3 Reasons Transport Electrification is Accelerating (ACT Expo 2024 Recap)

Published on
Jun 26, 2024
Written by
Jonathan Colbert
Read time
9 min
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Insights
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3 Reasons Transport Electrification is Accelerating (ACT Expo 2024 Recap)

Opening ACT Expo 2024 with a preview of the 2024 State of Sustainable Fleets report, Erik Neandross, President of GNA, a TRC Company, shared the exciting news that the adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) nearly doubled in 2023, with more than 26,000 buses, trucks, and vans delivered.  

Several notable fleet commitments in 2023 “illustrating a growth trajectory,” suggest continued growth in 2024. The acceleration of transport electrification has three broad drivers: sustainability commitments (fleets’ own, and their customers’), incentives, and regulation. (Improved TCO, BEV performance, and charger reliability are important, of course, but they’re enablers rather than drivers of electrification.)

Sustainability commitments (fleets’ own, and their customers’)

Corporate sustainability commitments are a key driver of transport electrification. In some cases, it’s the fleet’s own commitments driving electrification; in other cases it’s the commitments of the fleet’s customers.

Sysco, for example, has a goal of reducing its direct emissions by 27.5% and adding 2,800 electric trucks to its U.S. fleet by 2030. On a panel with leaders from Maersk, DHL, IKEA, and PepsiCo, Sysco’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Dan Purefoy explained, “Today electrification is not a strategy to drive revenue. Its value proposition is its contribution to our transition to zero carbon. It’s helping us fulfill our ‘One Planet. One Table.’ strategy, which represents another step forward in Sysco’s commitment to lead the industry towards a more sustainable future.”

IKEA is broadly committed to becoming net-zero by 2050 at the latest. In transport and logistics, specifically, IKEA aims to “reduce the carbon footprint from every transport we do by an average of 70% and by 80% in absolute terms from our logistics operations. By 2040 we aim to transport our goods on zero emissions trucks and vessels.” Speaking on the fleet leaders’ panel, Elisabeth Fauvelle Munck af Rosenschöld, Global Sustainability Manager at IKEA, explained, “Our customers expect us to be a responsible company.”

PepsiCo, as described in the Sustainable Fleets report, “has set ambitious climate targets, and this year, its brand Frito-Lay took delivery of more than 700 electric vans, while Pepsi began testing Tesla’s Semi in long-haul beverage distribution.” As part of its PepsiCo Positive strategy, the company aims to achieve net-zero emissions across the value chain by 2040. David Allen, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo Foods North America, explained, “We built a detailed roadmap for how to be sustainable across the business. That enables support from our C-suite to commit to long-term investment in these projects. We review that roadmap at least once a year and projects and appropriately prioritized.”

Javier Garcia Atique, Regional Head of Customer Delivery for Landside Transportation at Maersk, explained that electrification is core to the company’s business goals. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do.” Maersk aims to “achieve net zero by 2040, in line with our Science Based Target initiative’s validated targets – the first in the shipping industry.”

DHL has committed to reducing all of the company’s logistics-related emissions to net-zero by 2050. The company considers its BEV pilots as an “investment in learning.” Jim Monkmeyer, President of Transportation at DHL Supply Chain, explained, “We’re on this journey with customers that want to be more sustainable. We have a number of customers that are interested in contributing to the cost of electrification; those tend to be companies that sell to consumers and governments that have made decarbonization commitments.”

DHL leverages data from EPA’s SmartWay program to “tell customers how much the additional carbon [associated with non-ZEV transport] costs, so they can make decisions informed by the cost of the carbon footprint they’ll incur,” Monkmeyer said. “That has been really eye-opening for our customers, and several have started paying more for carriers with lower carbon footprints.” SmartWay “helps companies advance supply chain sustainability by measuring, benchmarking, and improving freight transportation efficiency.”

Many other fleet leaders at ACT Expo 2024 talked about customers’ sustainability commitments as one of the drivers of electrification. Brad Bayne, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at 4 Gen Logistics, said that regulations in California were a big driver of the company’s electrification plans, but that the transition was also “an opportunity to assist our customers in their sustainability goals.” The family-owned regional drayage company has already converted over half its fleet to BEV and has pledged “to become the first North American motor carrier to own an all-zero-emission drayage fleet by 2025 – ten years before the regulations will require it.”

Incentives

There is widespread agreement among leaders across the industry that incentives are an essential driver of transport electrification as long as TCO remains higher for ZEVs than ICE vehicles. Incentives are offered by federal, state, and local governments as well as utilities. Types of incentives include grants, tax incentives, loans and leases, rebates, exemptions, and time-of-use rates. There are over a thousand such programs in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center.

One of the ways incentives drive electrification is by bringing the cost of BEV procurement and infrastructure deployment closer to parity with ICE vehicles.

Speaking on the Navigating the New Fuel Frontier panel, Chanel Parson, Director of Clean Energy and Demand Response at Southern California Edison (SCE) said, “Incentives are extremely important for accelerating the adoption of clean energy transportation.” The key, she explained, is identifying where the market needs investment to accelerate the transition. “We’re focusing less on passenger vehicles and more on the medium-duty and heavy-duty segments, as well as multifamily.”  

