FreightWaves interviewed Richard Mohr, Ryder’s chief technology officer and VP of new products, to learn more about the alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) solutions that Ryder System (NYSE: R) offers customers.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
FreightWaves: What AFVs does Ryder currently offer customers?
Mohr: “Right now we run a combination of the new emission standards on the diesel vehicles. That’s the OG of alternative fuel. We run natural gas vehicles in our fleet, which we’ve been running for a number of years. Then we have battery electric vehicles that are in our active fleet.”
FreightWaves: Do you plan to start testing with hydrogen again soon?
Mohr: “I think when it becomes available we’ll certainly start to adopt hydrogen tractors, be able to run those in our operation and learn how to maintain and work on those vehicles. I tested … some of the very first hybrid units that came out [years ago] and it was just too early. We knew that it was going to start to get some traction in the market and we knew that we needed to test those types of vehicles to get good at them in the future.
“Our customers can’t afford to make these mistakes and do this on their own. They need a company like us to help them learn how to adopt these newer technologies.”
FreightWaves: Why do Ryder’s customers switch to AFVs?
Mohr: “I think that the motivation around clients of Ryder getting into battery electric vehicles or alternative fuel are really for a number of different reasons. They’re … looking at it as a customer acquisition strategy of, ‘Do we retain or win more customers by switching to battery electric or alternative fuel?’ Do they meet some of their own corporate sustainability goals that they’ve set forward for themselves by adopting alternative fuel? Are they solving employee issues or distribution issues in the case of total cost of ownership?
“I’m not telling customers what they should adopt. We’re giving them our assessment of the vehicles on how they perform, how we’re going to maintain them [and] what our confidence in that vehicle is, and then they’re going to adopt that technology.”
FreightWaves: Based on applications, which AFVs are most popular?
Mohr: “I think what you’re seeing is on the light-duty side, including your last-mile, e-commerce-style vehicles, AFVs are wildly more popular right now than your heavier Class 6 or 8 trucks, which have a much heavier reliance on bigger batteries and a lot of costs that come with that.
“I think what you’re seeing on the lighter-duty side [is that] it’s easier to adopt earlier to start putting some lighter-duty electric vehicles in your fleet. [Then you] realize how they operate, what the benefits are and what your model is going to look like.
“You’re also starting to see some really ancillary products [such as] electric yard tractors that are coming into play. Those are going to become wildly popular because your tractors don’t like the idle on diesel. They’re not designed for that, even though we force them in that application. There’s tons of idle time on yard tractors [and] electric vehicles love idle time.”
FreightWaves: Can you compare the environmental impacts of natural gas, battery electric and the new diesel standards?
Mohr: “Diesel is as efficient as it’s ever been in the industry — by a long shot. The OEMs have done a great job meeting emission standards, but you can only get so far with a combustion engine to reduce NOx.
“With natural gas, you’re getting the benefit of the lower fuel price, but you’re also getting a lower NOx impact fuel. When you’re using renewable natural gas … even though you’re burning a fuel, you really have a negative carbon application. Around electric, obviously it’s zero [tailpipe] emissions.
“[Life-cycle-based questions] companies are going to start to [ask are], ‘When I need to make emissions decisions and I need to make alternative fuel decisions, based on my application and my emission reduction standard, what technology makes sense for the right application?’
“I think what you’re going to see is a mixed bag of technologies in large fleets. There’s not one size fits all as far as transportation solutions and I don’t think you’ll see that in the future.”
FreightWaves: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Mohr: “I do have one thing that I think is really important [for customers]. The thing that is hard for the whole industry is you don’t start with the truck anymore. [For] my whole career, we’ve always talked about what’s the right truck. Now, with alternative fuels, you really have to start two steps ahead of the truck. You have to start around facility assessment, on understanding what is [the] fueling source that you’re going to have for those vehicles. Is it electric or is it natural gas or maybe in the future is it hydrogen?
“You have to do a really thorough facility assessment and you need to have a partner that can help you do that. And that takes time.”