The Fleet Forward Conference convened once again in person Nov. 10-12 at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose. This year’s agenda had a heavy focus on electrification, particularly with commercial EVs and building infrastructure to support them.
As well, plenary speakers and panelists delivered expertise on the growth of autonomous transportation, the transformation of the automotive supply chain, sharing concepts for vehicles and equipment, using predictive analytics to drive efficiencies in maintenance, and how to harness data for smart electrification and other fleet processes.
The quotes and information within were imparted by speakers on stage, each from a different seminar. They’re a sample of key takeaways from the conference and represent only a portion of the educational agenda.
The Right Time to Begin the Electrification Process
“When is it time for fleets to start thinking about the move to electrification?” asked Tim Baughman of Ford Pro during his opening keynote.
“Maybe they think it's five, 10, 15 years down the road. But if you think that by 2035 California will require all vehicle purchases to be electrified, and you’re converting 10% to 15% of your fleet every year to electric, you need to start moving now and start understanding the implications to your business.”
Managing Multiple Utilities for EV Charging
“There are 3,300 utilities in this country, and each has a slightly different rate structure, time-of-use rates, and demand charges,” said Muffi Ghadiali of Ford Pro, joining Baughman onstage for the opening keynote.
“Over the next 10 years, utilities see electrification as a huge opportunity but also a challenge,” Ghadiali said. “There’s going to be a massive new load on the grid. Utilities are trying to figure out where and when the load is going to materialize and exactly where the depots are going to be located so they can manage the energy generation and distribution. And even more importantly, can the utilities actually control the load?”
“The challenge for multi-state fleets is to manage those different utility structures,” he continued. “We (Ford Pro) are integrating into the utilities directly through software. We can look at the lowest cost time for a fleet to charge, and then orchestrate that with the fleet’s operations.”
Fleets and the Need for DC Fast Charging
“A lot of fleets ask us about the need for DC (Level 3) fast charging. It’s a hot topic, especially in medium and heavy duty,” said Adam Wilkum of Roush CleanTech.
Wilkum referenced a Roush pilot involving an electric refuse truck. The truck was used in a single shift, traveled 97 miles each day, and used 64% battery capacity.
“For this particular truck, there's no need for Level 3 fast charging,” he said. “They can electrify their entire fleet with relatively inexpensive Level 2 chargers, and they don't need to get utilities involved. If the message to fleets is, ‘Your entire fleet needs fast chargers, we're just going to delay the electrification of these fleets.’”
Commercial EV Performance in Colder Conditions
“The cooling of the battery or cooling of a truck cabin takes less power than heating it,” said Nick Bettis of Lightning eMotors in the same session on performance data from Lightning eMotors’ electric truck pilots.
“There does not appear to be a significant drop off in range at high temperatures. But when operating in cold temperatures, we see a drop of about a 10% when you get down into a sub-40-degree temperature range.”
More on Temperature Affecting EV Performance
“With ambient temperature between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius, you get pretty good efficiency of around three miles per kilowatt hour,” said Arun Rajagopalan of Motorq, who presented various metrics collated from Motorq’s platform on battery efficiency.
“But interestingly, once you get below zero degrees Celsius to negative 20, the drop (in efficiency) is significant. In a Minneapolis winter, you're probably getting one third of your rated battery efficiency.”
Managing Variability in Energy Costs
“If you compare kilowatt costs for electricity to diesel or gas costs, you'd see just as much variability for diesel or gas as you would kilowatts. You shouldn't be scared that there's variability in your energy costs,” said Rich Mohr of ChargePoint.
“What you don't have with gas or diesel is the wild upside of demand charging when the utilities are stressed during certain parts of the day,” he continued. “You have to be conscious of what those demand charges are. You need to work with the utilities, understand the rate structure, buy the right rate plan from them, work with them to set it all up, and then managing your energy accordingly.”
“You can't have a driver that comes back and fully charges his or her vehicle at 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, it doesn't make sense. There's no reason to do it operationally unless that vehicle has to go back out and route.”
How Predictive Maintenance Creates Fleet Efficiencies
“There's a huge impact just by knowing when certain components — like the battery, brakes, and tires — are going to fail and grouping it with other scheduled service items in the most efficient way,” said Shiva Bhardwaj of Pitstop, a predictive analytics platform.
“If a battery is getting weak, group it with other scheduled services. This is how downtime is reduced. We've seen up to 48 hours of downtime saved per vehicle per year, which equates to about $2,000 per vehicle in the heavy-duty class.”