Fleets large and small talked at ACT Expo 2024 about the importance of incentives for driving transport electrification. Sysco’s Chief Supply Chain Officer Dan Purefoy explained the company focuses electrification efforts in states that offer incentives. “That’s part of our model today,” he said. (There are other drivers of Sysco’s EV location decisions, including the company’s relationships with utilities in the market.)

WattEV, a truck-as-a-service provider with significant charging infrastructure already deployed, “has been one of the biggest beneficiaries” of incentive programs, explained Chief Technology Officer, Chairman of the Board, and Co-Founder Emil Youssefzadeh. “It has been a fundamental to our build-up of charging infrastructure.”

Incentives are particularly essential in the school bus fleet segment. It’s also a market segment where the use case – and the benefits – make electrification particularly attractive. “Pandemic-era financial support for school districts is evaporating now, and there’s extra pressure on the cost of transportation,” explained John Kenning, Chief Executive Officer and President at First Student.

“Our customers can’t afford a 3-4x cost increase over diesel. There are savings around fuel and maintenance costs, but they don’t offset vehicle costs today. So it’s paramount to have financial support from the government,” said Kenning. “As OEMs are catching up with supply chains and producing efficient vehicles we’ll need investments from federal and state governments to continue until OEMs get to lower cost.” In 2023, the EPA distributed nearly $1.5 billion to electrify 3,000 school buses.  

Another way incentives drive electrification is by attracting other capital. “Support for grants and tax incentives is critical for attracting capital,” agreed Dr. Selda Gunsel, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President Technology at Shell Group.

Brad Bayne at 4 Gen Logistics suggested fleets should “get help navigating through infrastructure and charger grants.” Indeed, one of the roles Voltera plays today is as consultant helping our customers navigate the incentives landscape. Our policy team includes Suzanne Merkelson, who has over 10 years of experience in public policy, government affairs, and communications “dedicated to advocating for and advancing cleaner and more just energy and transportation solutions.”

Regulation

Opinions about government mandates among fleet leaders at ACT Expo 2024 differed, but there was widespread agreement that regulations do drive electrification. “Governments can set mandates and targets to stimulate uptake and streamline permitting processes,” explained Shell’s Dr. Selda Gunsel. If incentives are the carrots designed to entice fleets to electrify, regulations are the sticks designed to compel the transition.

According to the Sustainable Fleets report, “Research suggests that demand is growing outside of California, and regulations are a strong motivator.” For example, measuring electric cargo vans deployed through June 2023, Texas and Florida were larger markets than California. Less than one-fifth of zero-emission trucks operating today are registered in California. The state’s Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) rule “is expected to drive up MD and HD ZEV purchases in the state starting this year.”  

The impact of regulations is similar in the school bus market. California and New York have passed statewide BEV mandates. Connecticut, Maryland, and Maine require BEVs for certain types of bus purchases or in priority neighborhoods. “BEV demand from these states is expected to grow significantly during the next 10 years,” concludes the Sustainable Fleets report.

Some regulations are designed to mandate zero-emissions vehicle purchases. Others are designed to make it easier for fleets to electrify – including policies that provide utilities more flexibility. “From a policy perspective we need approval to spend money,” explained Chanel Parson at Southern California Edison (SCE). “Policy can also promote faster permitting and licensing.”

WattEV’s Emil Youssefzadeh explained that in addition to incentives, regulations have been a significant driver of the company’s deployments in California. “Policy is critical to the advance of the cause we’re pushing for. We are reliant on regulations to get our infrastructure built up,” he said. For example, for its charging stations in Blythe, the company took advantage rules that require cities and counties to have expedited and streamlined permitting processes for EV charging stations.

Not all fleet leaders at ACT Expo 2024 praised the current regulatory environment. Shelley Simpson, President and incoming CEO at J.B. Hunt Transport Services, described “a misalignment in policy, economics, and technology.” In California, for example, she said, “we’re up against rigid deadlines and the latest California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations (including ACF) are ahead of the market and maturity of ZEV technology.”  

Simpson also described a misalignment between federal and state regulations. “The Advanced Clean Fleets rule took effect in 2024, but the EPA’s latest emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles start with 2027 model year trucks. The EPA’s phase-in allows for more time for the technology to mature, but when state and federal requirements don’t align it creates issues with interstate operations and commerce.”

Andy Walz, President of Americas Products at Chevron described policy as the “single biggest risk factor” to the effective transition to zero-emission transportation. “I need a resilient policy environment for the next twenty years” in order to recoup zero-emission investments, he said. “I’m worried because politicians are on a four-year cycle and four years isn’t long enough to make a return on our investments.” The problem, he explained, is when “policy runs into higher costs, there’s a protest and politicians lose their will. That creates investment uncertainty.”

John O'Leary, President and Chief Executive Officer at Daimler Truck North America, explained the role of organizations like PACT (of which Voltera is a founding member) in raising awareness and providing guidance on government regulation. “Left to its own devices, the transition is not happening fast enough,” he said.