Transitioning to an electrified fleet: from challenge to opportunity

3rd January 2023

At the end of last year, the logistics provider DFDS made one of the “largest ever” global orders of electric trucks. The purchase was for 100 vehicles to replace the firm’s conventional fleet, and to help them stay “competitive during the transition to more sustainable forms of transport”.

Overcoming the challenge of transition though is not a task unique to DFDS.

It’s a journey that all logistics providers will need to make, as internal combustion engines (ICEs) are slowly phased out. That and the fact that a growing number of customers are calling for more sustainable transport solutions, as well as the rapidly increasing cost of diesel fuel – where electric vehicles (EVs) are estimated to save €0.27 a mile.

However, even as vehicle manufacturers expand their range of electric trucks and vans, Fleet Managers are recognizing that the transition involves more than just a change in motive power.

Changes to business as usual

EVs bring with them a host of benefits to excite logistics firms. These can range from whisper quiet operation for inner-city distribution, to fewer moving parts that promise to lower overall maintenance costs by around a third.

But they also introduce various changes to ‘business as usual’. For example, the charging aspect alone raises three important questions for Fleet Managers and owners:

  • Where will charging positions need to be located?
  • Will you need to provide home-charging points for drivers?
  • How will charging times impact scheduling?

Then there are the concerns relating to the charging infrastructure that’s available to support longer journeys. Addressing these will require careful planning, and possibly significant changes to route selection, time management, and even pricing models.

Most importantly however, careful planning will be vital for addressing the inevitable range and queue ‘anxiety’ of drivers worried about running out of power – at the worst possible moment.

The refrigeration dimension

An additional factor for logistics firms operating in the global cold chain, is understanding where their transport refrigeration units (TRUs) fit within the wider transition to electric. Getting it right is critical due to the necessity of temperature-controlled transport and the sheer scale involved – with 100,000 refrigerated vehicles operating in the UK alone.

One of the main issues here relates to autonomy:

  • TRUs typically draw power from a vehicle’s battery, and as a result they can impact overall range
  • Many vehicles involved in the cold chain are still not ready for conversion, and require electric outputs designed to power eTRUs

Then there’s the need to address ‘load anxiety’. Fearing that the battery range is not sufficient for a particular journey, or that the charging infrastructure along the route is inadequate, drivers will increasingly demand real-time battery data. They’ll want to know what the level is, and when (if a hybrid eTRU) to switch between electric and diesel.

Putting innovation to work

Addressing these issues requires dependable, highly innovative technology designed for the demands of both today and tomorrow. A challenge Thermo King is embracing through our commitment to offering a fully electrified, zero-emissions solution in every segment of the cold chain – and reducing our customers’ CO2 footprint by one gigaton by 2030.

For example:

  • The recently introduced E-200 is a fully electric, zero-emission TRU for small trucks – and is already being used by leading retailers such as Tesco and Walmart
  • Our new AxelPower solution delivers an energy recovery system to power Thermo King TRUs from braking – an electric power supply that’s independent from the tractor
  • Connected Solutions provide detailed insights into a wide range of metrics, including ‘battery estimated autonomy’, state of charge, and power source

Not that we’re finished there, as our continued innovation is enhanced by 40 years of Frigoblock experience in servicing and maintaining electric refrigeration units and high voltage systems. Which is why we’ve been able to design the most efficient eTRUs available to minimize their impact on vehicle range. All supported by inverter-controlled power management that’s able to optimize energy usage to on-going refrigeration needs.

“By 2023,” says Thermo King’s President EMEA, “Thermo King will have an electric solution in every segment of our end-to-end cold chain solutions, helping decarbonize our global supply chain”.

Embracing the future

With the 2030 deadline for the end of ICE vehicle sales looming on the horizon, it’s inevitable that all cold chain fleets will begin accelerating the move to EVs. It’s a transition that brings with it a variety of challenges, yet with careful planning these can quickly be turned into opportunities. And with Thermo King you’ll be able to call on the latest all-electric innovation needed to embrace the future with confidence.

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Cold Chain, Electric, Fleet Management, Innovation, Service, Solutions, Sustainability, Technology, TrucKing