FreightWaves Now Interview with Jonathan Colbert

Published on
Nov 16, 2022
Written by
Jonathan Colbert
Read time
4 min
Category
Insights
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Kaylee Nix
So let's go ahead and welcome Jonathan Colbert from Voltera. Vice President of Marketing. Jonathan, thank you for joining us this morning.

Jonathan Colbert
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Kaylee
Let's get into this a little bit. We're taking kind of a quick pivot from private equity into electrification. Right. And Voltera is one of those companies. The first time I heard about you guys, I was like, this could be it. Like, this is smart. Tell us a little bit about Voltera and where you guys sit in the electrification space.

Jonathan
Yeah, so Voltera is a little bit unique, recently founded company that's focused on electrifying spaces for fleets. So when you think about the value chain, we're tackling all of it. We'll go out, we'll actually identify a site, acquire it, put in charging and infrastructure and all of the onsite operations and then lease stalls to fleets – from autonomous vehicles all the way up to heavy duty trucking.

Anthony Smith
And so one of the big things I hear about when I hear Voltera is that it's a turnkey solution. Talk a little bit more about that.

Jonathan
Yeah. So one of the biggest pain points right now within electrification – and this is kind of what brought me to Voltera and why I believe in the model – is charging to date has been tied to the site host, the site owner. So when we think about charging, we think about Tesla usually and the Supercharger network; we think about Electrify America and just bringing your own personal vehicle to a charging station. But for a fleet, operations will be reliant on the reliability of those chargers and the location has to be really purpose built. So with that, there's a ton of upfront CapEx that we would take on for the site host. So when I say we go out and acquire the site, we will purchase it and then we'll work with the utility and work through the interconnect and getting the appropriate amount of power to the site. And then we will install the charging infrastructure and also other onsite amenities and services. And then we would either lease or provide an 'as-a-service' agreement to that to the end user to be able to access it.

Kaylee
That upfront CapEx is something that really kind of hinders this electrification space, right? Because it's not cheap to install a charging network. It's not cheap to install a single charger on your property, if that's the case. And when we talk about this, you often rely a lot on that public private partnership to get things done, especially if you're talking about a big initiative like a statewide initiative. When you talk about these types of partnerships, where do you guys sit in that public private space? Are you working with government entities trying to develop their electrification plan?

Jonathan
That's a great question and a great point. So I think a lot of times when we think about the government, we think about California Air and Resource Board, the federal government, and while they have a lot of initiatives that are forcing fleets from the top down and bottom up to electrify, the heavy effort comes from working with the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) as well as the utilities. So we're working in major metros to develop those relationships to help streamline the process. It's not unheard of right now to need two years to three years just to bring the amount of power we need on site. So we're buying those properties now and developing those relationships locally and at the federal level.

Kaylee
So something really interesting going on for us here in Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is our private power utility right up the street here, is working with the Tennessee state government and with the Electric Power Board here in Chattanooga to develop like a supercharger corridor all the way across the state. And this network is not only built for passenger car use, it's going to be developed for electric vehicles in the mid- to heavy-duty space. Is this something that we could be seeing by other state initiatives as well? And does Voltera play a role in something like that?

Jonathan
Yes, you will see this and this is something that is being pursued by California and a lot of other states. But what I would say in a quick shout out to the folks at GM and Pilot Flying J, they're building out corridors across the U.S. as well. But what I would say is that's more of the public side of charging. The customers that we're serving really need a dedicated space and they can't risk their operations being slowed down by pulling up to a site and not having a charging stall waiting for them. So while I think a lot of those initiatives are needed and necessary for the electrification of fleets, we're serving a different customer. And over time we may say, you know what, we're going to work to open up the network a little bit more and put in stalls. But in the near term, we really want to focus on the dedicated locations.

Anthony
And speaking of that customer base that you're looking at, what kind of solutions is Voltera really honing in on? So are we looking at strictly within transportation and freight? Are we also looking at some of the consumer markets as well?

Jonathan
Yes. So I would say not necessarily consumer markets, but passenger vehicles. Right. So we can kind of go up from the smallest vehicles to the largest. So one of the cool things about our space is we're working with autonomous vehicle companies and they are endemic to electric vehicles. They started with the thought that the electric vehicle will make it a lot easier for us to manage our operations. So the passenger cars that they have and what we're serving fits in perfectly to our model. With that, we kind of can go up to the delivery and distribution space. So everything from last mile, middle mile to what we're seeing the most traction in as far as bigger trucks is drayage; the shorter routes just lend themselves perfectly to electric vehicles. Over the long term, we do see a need for short haul and long haul. Rental car companies, fleet management companies have also been great customers.

Kaylee
So that drayage space is like the perfect use case for private electrification, like what Voltera does, right? Especially in a state like California where you talk about the port activity being so busy. Couple that with the very progressive government standards in California that is like the space for it. But oftentimes it's expensive. We know that fleets are like, 'Man, I got to purchases electric trucks and they don't come with the charger and the infrastructure for the charger? Like, I feel like I'm getting ripped off here.' Can you tell us a little bit about how you guys can bridge that gap and what it takes to get into a fleet and say, okay, you know what, you're purchasing these 15 electric trucks. Let's go ahead and dedicate this space, this infrastructure to you as well.

Jonathan
Yes. So we already are partnering with some of the auto manufacturers, as well as the resellers of these electric fleets so that they are aware of our services so they can kind of sell on our behalf as well. But when it comes to working with the specific fleet, the value proposition of Voltera is that you don't have to worry about that upfront CapEx. We'll go out, we'll develop the site, we'll purchase the location. And I would say right now we're developing a site in California – to your point – and it's really close to the port. Just the location alone and being able to electrify near their operations is a huge value add. And this isn't something that you can just spin up overnight. So we're actively purchasing more sites all across the U.S. so that when these fleets are ready to say, okay, you know, we're going to put these hundreds of thousands of dollars down for these new vehicles. We're ready to say, here's your stall. You can either purchase the whole site and we'll develop a site for you purpose built or we can lease out specific stalls for you.

Anthony
And speaking of that, I mean, because as you said, it can't happen overnight. What do you see as the timeline within this industry or where you guys sit in this industry over the next maybe five or ten years?

Jonathan
I think the mass adoption of electric fleets across all of these categories, we're at least a decade away. But I think we'll see in the next 2 to 3 years a lot of traffic. Voltera is one of many companies – you just spoke to a nice gentleman in the private equity space – getting a lot of investment. We have billions pledged towards this. So we're looking at sites, but there are also other companies looking at sites. I think the biggest determinant of the hockey stick right now will be vehicle availability, which the supply chain is getting a lot better and it is being sorted out. And then power procurement with the utility on site. And as I mentioned before, 18 to 24 months as far up to 36 months to bring power to site is what we're seeing. So I think really two years to see if we get power on site and vehicles and then after that, we'll start seeing that hockey stick.

Kaylee
So start planning now for the end of the decade. Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us this morning to talk a little bit about Voltera.

Jonathan
Thank you for having me.