Adding our first electric truck to our company’s fleet: Facts & hurdles
One of the issues faced when trucks are air-conditioned is that drivers, after a full meal, fall asleep in the quieter & comfortable AC cabins, leading to accidents.
BHPian Raghuwire recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
Representational image from the manufacturer
Disclaimer: Lots of personal stuff mixed in a story, and some tech details.
TL; DR: Electric trailer of 55 tons Gross Combination weight, with 268KWH battery operationalized. Fun facts/Musings in the end.
I work with a major FMCG company in logistics, and I am slowly and surely becoming a fanatic of sustainability. From day-to-day activities to industries to news to work, there is a constant thought running in my mind, how do we make this carbon neutral?
For example, I always download songs, as I feel streaming songs leads to more data consumption. I avoid buying bottled water on the go, and refuse water on flights, just thinking of the emissions. I strongly profess the hybrid work model, and the use of public transport for the same. In fact, I believe we should have a strong recycling tax & carbon tax on all new purchases, to ensure consumers pay to recycle for things they consume.
In this state, one fine day 8 months back my boss called me and said, there is a manufacturer providing electric vehicles which we should induct.
Journey to our first electric trailer
I was super excited and was already imagining myself driving one of these out during a flag-off session! So, I noted down the contact of the manufacturer and set up a meeting. During the meeting my euphoria soon turned to grief when I asked him, how we charge them, vendor replied we fast charge the batteries at 160KWH!
Till then, everything I had read pointed towards the fact that, we need to mix slow charge and fast charge to ensure that battery range does not degrade. The vendor was confident about the product and assured us of a 4-year/2500 charge cycle. The company being a start-up, mostly building retrofit trucks out of imported Chinese parts did not instil confidence in me. Even the Tata Nexon EV and Tigor EV in my family, come with a recommendation for slow & fast charging. I laughed at myself thinking, how I got carried away, without thinking of the practicalities.
I took a couple of days and called my manager up and said that this is just a gimmick, we will be in soup with a failed project. But the manager was sure that we should try this, even with a 50% performance against the benchmark. But my interest was lost in it & I kept procrastinating.
One fine day, I found the news that the Murugappa group had taken over the startup by paying 350 crores. This piqued my interest again. By then, I had read a lot more news online, about how most trucks, even Tesla, are coming up only with fast chargers. Frankly, with such huge battery sizes, there is no other option currently. Even our phones, can’t do without fast chargers anymore. So, went ahead with closing the rates, contracts, AMC, Transporters, etc. and after 6 months, we flagged off the electric trailer in July 2023.
First Look at our electric truck, battery size and pack are huge!
The trailer body being built at the yard
We were going the refurbished route, so we did expect a lot of issues with the RTO, especially – WB RTO. But even with the system being greased, I did not imagine that the trucks would stand idle on factory premises for a month! Even for a new truck, we need to register the model & RTOs are not sure of handling commercial EVs. Until launch, we did not know that the State permit was waived off for Electric commercial vehicles. A pleasant surprise this was.
From getting multiple documents to getting revised/new number plates from the original RTO & the original RTO going on strike for a few days due to local reasons, it was a roller coaster ride to finally get it all done. Remember the 300+ trucks which Adani purchased, they are not registered with RTO, as they work only inside the port.
Frankly speaking, if someone had told me that operationalizing three trucks would be so difficult, and entail emergency trips to the factory, visits to OEM suppliers, and government offices, I would not have believed them. The rated charging capacity of the truck is at 160 KWH. The premises where we were installing the charging facility had a sanctioned load of 70 KWH and was already overloaded when we replaced all gas/diesel forklifts with lead acid-based electric ones. Getting the sanctioned load increased is in itself a project.
We must get new transformers installed, a new HT connection, new meters, new poles, a higher deposit with the WBSEDCL (discom), commissioning from the discom, clearances, and approvals for the same. Post all this, drawing cables from the main board to the charger and facility shutdowns for connections. This enhanced capacity took 3 months to be commissioned. But even with enhanced capacity, we can afford only 100 KWH for charging.
The charger provided (in fact most chargers at this capacity) is modular with rectifier models of 20 KWH (or other denomination). Hence, we are using 5 out of 8 modules to charge at a capacity of 100 KWH. Next is how do we design the charger station. I nor anyone had done this at the company. We finally decided to have an elevated platform of 3 feet, to prevent flood /rain damage. Everything from the canopy height, and canopy extension in front, to the width and breadth (2.5 x 2.5m) of the station was a decision made with a lot of safety margin and inputs from OEM.
Charging at 80KWH, don’t have the pic at 100 KWH
The canopy extension in the front is super critical. It should be just enough for the truck to not hit and the charger cable to reach without much difficulty. If it is small, when the driver comes with the charging gun, it is usually pointed up, rainwater may fill the gun opening and spoil it when connected.
A very bad illustration of the same
Charger Installation – Representational pic from another company
The electric trailer is one of the largest trucks which is operating in India. (Excluding ODC).
