Schneider’s testing and future electric truck plans

July 30, 2021
Rob Reich shares feedback on running a full battery-electric day cab for the fleet’s California intermodal drayage operations

When it comes to commercial electric vehicle (CEV) testing, Schneider opted to explore the viability of commercial electric vehicle (CEV) technology because the organization views electrification as a key component for the future of the industry.

“From a technology standpoint, it's really our philosophy at Schneider, we want to absolutely learn as soon and as much as we can, so we can be prepared and understand the impact on us and the rest of the industry. We do think a key part of future is electric,” said Rob Reich, EVP and chief administrative officer for Schneider.

The truckload, intermodal, and logistics provider has been running one full battery-electric Freightliner eCascadia Class 8 day cab for approximately six months in intermodal and port drayage applications.

Schneider was selected to participate in the Customer Experience (CX) test program from Daimler Trucks North America. The CX test program has been designed to allow fleets to test either the eCascadia or eM2 battery-electric trucks in real-world settings, providing feedback to the truck manufacturer. Each participating fleet has several months to test the CEV(s) in real-world applications.

“We've worked closely with Daimler for a number of years. They've been our primary tractor supplier since 1998,” said Reich. “We have a great relationship with them and their engineering group. We always appreciate getting any type of test unit that we can experience and give feedback on.”

Understanding that the eCascadia is still a test vehicle, Reich believes learning the basics will help prepare the fleet when production line CEVs are readily available.  He confirmed the current CEV testing has allowed Schneider so far to understand details on the operation of the vehicles themselves, needs of infrastructure assessment and implementation, and gathering driver feedback.

“All those lessons that we'll take from this customer experience work with Freightliner, we think it just prepares us to be better when they start to be more mass produced, and we have an opportunity to grow the fleet,” said Reich.

Testing began in early 2021, and lasted approximately six months. The truck was operated as part of Schneider’s intermodal drayage operations in southern California, in and around the Los Angeles area.

The truck returned to base at the end of the driver’s shift to recharge the vehicle overnight on location, in preparation for operation the next day.

Drivers have provided great feedback, according to Reich. “One of the interesting things we've taken from this is great driver feedback from our test drivers of the things they've learned to operate the truck in such a way that you can extend the range a little bit, and not have to worry about it,” he said.

“You want to have some problems in a test, because that's how you learn. But of course, the drivers don't want to have any of those issues,” noted Reich. “It's been a good experience with getting their feedback of ‘Hey, here's what the gauge told me but here's what I did, and that worked.’ It really informs us for when we start to deploy these (CEVs) in the fleet to be very prepared to train a larger group of drivers to operate them.”

With regard to vehicle service, Reich confirmed Daimler has managed maintenance for the eCascadia currently being tested by Schneider. Reich said performance of the truck has been as expected, with “little to no issues.”

Infrastructure assessment and install

Schneider worked with both DTNA and power supply company Southern California Edison to conduct an assessment prior to charging installation.

Reich said working with the power company was a new experience. He advised one of the lessons learned from the preliminary vehicle charger assessment and installation process was the need to update the on-site transformer.

“It was a good lesson learned, just going through ‘Okay well, here's the charger. Here's the power requirements of the charger. What's in place today, and what do we have to do?'” said Reich. “It turned out Southern Cal Edison had to replace the transformer that was onsite. That takes a while. So that was one of the lessons we learned of just going through that process that we'll know to work on in the future.”

Using this experience, Reich confirmed the fleet intends to add more CEVs to this location in the future.

“Long-term, we'll absolutely have more (electric trucks) based at this location, and we'd have to bring in more chargers and work with the power company again to make sure everything's prepared for that,” said Reich.

Future expectations

Reich confirmed the eCascadia test truck has operated “as advertised.” He acknowledged as battery technology continues to improve, and as truck makers ramp up full production of CEVs, expectations will continue to increase and be met by manufacturers of this technology.

“Our assumption is as the next full generation of battery electric trucks come out, that the range would be longer the truck would be lighter, those types of things. I would anticipate seeing improvements,” said Reich, acknowledging the truck currently operated by Schneider is a pre-production model.

Schneider has applied for grants in California to fund further CEV adoption for the fleet, and has been awarded one so far–the U.S. EPA Targeted Airshed Grant. This grant will help to fund five battery-electric commercial trucks for the fleet, with expected delivery in the first half of 2022. Reich confirmed the company plans to apply for several more throughout 2021.

“Southern California is a great place to continue to test these (trucks) because of the dense population and the density of freight,” said Reich. “We would continue to add trucks into our intermodal fleet there.”

“Our sense is that battery-electric vehicles will be a great solution in this type of operation–intermodal drayage, running some regional local, perhaps some dedicated regional local because of course, their day cabs, so you're going to be a little limited there to how you use them,” Reich added. “What they've learned so far is hydrogen fuel cell perhaps becomes that more medium-range solution that the battery electric may or may not grow into as the product improves.”