Terminal tractors provide a good starting point for fleet electrification

As truck fleets begin to contemplate what a zero-emissions transport future looks like, an increasing number are eyeing terminal tractors as an ideal application to familiarize themselves with electrification.

And why not? Terminal tractors are an excellent application to electrify. Concerns about range anxiety are non-existent. The units are always on-site for charging at the operator’s convenience. Drivers prefer their quiet operation, and lack of vibration and smell. And in the summer, they don’t have a hot-burning diesel engine sitting under them.

They’re even simpler to maintain and can be more reliable than diesel units, many of which now come encumbered with the diesel emissions aftertreatment technologies required on other on-highway trucks.

But there are also considerations including the charging infrastructure requirements and the time it will take to recover the higher up-front cost of an electric unit.

Gardewine electric truck announecment
Gardewine recently celebrated deployment of a LoneStar SV electric terminal truck, funded in part by the Manitoba government. (Photo: Gardewine)

Gardewine’s grant

On the cost front, Winnipeg-based Gardewine recently got some help in the form of a $150,000 grant from the provincial government to deploy an electric shunt truck. The funding, announced in October, was part of a $1-million grant program offered from the province’s Conservation and Climate Fund.

The company took delivery of a LoneStar SV tractor, which is charged using a Terra 94/124/884 CC dual outlet CCS charger with cable management system. The unit is expected to run up to 20 hours a day, five days a week and will be “opportunity charged” when the driver takes breaks.

The charger was installed outdoors, but Gardewine president and chief operating officer Darin Downey told Today’s Trucking he’s not concerned about the extreme cold weather Winnipeg experiences much of the year.

“It’s not the charger that needs to be inside,” Downey said, noting it’s the truck-mounted batteries that are sensitive to the cold. “We will run this 20 hours a day so it won’t be parked for long periods of time.”

Downey said the truck’s arrival created a lot of excitement at the company.

“Everyone is keen to get into this thing,” added Dan LaCasse, Gardewine’s director of maintenance.

The deployment of the electric shunt truck comes on the heels of additional investments by Gardewine in electric forklifts, and battery-powered parcel delivery trucks are to arrive next year.  

Roadies Group is demonstrating an electric BYD terminal tractor in the Ontario market. (Photo: Roadies Group)

Roadies show

Roadies Shunting is a growing Mississauga, Ont.-based shunt service provider. It provides not just yard tractors, but also the drivers who operate that equipment. Executive vice-president of business development Vik Gupta said the company is demonstrating the BYD electric shunt truck to customers, and will soon incorporate them into its own fleet.

While it offers demonstrations for BYD, it won’t be acting as a distributor for the China-based manufacturer, which sells direct. Roadies is also not limiting itself to the single brand.

“We have formed a strategic understanding with BYD and will be offering demonstrations of the electric vehicle (EV) shunt truck to our customers and eventually deploying them once we gauge customers’ interest,” Gupta told Today’s Trucking. “We are one of the first in the country to provide these services to the industry. We will have a fleet of EV shunt trucks and substitute them as rental trucks once there are enough EVs working in the marketplace.”

Gupta said the company will be announcing deals with early adopter fleets within the next few months. He said the cost savings are significant, with electricity rates in Ontario averaging 7-15 cents per kWh. That means at the high end of the spectrum it would cost an operator $32.55 per charge for a 217 kW battery, with that energy getting consumed at a rate of about 2.5-3.8% per hour depending on payload and application.

“There will be substantial cost savings,” Gupta said of the electric BYD shunt trucks, adding the operators also love running the electric truck. “One of our shunters was giving a demo and the first time in the truck was kind of surprised, and not sure if the truck would do the job. After four days of driving it, it was hard for us to get him out of the truck.”

T-series terminal tractor
(Photo: Orange EV)

Orange EV expanding in Canada

Another manufacturer with sights on growing its Canadian presence is Orange EV, which was ahead of the game when it launched as a pure play electric shunt truck maker in 2012. The Kansas City-based truck maker now has accrued 4 million miles and more than 1 million machine hours on its units, which have been deployed in other Canada-type climates in Chicago, Ill., and Otsego, Minn. The manufacturer says it has had a Canadian presence since 2020, which it plans to expand.

Ruan, which has 10,000 trailers in its fleet, entered its Orange EV shunt truck into the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s (NACFE) Run on Less – Electric demonstration this fall. In fact, three of 13 electric vehicles that participated in the demonstration were shunt trucks, highlighting the appropriateness of the application.

“I was very apprehensive that the battery would work well within the winter environments of the Upper Midwest, where temperatures can read ambient 20-30 F below zero,” Burt Fosse, Ruan’s operations leader said in a video shot by NACFE. “The batteries held up very well. I don’t remember any time there was under a 70% charge.”

The fleet is also looking to extend lifecycles, from five to seven years on a diesel unit to 10 on the Orange EV. Wayne Mathisen, CEO and co-founder of Orange EV told Today’s Trucking a 10-year life expectancy is normal for its electric yard trucks, and that a payback can be achieved in as little as three to four years in heavy use applications when converting from diesel (even without government incentives).

 “What you start with is a simpler system. We have a lifetime guarantee on the transmission, because there is no transmission,” he joked. “There are fewer moving parts, no coolant – everything is air-cooled. For fluids, we have axle fluid and hydraulic fluid and that’s really it. Simpler systems will break less.”

Chart showing Orange EV usage
Ruan’s Orange EV maintained a charge above 75% most of the time during Run on Less – Electric. (Graph: NACFE)

Orange EV claims uptime of 98-99%. Mathisen said Orange EV considers its Minnesota and Chicago-based units as a good test case for the Canadian market, and it plans to deliver additional trucks here to an unnamed customer in early 2022.

Orange EV also retrofits diesel units to electric, including Kalmar Ottawa vehicles.

“It’s a complete overhaul,” he explained. “We strip the entire vehicle down, take out the engine and transmission and replace the rear axle. There are very few reused parts other than the cab, the frame, the front axle and the boom. Sometimes the fifth wheel. We sandblast it and bring it back to brand new condition with a new paint job.”

That process can cost as much as US$200,000, but Mathisen said a $45,000 discount is provided for qualifying donor trucks, as Orange EV can sometimes sell the diesel-related components. Mathisen said there’ll be more news coming about the company’s expansion into the Canadian market in the year ahead.

“We fully expect to have multiple deployments in Canada in 2022,” he said. “We’ve done our homework and are confident in the performance of the truck. We feel very good about the truck. We feel Minnesota is a good proxy for what we’re going to be up against in Canada.”

The biggest challenge, he noted, is the additional energy that will be required due to cold weather.

“If you account for it beforehand, when it happens you have enough battery to do the job,” he said. “That accounting for the weather is important, and we’ve done that.”

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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