- Battery Capacity – 268 KWH
- Battery composition – LFP
- Battery Orientation – Vertical
- Charging capacity – 160 KWH
- Charger type – CCS Type 2
- GCW – Gross Combination weight: 55 tons
- Payload – 35 Tons+
- Trailer length – 45 feet (Total length – 60 feet +)
- Transmission – Auto
- Wheels – 22 (inclusive of trailer)
- Range – 150 KMs (20-100%) range
- Alarms – below 20% battery SOC
- Battery & electrical warranty – 2500 cycles & 4/5-year warranty – depends on truck/contract
- Cost – 2.5 X comparable Diesel variant.
There is no standard for emission reduction due to the electrification of CV, like the industry standard is to take a 20% reduction in emissions when using CNG instead of diesel on to well-to-wheel model. It depends on the diesel lifecycle at the location, the renewable % of the grid, and approximate emissions for manufacturing.
(Battery from China, rare earth metals from the world over, refurbished old diesel chassis, end of life recycling – how much does this discount the initial manufacturing emissions, vehicle usage (fixed production emission can be offset against each km), driver efficiency, loadability, charging time etc.). In our case, taking the grid emission factor of 0.81 kg/KWh we get around 15% lesser emissions compared to a standard diesel truck. But it is said that the current emission factor of our grid is 0.71 kg/kwh, in which case the reduction would be higher.
It has been only a few days since we started operations. We are still training drivers, and they are adapting to the regen, auto transmission, electric pickup, and silent ride.
As an MNC, the company I work with attaches great importance to safety. We generally use track & trace for all our trucks. All our driver feedback is lag-based and post the violation and based on govt mandated governors. Here along with OEM, we have set up a 40 Km speed limit electronically, all driving parameters are available online to monitor.
The batteries cost a bomb, and having a spare being charged, even with multiple trucks, just won’t give you commercial viability. Also, these batteries weigh ~ 2.5 to 3 tons, there is no way to handle this safely and cheaply. With AIS038 phase 2 kicking in, the IP protection of the battery pack has been bumped up to IP65. This will add to the weight of the battery/casings.
EV vs Diesel TCO
There are ways to make EVs very attractive, especially as businesses. With EV the fixed cost of the TCO changes drastically. Companies can buy and sublease it to gain depreciation tax benefits. With diesel trucks the fixed component proportion is very low, to get into these jhamelas! Also, the more we run the trucks the cheaper they become compared to diesel. The parity point depends on how optimized and large your trucks are. For us, the breakeven point is a minimum of 115 Kms/day. Easy-peasy, jujubee this target is!
EVs are greener?
In my opinion, the moment you take crude/coal/fossil fuel out of the storage (well/mine) you have increased the atmospheric carbon, which can never ever be offset without sequestration, and there is no easy/proven/cheap way to sequester carbon. In this way, if we figure out recycling of batteries, we will be greener with EVs. As I had read in one more TBHP post, if we look at the size of batteries, each EV battery will be equivalent to around 3000 mobile batteries (in our case 250KWH is equal to 5000 mobile batteries of 5000mah), so recycling will be easier. Also, when you consider regeneration, the efficiency of ICE can never match EVs, especially with our consistently growing traffic.
On one such trial in Chennai with a Chinese OEM, I spoke to the driver, about how his experience was. He said and I quote: “Saaaar this is like driving my scooty, no gear, no sound, full ac, it is sooperrr (translated from Tamil)”. Mind you, he was driving a fully loaded 55-foot trailer in a mix of highway and smaller side roads for the first time.
AC vs safety
One of the issues faced when trucks are air-conditioned is that drivers after a full meal, are falling asleep in quieter, air-conditioned & comfortable cabins, leading to accidents. With logistics becoming leaner, most of our trucks are single-driver driven, without cleaners also. No one to even keep you company and wake you up or make you aware of the dangers of the sudden comfort. So, to AC or not to AC is the question! In my opinion training, constant tracking, and driver monitoring is the solution. But did our Gadkari govt consider this, while making sure all trucks will be AC fitted by 2025/27 rule?
Well, how do we transport the electric trucks from the manufacturing location to our site of operations? For sure, there is no charging infra from Faridabad to WB. We loaded the charged electric horse on its own trailer along with the charger and transported it with the help of its diesel brother. One thing we missed was, how do we unload a 10-ton horse off its own trailer? Let’s just say that our transporter runs a container terminal and found a way to get it down. I am amazed at how strong and innovative our Jugaads are.
Our first EV truck being transported on it
The second lot of 2 EV trucks on the second trailer
Driving a truck in India: In my opinion, driving a truck is one the toughest jobs in the country. They are driving the nation; they drive the economy. From a small pin to your latest phone to your car, everything is because of a dedicated truck driver. Constantly away from family, no proper food, harassment by police, the danger of accidents & theft, unknown roads, no toilets, unending waits for loading and unloading at locations, payment of dala charges (opening/closing of truck to start process) for just loading the truck.
Before they deal with the erratic, 2 and 4-wheeler drivers, they fight a mountain of issues to be on the road. After all this, if there is even a small accident, locals don’t spare a second in catching and beating up the poor chap. They earn most of their money by driving the truck at a constant slow speed and avoiding braking to ensure mileage. So before cutting in front of a truck, please be mindful that, we are affecting their livelihood! My salute to all the hero truck drivers of the country.
A little branding of 100% electric
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