Trucking-as-a-service startup Forum Mobility has formed a $400 million joint venture with CBRE Investment Management and Homecoming Capital to create charging depots for electric drayage trucks in California.
The move aims to bring electric charging availability into better alignment with the growth in battery-powered trucks. Most early sales and leases of the zero-tailpipe-emission Class 8 models are targeted at California’s ports. Idling internal combustion engines cause significant air pollution in nearby communities.
“We saw the mandates in California on the policy side. And that’s where we got even more enthusiastic about it,” Matt LeDucq, Forum Mobility founder and CEO, told FreightWaves. “It’s noble because we want to get older and dirtier trucks out of the communities around the ports.”
Sweet spot for electrification incentives
Drayage draws equipment and infrastructure funds from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC).
For example, the $120,000 voucher for a Class 8 electric truck under the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project swells to $168,000 when the truck is used for drayage and is housed in a so-called disadvantaged community.
A CARB proposal would require all of California’s drayage fleet — approximately 30,000 trucks — to be zero-emission by 2035. Charging infrastructure is critical to that happening. The CEC estimates California needs 157,000 medium- and heavy-duty chargers — 53 a day — by 2030 to meet all proposed regulations.
10 Forum Mobility locations identified
Forum has identified 10 locations close ports in Long Beach and Oakland for depots capable of simultaneously charging multiple medium- and heavy-duty trucks. It expects to break ground on some of them this year.
“One of the cool things with CBRE is being able to partner on the real estate side,” Leducq said. “We have site control. And we’re going through the permitting and getting the power and all the things you need to do in development.”
CBRE is a force multiplier in acquiring property for additional sites.
“This marks our third investment in sustainable transportation since 2019 as we continue to execute on our strategy of investing in infrastructure assets that we believe will thrive in the new electric and digital economies,” Robert Shaw, CBRE managing director, private infrastructure, said in a news release.
“The transportation sector is the largest contributor to GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and heavy-duty transportation in particular has long been considered one of the hardest to decarbonize,” Shaw said.
Forum Mobility $15 million Series A round allows staffing for scaling
In addition to the $300 million from CBRE and $100 million pledged by Homecoming Capital to the joint venture, Forum closed a $15 million Series A funding round. New participants were CBRE Investment Management, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund and Elemental Excelerator. Seed-round investors Obvious Ventures, Edison International, Overture, and Homecoming Capital also participated.
The money will help Forum grow to about 20 people by the end of the year. The joint venture also will provide manpower.
Forum exited stealth mode in December 2021 with a $7.5 million seed funding round. It was co-led by Obvious Ventures and Homecoming Capital. On Dec. 7, Forum provided four trucks to drayage company Hight Logistics in Long Beach along with fast-charging systems and the electricity to operate. A fifth truck is due in a few months, LeDucq said.
Forum’s target customer is the owner-operators and small fleets that make up 80% of trucking operations in California. Those using trucks with an internal combustion engine from model years 2007 to 2009 were banned from the state’s ports and railyards as of Jan. 1.
Now, because of the state law that restricts businesses like trucking from classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees, truckers are signing on to drive for larger companies.
‘A place to charge every night’
“Working through the OEMs and the dealerships is a wonderful way to reach those folks,” Leducq said. “As dealerships are moving electric trucks, it’s going to be increasingly important for them to deliver a truck that has a place to charge every night.”
Drivers also could opt to participate in Forum’s TaaS operations, which consists of a fully charged truck in a secure lot with a maintenance package for a monthly fee that includes electricity. Or Forum will monetize low carbon fuel standard and other credits to bring down the monthly cost.
A potential revenue source from TaaS drivers is beneficial cargo owners looking to reduce Scope 3 emissions as part of meeting customer demands for sustainable freight.
“Those are independent operators coming in house, which is probably something we’re going to see a lot more of as a result of AB5 in California,” Leducq said. “I hope we can do a good job of bringing them a lot of business, too.”