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Cold one: Manhattan Beer Distributors all in on electrifying beverage trucks

Owner plans to jettison diesel powertrains in next four years

Volvo Trucks is providing six years of maintenance with the new VNR Electric truck. A trained technician removes the junction box on one of ther trucks to verify there is no voltage in the traction voltage system. (Photo: Volvo Trucks)

Editor’s Note: Corrects Bergson’s first name to Simon; deletes reference to 60% market share

NEW YORK — On a sultry Thursday morning in the South Bronx, a stream of local politicians walked to an outdoor podium framed by a Volvo Class 8 VNR Electric truck that soon will silently haul trailers of cold beer to Manhattan with no trail of tailpipe emissions.

They celebrated the first of five VNR Electrics that Manhattan Beer Distributors purchased with help from $975,000 Volkswagen AG paid to settle a diesel emissions cheating scandal. In a part of New York where poor air quality afflicts 13% of residents with asthma, the first non-polluting electric freight truck is indeed a big deal.

Manhattan owner Simon Bergson decided to try to make a difference when asked two decades ago by then-U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano to try to make the air more breathable in the heavily industrial Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx. Much of the restaurant food and groceries for Manhattan and other New York boroughs is hauled by truck from area distribution warehouses.

Simon Bergson, founder and CEO of Manhattan Beer Distributors, speaks at a ceremony Thursday marking receipt of the first Volvo VNR Electric truck on the East Coast. Bergson’s business is getting four more of the trucks before the end of the year.
(Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Started with CNG conversions

“It was just the right thing to do,” Bergson said. “I wanted to be emissions free by 2020, but then the business doubled from 200 to 400 trucks,” he said. He delivers 45 million cases of beer a year covering almost all adult beverages except those from Anheuser-Busch. 

The roof of Manhattan’s headquarters has a 191,000-square-foot solar array that provides 1 megawatt of electricity annually that Bergson sells to Consolidated Edison.

“It was just the right thing to do.”

Simon Bergson, founder and CEO, Manhattan Beer Distributors

Bergson’s efforts started with retrofitting 15 diesel trucks to run on compressed natural gas trucks back in 2001. Today, half of Bergson’s fleet runs on CNG. The plan is to swap 35 trucks a year for the next four years for CNG or electric trucks to eliminate diesel from his fleet except for some vans and small trucks. 

“We’ve been dealing with Volvo for compressed natural gas vehicles for about 10 years now,” Bergson told FreightWaves. “They were looking into electric in California, and we said ‘Fine, let’s look at it for New York also.’”

CNG trucks comprise half of Bergson’s fleet, replacing 1.35 million gallons of diesel consumption with 1 million gallons of CNG a year.

Though some drivers complain CNG trucks are less powerful than diesel, they have 40% fewer parts, contributing to lower maintenance costs. Electric trucks have even fewer parts to wear out or fail.

Six years of maintenance

Volvo is providing six years of full maintenance on the VNR Electrics.through Milea Truck Sales and LeasingTruck Sales and Leasing, another family-owned business in the Bronx. Milea is the first Volvo EV Certified Dealer on the East Coast following the selection of TEC Equipment in Fontana, California. 

The order of the five trucks was announced by Volvo in June. The first truck goes into service — covering stops along a seven-mile route into Manhattan — on Friday. The other four trucks will be delivered from Volvo’s plant in Dublin, Virginia, by the end of the year.

“This is a huge step, a huge event,” Volvo Trucks North America President Peter Voorhoeve told reporters in a media roundtable.

The VNR’s electric driving range of up to 150 miles is enough to handle Manhattan’s longest route for two days without recharging. The electric changing comes through two 75 kilowatt Tritium chargers that can fill a VNR Electric to 80% charge in two hours, according to Allen Goetz, market development manager Fleet e-Mobility for Gilbarco Veeder-Root.

The Volvo VNR Electric gets a charge before going into service delivering beer from Manhattan Beer Distributors headquarters in the Bronx. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Volvo’s goal is for 35% of the trucks it makes to be electric by 2030. Voorhoeve won’t discuss the order bank, however.

“Trucks on the road contribute to clear air,” he said. “Trucks in the order book will impact it in the future.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

One Comment

  1. Wild Warrior Nutrition

    80% charge in 2 hours? Apply that to the entire fleet and you now have hundreds of hours of inactivity. Most days, especially in winter, the trucks will not get even close to the 150 mile range.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.