creates charging infrastructure and provides fleet operators the lowest total cost of ownership for EVs through data discussed challenges and solutions to fleet electrification from their perspectives. These challenges include operational costs, vehicle and charging infrastructure costs, maintenance differences, and even which manufacturer to choose when purchasing an EV.

Economics of an EV

Fleets considering EV adoption must take several factors into consideration. One important factor is the economic impact EV adoption will have on the fleet.

Mike Gomes, one of the fleet representatives on the panel, is the VP of maintenance at Bison Transport, a for-hire carrier that operates in the U.S. and Canada. Salim Youssefzadeh, another fleet representative on the panel, is the co-founder and CEO of WattEV.

As for the total cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle, both Gomes, who employs one heavy-duty EV in his fleet, and Youssefzadeh, who employs only EVs, are not yet sure of all the differences between electric and diesel-powered trucks.

See also: Electric reefers: The time to prepare is eNow

Youssefzadeh shared that WattEV has only ever employed electric trucks in its fleet, so he can’t compare operational costs with diesel-powered vehicles in his own fleet. However, he said this gives WattEV more perspective on how to operate an electric truck as efficiently as possible.

“With us, it comes down to how do we make it more economical for the owner-operators, and that comes down to the total cost of ownership, getting that price per mile as low as possible, as close as possible to diesel,” Youssefzadeh said.

From Gomes’ perspective, he adds the cost of the vehicle plus the cost of the charging infrastructure to support the vehicle into his calculations of TOC comparisons. But he also admitted the company has a long way to go in its EV endeavor. “There are so many unknowns,” Gomes said. “The purchase of the vehicle is clear … but then the response is the afterlife of the vehicle."

Furthermore, with the costs required to integrate EVs into the fleet, Gomes said it’s important to understand if his shipping customers are willing to absorb some of the costs.

Shortly after Gomes mentioned the electric vehicle's afterlife, the discussion moved to residual value. Youssefzadeh said that once an EV runs several hundred miles—600,000 miles was the number he used—its battery will begin to degrade. But that shouldn’t mean the truck has no more value. Instead, that truck can be sold and used in another application that doesn’t require the maximum range, such as drayage, as he mentioned, which might have a route of only 60 miles per day.

EV maintenance

One aspect of running a fleet that impacts operations and costs is vehicle maintenance. When a vehicle needs maintenance, it’s not able to run routes, which means it isn’t making money. It also means money must be paid for parts and labor for the vehicle’s repair. In terms of the total cost of maintenance over the life of the vehicle, Youssefzadeh said WattEV sees little cost in maintaining its EVs and knows that long term, the cost of EV maintenance will be significantly less than the cost to maintain a diesel truck.

Gomes agreed, adding that fewer moving parts and no need for an aftertreatment system help fleets from an operational perspective, as EVs will experience fewer roadside breakdowns. On the technician side, Gomes said basic mechanical systems remain the same in an EV as in a diesel-powered vehicle, and as a result, he’s seeing technician training “ramp up.”

See also: Preparing trucking to safely service electric vehicles

Both Youssefzadeh and Gomes were asked whether they preferred electric vehicles produced by larger, well-established OEMs over those produced by innovative startups making waves in the industry.

“I love the innovation that’s in the space,” Gomes said. However, he admitted, “We do look for partnering with larger OEMs because it is a scale business. We have to be able to understand when there are hiccups and faults with the vehicles and the ability to support that, and that’s important to us for the continuity of our business and the continuity of the investment that we do make.”

Youssefzadeh said that WattEV has, for the most part, been OE agnostic, but thinking about the long term, “we want to work with a manufacturer that has the products in place and has the factories so that we’ll be able to scale.”

These two fleet companies are on different ends of the EV transition spectrum. Bison is just getting started with one EV in its fleet, while WattEV uses several EVs in its fleet and even helps other fleets develop their own charging solutions. Although they have different experiences, they have faced some challenges and some wins with EVs. 

This article was originally published on FleetOwner.com.

About the Author

Jade Brasher

Senior Editor Jade Brasher has covered vocational trucking and fleets for the past five years. A graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in journalism, Jade enjoys telling stories about the people behind the wheel and the intricate processes of the ever-evolving trucking industry.