TEC Equipment’s Fontana, Calif., facility holds the distinction of the largest heavy truck dealership in the U.S. It also now has on its resume that it was the genesis point for Volvo’s electric truck aspirations.
The Mack and Volvo truck dealer served as the backdrop this week for Volvo’s Innovation Showcase, hosting hundreds of trucking customers alongside transportation and environmental stakeholders as the Greensboro, N.C., truckmaker delivered an update on its Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solution (LIGHTS) partnership.
Announced just more than a year ago, the LIGHTS partnership teamed together Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) fleet customers NFI and Dependable Highway Express in the deployment of electric VNR trucks at their California port operations. The deployment was part of a joint effort to demonstrate the ability of battery electric vehicles (EVs) to improve freight and warehouse efficiencies, reduce emissions and improve air quality.
California Air Resources Board (CARB) provided more than $44 million in funding for the LIGHTS initiative, which, all-in, is a more than $90 million project. Other stakeholders in the project — there is a total of 15 partners — are California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and several transportation and electrical charging infrastructure participants.
Volvo Group President and CEO Martin Lundstedt notes 40 percent of all imports pass through California’s ports, making the Golden State a logical launching point for the LIGHTS initiative, and that put TEC Equipment, one of VTNA’s flagship properties, in the crosshairs to serve as electrification Ground Zero.
The first five LIGHTS trucks have been ordered and delivered. The 113-in. BBC electric VNR models being used in the test are based on technologies currently in use in the North American Volvo VNR, the European Volvo FE electric tractor and leverage some of the company’s experience in electric buses. Volvo has sold more than 4,000 electrified buses since 2010.
TEC Equipment will serve as a fully certified maintenance hub for the Volvo VNR Electric project trucks in the South Coast Air Basin. The company also plans to lease 15 battery-electric Volvo VNR Electric trucks to interested customers for real-world trials as part of the overall project scope and offer a critical uptime support team for assistance with parts and service on these new electric vehicles.
With fewer mechanical parts, and maintenance needs that to-date are not clearly defined within a duty-cycle, the electric truck represents a fundamental shift in business for truck dealers and their OEMs.
“Our mindset needs to change a little with these products,” says Brett Pope, VTNA director, electric vehicles. “There are changes and we need to start preparing and changing with this type of product.”
Pope says dealers can expect to see a shift in the way sales and services are approached at the dealership level, “to create the smoothest possible transition into an electric vehicle. What never changes is the relationship with the customer. It’s very important to work in close collaboration with the customer.”
With EVs, dealers and their OEM would likely work with customers to address electric infrastructure needs, taking on a consultative role before the truck order is ever placed.
“On the product side, we have to train our product managers,” Pope says. “We have to understand what we are offering on this truck. When it comes time to ordering the truck, and once we’re ready for delivery, we have to have new driver training.”
Initial sales of the electric VNR will kickoff in California, mostly within the footprint of the LIGHTS project. Inventing a market for electric trucks also means building out an aftermarket support platform for them, and Volvo plans to lean heavily on the training and support programs already in place within its dealer network.
In North America, the company says its Volvo VNR Electric will become the ideal truck model for short- and regional-haul applications like heavy urban distribution, and other applications where electric trucks will first have the greatest impact.
The company will begin the first phase of serial production and commercial offering of the Volvo VNR Electric in late 2020.
“All of the workshop support tools are already integrated and they already exist,” says Jeff Zody, VTNA aftermarket project manager. “All we have to do is put in the new content.”
The LIGHTS program also will help refine parts inventory strategies, he says, as TEC Equipment learns what parts are most subject to failure and which need to be regularly stocked locally.
Technicians will also need specific training for electric trucks “and safety is the driving influence of this,” Zody says.
The workshop manager would be responsible for training technicians and ensuring that all the proper equipment is in place. Lead technicians would handle pulling the unit into the bay and decommissioning the truck. The technician would then perform whatever repair work is needed before the lead technician is recalled to re-commission the truck.
The evolution of technical know-how means the changing of job descriptions and responsibilities in the service bay.
“Your everyday technician is pretty much going to have to start becoming a computer person,” says Kenny Melancon, diesel instructor with San Bernardino Valley College.
Melancon, in partnership with TEC Equipment and VTNA, will use the LIGHTS initiative to craft a curriculum for electric truck technicians. San Bernardino Valley College is currently working with high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to familiarize them with terminology on electric vehicles — part of a dual enrollment program where students earn college credits while working on their high school diploma.
“We’re not dealing with a 12-volt battery anymore,” adds John Frala, a professor from Rio Hondo College, which also developed an electric vehicle curriculum in partnership with TEC Equipment. “We’re dealing with, sometimes, up to 800 volts.”
Frala says his program is full through January 2021 and is one of only seven certified Tesla training programs in the U.S.
VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve says TEC Equipment technicians will pass through the training programs at each school.
Nearly 60 chargers have been deployed as part of the LIGHTS project, with both light- and heavy-duty capabilities.
Trillium, part of the Love’s Travel Stop company, will install two 150kW chargers at a store in Anaheim.
Locally, the installation of the truck charging infrastructure was handled by Greenlots, a member of the Shell Group and a leader in electric vehicle (EV) charging and energy management solutions. The heavy-duty fleet charging stations are the first of four installations by Greenlots at warehouses across Southern California.
Greenlots installed two fully operational ABB 50kW DC fast chargers at TEC Equipment’s Fontana dealership and plans to install an additional 150kW DC fast charger in the next month. All of the charging equipment for the project is connected to Greenlots’ SKY EV Charging Network Software, which enables management of Volvo’s fleet and charging stations while balancing grid demand.