FONTANA, Calif. — On a Velocity Truck Centers lot choked with Freightliner trucks being prepped for delivery or awaiting service, the coming electric truck transition has a nascent presence.

But that evolves almost weekly.

“This is probably the only place in the country where you’ll see five Freightliner eCascadias lined up in a row,” said Chris Johnson, corporate sales engineer at the largest Velocity dealership in Southern California. 

Three of the trucks bear the distinctive orange paint of Schneider, which has 92 electric trucks in various states of readiness for drayage and other uses that the eCascadia’s typical 230-mile single-charge delivers.

Two Velocity repair shop bays are dedicated to electric trucks. Only technicians who complete a weeklong training course in high-voltage vehicles to service the trucks. Plastic stanchions surround the bay when occupied to keep other techs away.

Chris Johnson, corporate sales engineer for Velocity Truck Centers in Fontana, California, shows how electric trucks are segregated within the dealership’s repair shop. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

With 80 locations, Velocity is one of Daimler Truck North America’s biggest dealer groups and its go-to for battery-electric business. Velocity serviced and supported the experimental test fleet of first-generation Class 8 eCascadias and Class 6 eM2s on which NFI Industries and Penske Truck Leasing rolled up more than 1 million miles.

Most of those trucks are retired or being donated to schools and emergency service providers as teaching tools for working with high-voltage vehicles, said Rakesh Aneja, DTNA vice president and head of eMobility. 

Some first-gen trucks from a Customer Experience Fleet remain in service as purchasers await delivery of the second-generation eCascadias. They went into production in December in Portland, Oregon, on the same assembly line with Western Star brand diesel trucks.

Accounting for the electric grid

When Velocity installed its first electric charger in 2019, Southern California Edison put no cap on how many chargers the utility could support. So Velocity has plans for five more to join the ones it has now. But getting power to the charger site takes at least a year. If a new substation is required, a project can take five years. By contrast, DTNA can deliver an eCascadia in five months from the time an order is placed, Aneja said.

Electric grid capacity is adequate along Valley Boulevard in Fontana where industrial sites mingle with truck and trailer dealerships. TEC Equipment, which supports Volvo Truck North America’s electric ambitions, is two miles away on Randall Avenue.

“The grid is less of an issue in areas where a lot of power is already being used,” said Alex Voets, Velocity EV general manager and formerly DTNA’s eMobility product and marketing manager,

“Everyone thinks the electric truck is the key. But without charging, there is no electric truck,” he said, motioning to a 62-kilowatt ChargePoint direct-current fast charger next to one of the Schneider eCascadias.

Stick-and-carrot acceleration of battery-electric truck sales

Last Friday’s vote by the California Air Resources Board requiring fleets to purchase some percentage of electric trucks as soon as 2024 will slowly flip Velocity business from depending on diesel trucks to battery-electric and fuel cell models.

In following California-developed electric truck regulations, New York, Texas and a few other states also followed the Golden State’s lead in providing vouchers worth tens of thousands of dollars to help offset the high cost of electric vehicles. 

DTNA is working with Cummins Inc. to offer a Cascadia with a Cummins fuel cell system. Two years ago, Velocity sold 10 diesel-powered Cascadias to Hyzon Motors that it retrofitted to run on hydrogen fuel cells. Fully zero-emission fuel cells arrive as an electrification alternative in the next year. 

Enter Rizon

Meanwhile, Velocity committed in March to purchasing 200 battery-electric trucks — 125 eCascadias and 75 eM2s — for its rental and leasing operations in California. The extra chargers will keep those trucks juiced for the comings and goings of renters and lessees.

Velocity also is preparing for fourth-quarter delivery of Class 4-5 electric trucks known elsewhere as the Mitsubishi Fuso eCanter. Daimler Truck last Thursday announced a new U.S.-focused EV brand called Rizon that will market those rebadged trucks as one of Velocity’s nameplates.

Velocity sold — and still services — Fuso models pulled from the U.S. market in 2020. Getting the Rizon products, which have scant competition from major truck manufacturers, will help attract businesses that want to start their transition to electric with smaller commercial vehicles.

Replacing obsolete business

Since electric trucks have fewer parts to break or replace, Velocity’s $600 million inventory of tens of thousands of parts needed for diesel trucks will shrink over time, possibly by 30%. As more software updates and driving parameters like speed limiters are performed via over-the-air (OTA) reprogramming, Velocity will need to replace lost revenue.

“We’re not pushing back on OTA losses,” Voets said. 

Velocity is working with Daimler’s Detroit unit to offer consulting and other services like grant writing to fleets that don’t know what they don’t know about electrification.

Related articles:

Daimler built excess electric truck capacity in 2022

Electric trucks: Sysco signs for record 800 Freightliner eCascadias

Million mile-tested Freightliner eCascadia goes into production

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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