Companies Are Clamoring For Electric Trucks, But Is Anyone Listening?

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There are two electric vehicle markets: one is for private passenger cars and the other is for electric trucks for commercial customers. Many Americans are cool to the idea of driving an electric car. They have questions, lots and lots of questions — Where will I charge? How long does the battery last? How far can I drive on a single charge? Any professional salesperson knows people won’t buy something until all their questions are answered.

Unfortunately, many car dealers are horrified at the thought of selling electric cars. Servicing the cars they sell is a major source of income for them. Electric cars don’t visit the service department very often. Over-the-air updates can solve many of the issues that used to bring customers in for service. That means electric cars are a dagger aimed straight a the heart of the franchise dealer model.

Are those dealers going to spend money to train their sales staff how to answer all the questions buyers have about electric cars? Of course not. That’s like slitting their own throat. And so they park the EVs they have in stock out back near the dumpster and conveniently forget to charge them so no one can test drive them.

They train their staff to guffaw whenever someone asks about an electric car and then point them to the latest Belchfire 5000 with a trusty gasoline engine sitting prominently in the middle of the sales floor. Don’t blame the dealers. If you owned a car dealership, you would probably do exactly the same thing. Who wants to kill the goose that laid the golden egg?

Commercial Customers Demand Electric Trucks

Ceres is a nonprofit organization that works with the movers and shakers in capital markets to address the sustainability challenges that the world is facing. Last summer, it polled some of the largest purchasers of vehicles for commercial use — companies like Amazon, Best Buy, DHL, Hertz, Schindler Elevator, T-Mobile, and UNFI — and asked them what vehicles they wanted manufacturers to build.

Combined, these companies have over a trillion dollars in annual revenue and operate 1.3 million vehicles in the US. The results of the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance survey were clear. Those companies plan to buy more than 330,000 electric vehicles, including sedans, SUVs, pickups, and box trucks.

Commercial customers don’t have any of those pesky questions private buyers do. They know to the millimeter how far the vehicles in their fleet drive in a typical day. They plan to have their own charging infrastructure. But most of all, they know to the nearest centime how much money they can save in fuel and maintenance costs by purchasing electric vehicles instead of gasoline- and diesel-powered models.

They know all that and they want to know why the manufacturers are not giving them more of the vehicles they want. While the automakers are scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to convince John and Jane Q Public why they should buy an electric car, these companies are jumping up and down and waving their hands, saying, “Hey! Over here! We want electric cars and trucks. Please give them to us!” 96% of the survey respondents said they would be willing to switch manufacturers if that’s what it takes to get the electric vehicles they want.

“Automakers are already moving toward electric vehicles, but by establishing clear lines of communication between manufacturers and major consumers, we can accelerate that transition to the point where we’re meeting critical climate goals as well as fleets’ operational needs.” said Sara Forni, director of clean vehicles at Ceres.

“This survey leaves no doubt that if manufacturers want to remain relevant over the next decade, they must prioritize developing specific electric vehicles to meet key commercial use cases, while also working to fulfill niche needs as the industry grows. Alliance members recognize that the future is electric. By speaking with a common voice, they demonstrate the power of collective action to steer and speed the transition to electrified transportation.”

Merchants Fleet is one of the largest fleet management companies in the US and has ordered electric delivery vans from BrightDrop, the new electric truck division of General Motors. Hari Nayar, director of fleet electrification and sustainability at Merchants Fleet, says, “As we continue to advance our fleet electrification goals, it is essential that we have access to EV models that get the job done — not only for our own fleet, but for our clients’ fleets as well.

“We need clean vehicles that enable fleets to operate as they always have but with key technology and emissions upgrades. Manufacturers that can provide zero emissions vehicles that meet the operational requirements of large fleet operators will hold a strong competitive advantage over their peers, and will play a critical role in accelerating the transition toward clean, affordable, and reliable transportation.”

Electric Trucks For Amazon & Others

Amazon has grown to be one of the largest delivery companies on Earth, helped in large measure by a pandemic that has created an explosion in online shopping. The company has invested heavily in Rivian, which has pledged to build 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon, but it is also looking to buy thousands of electric ProMaster vans from Stellantis in the US, and Mercedes in Europe, as well as electric trikes from Mahindra for use in India.

According to the New York Times, Ross Rachey, who oversees Amazon’s global fleet, said in a recent statement, “The scale and speed at which we’re trying to do this requires a lot of invention, testing and learning, and a completely new playbook.”

“Electrifying our pickup and delivery fleet is critically important and makes sense from a service and financial standpoint,” Richard Smith, president and chief executive of FedEx’s operations in the Americas, said this month in a video address at the CES tech trade show. “We are going to need to add a lot of commercial vehicles by 2040, infrastructure willing, of course.”

FedEx, like Amazon, is just at the beginning of the transition. It recently took delivery of 5 electric trucks from BrightDrop, a division of General Motors developing battery-powered vans. Walmart, a key Amazon competitor, also plans to buy vans from BrightDrop to help expand its delivery services.

You might think that if electric delivery vehicles are so much in demand by fleet operators, the US Postal Service would be first in line to get them. Sadly, politicians care nothing about such mundane things as efficiency and low cost of operation — or protecting the people who elected them from harmful pollutants. They have decreed that the next generation of USPS delivery vehicles will be manufactured by a major defense contractor and that 90% of them will be powered by good old fashioned gasoline engines.

Is Anyone Listening?

One can only wonder why General  Motors, Ford, Stellantis, or any of the other legacy automakers with big plans to manufacture electric delivery vehicles weren’t involved in the bidding process for what will be the largest single order for motor vehicles in history. If you are thinking of writing a letter to your Congressperson, consider this sage advice from YIP Harburg: “Each Congressman has two ends — a sitting and a thinking end. And since his whole career depends upon his seat…why bother, friend?”

Does anyone else think it’s odd that Tesla is nowhere in this conversation? A company that single-handedly created the EV revolution and is vitally concerned with reducing carbon emissions from transportation has totally ignored the delivery truck market. What’s up with that, Elon?

To the question, “Is anyone listening?,” when it comes to meeting the demand of fleet operators for more electric trucks and other vehicles, the answer is “Yes.” Ford and GM and Rivian are listening and struggling to meet the demand. But they need to raise their game. With ready, willing, and able buyers waiting impatiently for electric trucks, it’s time to pick up the pace. America doesn’t need 47 electric SUVs. It needs electric trucks. Give them to us!

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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