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Growing a zero-emissions transportation network in Cincinnati

Workhorse HQ
Workhorse

Pull up to an electric vehicle charging station in Cincinnati, and that station may have been delivered by the city’s first 100 percent electric truck.

Servall Electric — a residential, commercial and industrial electric company that has served the tristate area around Cincinnati for generations — is helping the city electrify in more ways than one. Installing EV charging stations is a growing segment of its business. The family-owned company also plans to eventually transition its entire fleet of 25 to 30 vehicles to electric.

Servall is one of 13 companies that participated in the first Run on Less – Electric (RoL-e), a real-world demonstration of zero-emissions delivery that ran across North America through Sept. 19. The participating fleets drove on real routes and carried real freight to showcase the benefits of electric trucks.

A local ecosystem

The manufacturer of Servall’s first electric truck is also local. Workhorse is a Cincinnati-based company that builds electric last-mile delivery step vans. These are the vehicles that take packages from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep.

Workhorse started producing hybrid delivery vans in 2012, most notably for UPS. However, with the evolution of battery technology, the company moved into fully electric vans. Workhorse has built 133 electric step vans so far this year for UPS, Pritchard Companies, Pride Group Enterprises and others. Demand is so high that the company has orders for 8,000 electric vehicles.

With manufacturing of electric trucks, their use and the installation of chargers all happening in Cincinnati, the city is getting the pieces of a full electric transportation ecosystem.

Going electric

Julianne Lake, Servall’s vice president of operations, said the company decided to invest in an electric truck because "it makes sense financially, and it makes really good sense environmentally." Lake has been with Servall for 15 years and has seen the business through many changes. A large part of Servall’s current business is multifamily buildings, and Lake foresees that they will all be installing EV chargers soon.

"We started installing EV chargers a couple of years ago and have definitely noticed an uptick in requests residentially," she said. "We have to put our money where our mouth is, so getting an electric truck makes perfect sense."

Servall plans to transition its fleet over time. Trucks eventually age out, so when the company needs to replace a truck, it will replace it with an electric truck until the entire fleet is electric. The only challenge Lake sees in going fully electric is "our employees fighting over who gets the next truck."

Saving time, money and knees

Stephen Garrett is the lucky driver of the Servall truck. He has been driving for Servall for three years and driving trucks for more than 20 years overall. Garrett, who typically drives 80 to 100 miles a day, didn’t know what to expect with an electric truck, but he is a convert. "I was wondering what it was going to be like. I was trying to imagine driving a truck that you don’t have to fill up," he said. "There are no fumes and no stopping at fuel stations. I don’t have to worry about making that extra stop to fuel that takes time out of my day."

"Where they would normally spend $60 a day on gas, they are only spending about $15 a day on electricity to charge the truck. They’re saving 75 percent of fuel costs on day one," said Steve Conrad, training and safety manager for Workhorse.

Workhorse not only made the step van electric, but also redesigned the van to make it more practical and convenient. "Because of the electric drive train, we’re able to look at the architecture of the vehicle completely differently," said Chris Nordh, vice president of commercial development for Workhorse. "We redesigned the van to be much lower to the ground. Since drivers take two steps instead of three, we are eliminating hundreds of steps for drivers per day."

Conrad says that another benefit to the truck is "one pedal driving." The regenerative braking system allows drivers to slow down sufficiently in normal driving conditions by taking their foot off the accelerator, without needing to step on the brake. "That’s great from a maintenance perspective as well as from the driver comfort perspective," Nordh said. This may not seem like a huge benefit, but it reduces the repetitive motion injuries and knee damage for people who spend their entire day, every day, behind the wheel.

Community benefits

The benefits of electric trucks extend beyond the fleet and the driver. Delivery trucks are everywhere, more so now than ever before. This is not only causing congestion but also leading to issues with noise and air quality. According to Nordh, "We’re seeing more and more trucks in our neighborhoods, delivering packages to our homes, and so we’re seeing the impact both from an emissions perspective as well as a noise perspective. The electric vehicle solves both of these issues."

And last-mile delivery is a huge market segment. A recent report shows that urban last-mile delivery emissions could increase by more than 30 percent by 2030 — reaching 25 million tons of CO2 emissions a year — in the top 100 cities around the world. Last-mile delivery includes more than UPS, FedEx, DHL and other delivery services that come to mind. "It’s also your bakery in Boston, it’s your dry-cleaning in Phoenix, it’s your flower shop in Chicago — those are everywhere," said Steve Schrader, CFO of Workhorse.

And it’s also your local electrical contractor who delivers the cables, junction boxes and maybe even an electric charger to your home. Servall is making a difference by delivering those things emissions-free and Servall’s Lake couldn’t be more enthusiastic: "I’m really excited about our new electric truck and I’m also really proud that Servall is continuing to help our community become more environmentally sustainable."

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