Trends and challenges in fleet electrification

Director of sales engineering for the TTI Transportation Business Unit, Brian Dickerson and transportation sales engineer, Gabe Osorio, explore the electrification of mid-class’ trucks 

                             commercial delivery vans in row at parking place of transporting carrier shipping service company


Readers may be familiar with the unique and amazing things happening in fleet electrification, from companies building new EVs to those converting diesel trucks and busses to BEV powertrains. The real inflection point, however, is in the last-mile fleet space. During the next two years, these Class 4 to 6 ‘mid-class’ trucks will be prime targets for electrification. In part, this is due to grants and cost-sharing agreements which help with installation of charging infrastructure.  More importantly, these fleets suit EV applications. Last-mile delivery trucks and vans serve predictable routes and travel fewer than 50 miles per day: well within the range capabilities of today’s battery technology. These regional fleets serve needs in the electrification ‘sweet spot’, expending their batteries during the day and returning to the yard to charge overnight. In these applications, the efficiencies of switching from diesel/gasoline to EVs are obvious and significant: elimination of fuel costs; reduced spending on IC engine wear and tear; lower maintenance costs and more. However, for EV fleet end-users, there are many questions to answer which, in turn, pose challenges to those designing infrastructure for integration into the electric grid.

Having taken part in discussions with suppliers and customers in recent months, we are hearing that charging-related challenges are top-of-mind. Those investing in EV charging infrastructure want to know how to maximize efficiency and which partners they should work with to design and install their charging systems. While a lot of answers relate to the selected trucks, safety is also a primary concern. Fleet owners want to know who is qualified, from a tier-supplier standpoint, to produce EV charging solutions. Many people say they can build these systems, but customers need to know who can build them safely, to manufacturer standards. Customers also need to understand how specific components in and around the battery pack contribute to battery health and system safety, avoiding thermal runaways and maximizing the life of their EV investment. These include sensors and harsh-environment interconnects, designed to withstand the heat associated with high-voltage applications and the environmental challenges of being exposed to the elements. Production scalability is also a challenge. OEMs can struggle to navigate the breadth of available components to select the best options, to get access to data sheets or samples, and to learn about new releases. 

A distribution partner with a strong inventory position helps clear away many of the obstacles and deliver the information that buyers and engineers need to know right now. Distributors build strategic partnerships with manufacturers of components, both on and off the board. We also help overcome inventory and supply-chain challenges by supplying multiple options for particular solutions. From a buyer standpoint, a distributor partner gives you a strategic edge in design decisions, making it easier to get the necessary parts. Case in point: for a single HV connector, suppliers may offer ten or more different iterations based on cable size, connector angle, keying options or key codes, etc. A distributor with a strong technical team works with customers to help them select the best cable assembly to meet their production timelines.