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Smoothing the Technician Transition to EVs

Once a utility opts to add electric vehicles to its fleet, the fleet manager must determine not only which vehicles are best suited to the operation, but also how best to smooth the transition in terms of shop equipment and – most importantly – EV training for technicians.

Even before EVs rolled onto the scene, techs were getting harder to find and keep. Adding EVs means installing new shop equipment and charging infrastructure as well as upgrading technicians’ expertise to service the vehicles. To keep techs on board with these changes, the fleet manager must successfully communicate why EVs are being added and how receiving related service training can only boost their careers.

So, what can fleet managers start doing now to ease the transition to new shop equipment and added tech training? Chris Hough, Penske Truck Leasing’s vice president of maintenance design and engineering, recently offered his perspective. A nationwide truck lessor, Penske (www.pensketruckleasing.com) is a recognized hands-on leader of fleet electrification in the trucking industry.

 New and Foreign
“The key to smoothing the transition of fleet and technicians into electric truck technology is training,” Hough said. “Conceptually, the chassis and application of a commercial vehicle are the same. But the energy source and powertrain technologies are completely new and foreign to a traditional technician.

“Something as simple as refueling is entirely new [to most techs] and requires a different mindset and approach,” he continued. “Delivering training and a level of understanding to technicians and vehicle operators is crucial to driving success and uptime.”

Hough pointed out that “a great advantage of EV technology is its simplicity.” He said that with an electric drive, a vehicle has significantly fewer moving parts and fewer processes occurring – such as combustion, emission and aftertreatment chemistry – as well as fewer wear-and-tear items to maintain and repair.

“Less complexity should help reduce complexity of repairs and ease the life of technicians,” Hough said. At the same time, the need for less tooling and equipment, coupled with advanced logic incorporated into EVs, “should streamline technician training and bring them to a level of proficiency in less time.”

On the other hand, Hough advised that the technology powering EVs “does require a new approach for safety and OSHA requirements in a service facility.” When it comes to integrating EVs, he said, “A fleet operator/manager should begin to consider safety requirements, tooling, PPE and training – and begin to develop plans and procedures before the technology shows up at their doorstep.”

An example of what may be involved to fully train techs to work on EVs is the comprehensive EV technician training and certification program just launched by Kenworth Truck Co. (www.kenworth.com) to prepare Kenworth dealerships to service EVs.

To attain this initial EV certification, dealer techs must successfully complete a seven-course curriculum on service systems, electrical principles, electrical systems (two courses), cab and chassis electronics, electric vehicle systems and advanced electric diagnostics, according to Jim Walenczak, Kenworth’s assistant general manager for sales and marketing. Each course runs from two to four days and consists of both classroom and virtual training.

Testing the Waters
The term “integrating” often comes up when discussing fleet adoption of EVs. That’s because it will be a long time before any private or commercial fleet operator, regardless of vehicle application, will bring EVs into service in big batches. A large part of the reason for that is because existing truck OEMs and emerging EV truck builders are slowly ramping up production. The other key reason is that substantial investments are needed to install EV charging infrastructure and certain shop equipment, and to provide for tech and driver training.

Hence, the market is in test-the-water mode. Utility fleets already bringing in EVs tend to do so in ones, twos or threes. What’s more, these purchases are typically supported by government “green” grants. In return for helping fund EV and/or charging infrastructure purchases, these programs may collect real-world operating data on the fleet’s EVs to share with other potential adopters.

Two Trucks
A perfect example of this is Green Mountain Power’s addition of two electric trucks from Montreal-based manufacturer Lion Electric Co. (https://thelionelectric.com). Colchester, Vermont-based GMP is the largest electricity distributor in Vermont, serving over 70% of the market and nearly 270,000 residential and business customers.

This year, GMP will replace two operations trucks with two of Lion’s all-electric trucks. One will be a fully outfitted bucket truck for line crews and the other a Class 6 medium-duty truck with a stake body for use by electrical maintenance field crews. The two Lions represent a major step toward the goal of electrifying GMP’s field operations fleet.

“Transportation with fossil-fueled vehicles is the top source of carbon emissions in Vermont, and we’re proud to start the process of converting our line truck fleet to clean electric trucks,” said Mari McClure, GMP president and CEO.

The utility received a roughly $915,000 grant through the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement fund managed by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Data about the trucks’ use, performance, charging and carbon reduction will be gathered to help the state learn more about the opportunities electric trucks offer in reaching clean energy goals.

Along with providing for the pair of EVs, the grant will also enable the purchase of two bi-directional fast chargers for the trucks. These provide charging convenience, according to GMP, and the chargers’ two-way energy flow means that when the trucks are plugged in and not in use, the utility can tap into the stored energy in their batteries during peak energy use times on the grid. 

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

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David Cullen

David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

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