Using Data to Measure Sustainability Goals
“We’re seeing a demand on fleets to demonstrate how they’re going to comply with their sustainability goals that are coming from the top down,” said Sarah Booth of Sawatch Laboratories, which provides consulting around fleet electrification, utilization, and right-sizing through analytics.
“If you can leverage operational data, you can show to whoever you report to that you’re complying. And that data can also tell you whether your drivers can get their work done (in that EV),” she said. “If you're complying with sustainability goals but your drivers can't use the vehicles, you have expensive paperweights.”
“Leveraging that operational data means putting EVs in applications that are successful for your drivers, which also means it's successful for the fleet and the organization more broadly.”
Will We See Level 5 Autonomous Driving?
“I don't think in my lifetime that Level 5 (autonomous driving) is a realistic thing,” said Andrew Culhane of Torc, a self-driving truck technology company with a partnership with Daimler.
“There aren't humans or vehicles today that meet that definition of being able to drive anywhere, anytime, in any condition,” he continued. “And if you look at professional drivers, there are a lot of situations where they deem it not safe to be out on the road and they pull over. To think that we're going to make a truck that magically violates all those challenges, there's going to be situations where you should pull over and stop.”
“That said, we need to be constantly expanding the boundaries of the Level 4 design domain,” he continued, “whether it's to cover more geography and have greater uptime or have broader coverage of the product.”
On the Viability of Autonomous Truck Lanes
“We want to ensure this technology is flexible,” said Joanne Buttler, who directs the autonomous Cascadia project at Daimler. “We don't want to create an autonomous lane and then have an autonomous truck railroad on U.S. Highways. That flexibility and being able to maneuver and interact with existing traffic is critical.”
Ensuring a Smooth Set Up for Home Charging
“Make sure your you understand your drivers’ situations,” said Dan Belknap of Wheels. “Get into the details of the location of their garage to their home, and where their electrical boxes are to make sure you’re not hit with a $4,000 trenching of electrical lines. Understand if the driver has multiple homes and if they expect the company to pay for a charger in all three of their homes.”
“Understand that the driver isn't planning to move in a couple days before the charger gets installed and takes possession of the EV,” Belknap continued.
Choosing the Right Use Case for EVs
“Really do your homework on where you're going to place these vehicles,” said Henry Kayler, fleet manager for Vestas, a wind turbine company. “We had a lot of EVs that were placed in the Minneapolis area, which can get down to minus 40 degrees in winters. And we learned a lot by drivers saying, ‘Hey, can I get my truck back,’ because the battery is not lasting as long as they thought it would.”
“It’s not just for the driver experience, but also looking at where you're going to get the best bang for your buck,” Kayler said. “You're going to get your return on investment a lot faster in locations with low electricity prices and high gas prices.”
Applying Sharing Techniques to Heavy Equipment
“Every department has a grader and a backhoe, whether they need it or not. But this business model is costing a lot of money, said Kevin Myose, fleet manager of San Joaquin County in California, on his plan to pool equipment in a sharing program.
“The challenge comes as you move this equipment to electric. I do not want to buy five electric graders that we're not going to use,” he said.
“We're building our pool and starting with low-hanging fruit — the equipment that we use seasonally —and see if another department can use it. There are plenty of times when our utilities department needs an excavator and excavators are owned by the general maintenance department. Now they're siloed, but in the future, we will be sharing them.”
The Transformation of Keyless Tech
“The connection from the phone to the vehicle is still typically BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy, a radio-frequency technology for wireless communication) and it's still typically what we call active engagement where you have an app on your phone, you launch that app, you press a button to unlock, and the door unlocks,” said Kevin Virta of Denso.
“Where things are moving, though, is to a factory-installed approach where vehicles are going to come equipped from the OEMs with digital key functionality. And it's going to be integrated into the electrical architecture of the vehicle.”
How Keyless Technology Creates Efficiencies
“We save about an hour and 45 minutes a month per vehicle after we eliminated the key. That’s the handoff, storage, and (potential) loss of the key,” said James Eberhard of Fluid Truck, which created its own keyless system for its fleet of peer-to-peer rental trucks.
“When you're on the road and delivering packages, by removing the key, you increase the security of having a vehicle left running.”
How Will the Automotive Supply Chain Transform?
“Coming out of this, we'll have learned that the best thing for profitability and for the predictability of the supply chain is to encourage buyers to build to order,” said Steve Greenfield of Automotive Ventures. “And we'll be able to incentivize, monetary or otherwise, to do that.”
