Fleet executives can purchase all-electric vehicles for the cost of a diesel-powered commercial vehicle under the Green for Free program from Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC), Gaffney, SC, and Enova, a Torrance, CA-based developer of proprietary electric drive systems and components. Over time, the savings fleets incur from reduced maintenance and fuel savings of the electric vehicles is used to cover the incremental expense for the technology.

The program uses FCCC’s all-electric walk-in van chassis powered by the Enova drive system. It’s designed for those fleets with predictable pickup and delivery routes because the vehicles return each night to the company depot for recharging.

In our interview, Jonathan Randall, FCCC’s director of sales and marketing, outlines the benefits of this program.

Baking & Snack: How long has the program been in development, and what technology has become available in recent years to make it feasible?

Jonathan Randall: We've been aggressively working with Enova on the program for about six months, and they have spent many months prior to this on the base business model. A few things will make the program successful: First, providing the right amount of power for the application. It makes no sense to build a truck with 100 miles of capability when the customer only requires 60. Second, the price of the drive system and the costs of batteries are coming down while we expect fuel prices to continue to climb.

What is the maximum distance and/or operating time offered by the electric vehicles to use 80% of the bakery life daily? Why is using 80% of the bakery life daily so important?

There is no maximum, per se, on the distance other than what the technology can manage and still leave enough capacity to handle the cargo. We don't see a need to provide more than 100 miles based on the applications we are pursuing. Using 80% of the battery on a daily basis optimizes the financial duty cycle, which ultimately provides the customer with an attractive payback. It also provides enough additional capacity to allow unexpected route variations. The fundamental goal is to provide enough battery for the defined route, versus providing unnecessary range and non-value costs.

Could you explain more about the ideal type of route structure for such a vehicle?

The commercial walk-in van application is perfect for this application because operators know exactly where the trucks are headed for the overwhelming majority of their fleet, and this doesn't change week to week. The operators tend to run the same route every day, or the same routes week to week. The program works more based on total mileage than urban versus suburban, but stop-and-go routes offer more regenerative braking in order to keep the batteries charged.

How long does it take to recharge the battery?

Six to eight hours.

How does the weight of cargo impact the feasibility of using an electric vehicle? For example, are there any advantages to bakeries or snack producers that have relatively light loads compared to, let’s say, beverage companies?

The heavier the truck, the more power needed to move it the required miles, but each application will have a spec that provides enough energy to cover the daily route regardless of payload. Right now, the GVW [gross vehicle weight] limit on the truck is 15,000 lb, and a customer can get 2,500 lb of payload.

What other support equipment needs to be purchased in addition to the vehicles? 

None that I'm aware of, other than a place to plug in a 220 V. The minimal infrastructure is a direct result of Enova's "on-board" charger technology, which eliminates any unique type of equipment/infrastructure.

How many vehicles need to be purchased to make the program feasible?

We are looking to in service 3,000 all-electric vehicles under this program, and believe that is a realistic target.