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Electrification, autonomous startups happy for help

Farming out the unfamiliar a common tactic to keep mission focus

A theme emerges as you look around the electrification and autonomous trucking space. Practically no one does it alone.

Don’t go it alone

“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends.” — The Beatles

No man is an island. Neither is a startup pursuing electrification or autonomy. Sometimes it’s a partnership. Sometimes it is licensing or reselling someone else’s enabling product. Just about everybody is doing it.

A recent example comes from Nikola. After lamenting on its third-quarter earnings call an inability to provide the charging infrastructure to go with its nascent battery-electric truck sales, the startup signed with ChargePoint to resell its services to customers.

“This partnership enhances our ability to provide a customer-focused charging solution at the right time, at the right place and for the right price,” Pablo Koziner, Nikola president of Commercial, said in a Nov. 8 news release.

Nikola needed help with infrastructure for its battery-electric trucks and turned to established provider ChargePoint. (Photo: Nikola)

Nikola customers get access to the full suite of ChargePoint advanced software, including charge management, range forecasting and streamlined delivery route and schedule planning. Nikola focuses on building trucks.


It still leases and sells mobile chargers from Tritium for those who want them. But tying into an existing network is a better long-term solution and saves Nikola from investing its shrinking and precious funds that it needs to get its fuel cell trucks ready for sale in late 2023.

Something borrowed

Workhorse Group found itself in an untenable position as a manufacturer of electric delivery vans. It didn’t have anything to produce. Its C-Series vans had design laws that forced a recall for structural changes. Those fixes surfaced more concerns. The few C-Series vans that exist may never be sold.

The company reached out to Canada’s GreenPower Motor Co. to finish and sell a version of its medium-duty Class 4 vehicle.

Workhorse is ramping up production and delivery of W4 custom chassis through the rest of the year. It built and sold 10 of the vehicles during the third quarter and 13 more so far this quarter and is on track for pilot production of its W750 step van before the end of the year.

The first of the W750s will join a FedEx Ground delivery route Workhorse purchased in the Greater Cincinnati area. The entire 10-truck fleet will go electric by the end of Q2 2023.

The GreenPower Motors van that Workhorse Group is finishing to sell as its own Class 4 entry. (Photo: GreenPower Motors)

We’ll build it for ya

Lordstown Motors, rapidly being absorbed by Taiwan’s Foxconn, is seeking help in a different way. In addition to selling as much as 18.3% of its common stock to Foxconn — if the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. approves — the company is offering its almost-ready Endurance electric pickup to “one or two” other truck makers. 

Not established players like Ford, the Ram division of Sellantis or General Motors — which disposed of its early stake in Lordstown Motors last year. Some of the smaller companies lacking the ability to develop their own models are Lordstown’s apparent targets.

“As one of the very few full-size all-electric pickup trucks in the market, the Endurance offers other OEMs the opportunity to enter the market quickly and at a relatively low cost,” Lordstown President and CEO Edward Hightowner said on the company’s Q3 earnings call Nov. 8.

The outreach is consistent with Foxconn’s desire to contract manufacture electric vehicles for other companies. As part of a $230 million purchase of the 6.2 million-square-foot former GM plant from Lordstown, it secured the contract manufacturing of the Endurance. The plant is now named Foxconn EV Technology.

More than tire changes

Autonomous vehicle developer Aurora Innovation talks straight about handing off maintenance of its high-tech trucks to Ryder System.

“I know we’ve said this before, but we want to focus on what we’re good at and let others do what they’re great at,” an Aurora spokeswoman told me in an email pitching the offloading of maintenance to Ryder. “Paccar and Volvo make the trucks — FedEx, Werner and Schneider book the autonomous hauls to serve their customers — Ryder provides the maintenance.”

Ryder technicians are embedded at Aurora’s Palmer, Texas, terminal to support pilot operations and prepare for commercial operation at scale. That’s when higher utilization kicks in, meaning  more frequent preventative maintenance and immediate access to repairs for autonomous trucks.

“It’s a critical next step toward our vision to build the key service elements that will support the safe deployment of autonomous trucks across the U.S.,” Karen Jones, Ryder executive vice president, chief marketing officer and head of new product development, said in a news release.

Ryder collaborates with multiple autonomous startups including TuSimple, Waymo Via, Embark Trucks and Gatik.

Ryder System has maintenance technicians embedded with Aurora Innovation at its Palmer, Texas, terminal. (Photo: Aurora Innovation).


Best of the rest …

New autonomy lead at Daimler Truck

Joanna Buttler is the new head of Daimler Truck’s Global Autonomous Technology Group. She will oversee the company’s global autonomous technology strategy, including vehicle programs, global rollout and partnerships including partnerships with Waymo and Torc Robotics, Daimler’s majority-owned independent subsidiary, 

She succeeds Peter Vaughan Schmidt, who became Torc CEO earlier this year.

Could 100 Tesla Semis be produced this year?

Tesla is looking to build 100 battery-electric Semi trucks this year, according to testimony reported by The Wall Street Journal in CEO Elon Musk’s compensation trial. Five years after revealing the Semi, the first deliveries are planned next Thursday at a Pepsico Frito-Lay facility in Modesto, California. 

First of up to 800 eCascadias delivered to Sysco

Daimler Truck North America delivered the first of the largest-known order of battery-electric Class 8 trucks — up to 800 — to Sysco in California. The rest are due by 2026. Sysco plans to add nearly 2,500 electric trucks to its U.S. fleet by 2030.

Volvo Group gets $10 million for South Bronx electrification project

Volvo Trucks North America will deploy eight Volvo VNR Electric trucks with two Bronx-based community groups as part of a $10 million award through the New York Clean Transportation Prizes program. Sibling Mack Trucks will add an LR Electric refuse hauler. Volvo Group North America won the Clean Neighborhoods prize in the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program. 

It will lead a project to bring clean commercial transportation to Hunts Point in the South Bronx, home to the nation’s largest wholesale food hub, nine waste transfer facilities, several large recycling yards and a wastewater treatment facility. The nearly 13,000 residents in Hunts Point are located in the southern tier of the nation’s poorest urban congressional district.

Kurtt replaces departing Koziner at Nikola

Pablo Koziner is leaving Nikola in December, to be replaced by Bruce Kurtt as senior vice president of sales and commercial operations. Koziner was president of commercial activities after serving as president of the energy division.

Insider Monkey reports short sellers hold nearly 31% of Nikola shares, betting they will decline further in price.

Pablo Koziner will leave Nikola in December. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech in your email on Fridays.

Happy Thanksgiving. Truck Tech will return on Dec. 2.

Alan

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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.
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