“But there'll be a large percentage of buyers that continue to need vehicles on demand,” he continued. “For them, how do we build the right vehicle? How do we make sure the right vehicles are in the pool? How do we predict the demand for those people that need them instantaneously? We'll get to that using data.”
“The data that we've been gathering has helped dealers understand which vehicles are in demand in which markets based on the final upfit,” said Kathryn Schifferle of Work Truck Solutions, an online commercial vehicle sales platform. “The next step that we took was to start matching those types of vehicles to the types of use cases. There's a lot of data out there that wasn't there before. When you marry that data with AI and algorithmic equations to be more predictive, there's hope.”
How Autonomy Will Integrate with Human Processes
“Remember, autonomous vehicles can’t be Hal 9000 (from 2001: A Space Odyssey). You still require a human being to monitor them,” said Jeb Lopez of Wheelz Up, a large Amazon and FedEx contractor.
“In my business, we can load 20,000 packages in 13 minutes,” he said. “If we don't, after the 13th minute and one second, Amazon dings us for non-performance. Even if the third-party logistics is automated in the warehouse, and then they load certain packages into an autonomous vehicle, there must still be human intervention to make sure that those products are accurately there.”
“We can do deliveries 24 hours a day, we don't have downtime, we don't need breaks, we don’t have workers comp, all these things that factor into large scale businesses when it comes to fleet movement,” said Marcus Strohm of Nuro, an autonomous delivery service, in the same seminar.
“But when I hear ‘Marcus, you're going to put me out of a job,’ the reality is no, I need your expertise to help me program this so we can keep the variability out of the system. For us, we want to try to get that variability out of the equation.”
Autonomous Trucking and the Need for Human Drivers
Craig Harper of freight and logistics provider J.B. Hunt referenced a study from Roland Berger, a global consultancy, that predicts the need for truck transport in the coming years. The study estimates that there are 3.2 million human-operated trucks on the road today. But by 2035, the expected demand will require 4.1 million human-operated trucks. The study projects that there will be 400,000 autonomous trucks by 2035.
“Even with 400,000 autonomous vehicles on the road, the industry will need more human-operated trucks in 2035 than we have today,” Harper said. “So when I'm visiting with drivers now, I make sure they understand if they are a driver today, they will be able to retire a driver. So that's the opportunity for J.B. Hunt — to find the best mix for us to fit into both the human-operated truck and then where the autonomous trucks can play a part.”
The Benefits of Normalizing OEM and Third-Party Data
“Many organizations are tying a driver reward system to the driver scorecard,” said Kathleen Thomson of ARI. “But if you don't have data parity across aftermarket devices and OEM hardware, that driver scorecard isn't usable.”
“We're working with fleets to use a third-party rules engine to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. If one driver is using aftermarket hardware and another is using an OEM solution, how can we make that data look the same?”
“A lot of times, we're seeing clients trying to get the data off the charger itself, but they don't know for a fact that it was the fleet vehicle. … This is where OEM data really comes into play because we can tell if a non-fleet vehicle was plugged into that charger. Knitting together these solutions in a way that answers these problems is entirely within our grasp.”
Massive Power Requirements to Electrify
“To charge 50 passenger vehicles you're going to use about three 360 kilowatts give or take depending on the chargers. For 50 Class 5 and 6 trucks, you might use about 750 kilowatts,” said David Renschler, fleet manager for City of Fairfield, California.
“Charging 50 transit buses on 150-kilowatt DC Fast Chargers overnight will take three megawatts of power. What about 50 Class 8 trucks? It’s about 9 megawatts. That's how much the Empire State Building users in a day.”
Understand Power Needs Before Construction
“We were planning for seven EV charging stations in a newer (government) building,” said Doug Bond of Alameda County in California. “After the designs were done, we thought we would save a lot of the cost of trenching and doing the work to get the power out there.”
“But the one thing that wasn’t done was designing a plan for the panels that were needed to provide the power. We couldn’t confirm that there was enough power coming into the building to be able to supply what we would need for the charging stations. So now we’re having to pay an A&E (architectural and engineering) firm to come in and assess that location’s needs specifically.”
EV Evolutions and Transformations
“There are evolutions, revolutions, and transformations. We are sitting in the middle of a transformation — like horse and buggy to ICE (internal combustion engines), and now ICE to electric,” said Steve Hornyak of BrightDrop in the closing keynote. “During this transformation, we’re going to have to go through an infrastructure evolution. We will begin to deploy infrastructure throughout 2022 and 2023 and will scale pretty aggressively beyond.”
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