UPS executive challenges fleets to ‘define excellence’

Avatar photo
Carlton Rose of UPS addresses a crowd of fleet managers and executives during the annual meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council.

ATLANTA, Ga. — Carlton Rose, president, global fleet maintenance and engineering at UPS, is challenging the trucking industry to define the excellence needed to realize cleaner cities, safer vehicles, and underlying technical knowledge.

“If you’re the one who defines excellence, then you’re the one who shapes expertise to achieve it,” Rose said during a keynote presentation at the Technology and Maintenance Council’s (TMC) annual meeting.

A journey like that begins with understanding “mediocrity”, he stressed. And when it comes to trucking, that involves challenges such as air pollution, 97,000 annual crashes, or standing still as technology evolves.

“We can have a chance to define excellence and help to determine what’s needed to get there,” he said, referring to the role trucking can play in the call for cleaner cities. About 23% of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to medium- and heavy-duty trucks. “Carbon is where we can get it right or wrong.”

And that means exploring options in alternative fuels.

With 330,000 pieces of equipment and 116,000 powered vehicles, UPS certainly has the opportunity to explore emerging technologies. “It helps us quickly deploy viable options at scale,” Rose said.

Those options have included two decades of investments in natural gas, leading to a fleet that now powers vehicles with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), propane, and ethanol. Last year alone it announced plans to add six new CNG fueling centers, 390 CNG tractors, and 50 LNG vehicles.

“We’re especially excited about renewable natural gas,” he said, noting how it can be transformed into CNG or LNG. The methane itself can come from everything from decaying landfills to farms, and has 25% more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

“We have to capture the methane before it escapes,” he said. “The idea is simple, but the logistics are challenging.”

The company also sees an increasing role for electrification, even though such trucks represent a fraction of today’s vehicles. UPS itself had battery-powered vehicles running in New York City from the 1930s to the ‘60s, traveling about 20 miles per hour. Then they faded away.

“Decades of cheap oil got in our way,” Rose said. But electrification is coming back. In the past decade the global carrier has introduced 122 electric package cars in the U.S., and 172 of them in other parts of the world, mainly in Europe. Two years ago it invested in 125 electric hybrids from Workhorse, and more than doubled down last year with an order for 200 more. It has also ordered 125 Tesla semis, representing Tesla’s biggest single order.

“We fully expect a lower total cost of ownership. Electric vehicles should be cheaper to maintain,” he said.

But the cost of infrastructure is expected to be higher. In ideal conditions, a Class 8 electric semi might travel 800 km on a single charge, and that will still vary depending on factors such as weather, traffic conditions, and loads. Re-charging in half an hour will also require huge amounts of power, requiring substations to be upgraded with new transformers, investments in transmission lines, and new natural-gas-powered generating stations.

Range anxiety is one thing to consider. “Infrastructure anxiety is real, too,” he said.

The fleet’s structure helps to offset such challenges. “Our hub system makes alternative vehicles possible. It’s essentially self-contained infrastructure,” Rose explained.

Shifting from electric to electronics, he stressed that autonomous vehicles are coming. “The real question,” he added, “is when.”

Interim technologies in the form of Automated Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) could prevent 630,000 truck-related crashes per year, leveraging systems like lane departure warnings and automatic braking, Rose said.

“We all know about the fuel savings platooning could deliver,” he added, referring to 5% efficiencies for lead vehicles and 10% for those in the back. “ADAS is the key to unlocking that value.”

All of the changes emphasize the need to expand technical knowledge.

Not every technology will be right for all companies at all times, Rose said. But he still encouraged the crowd of maintenance executives to embrace change, and not sacrifice the good while waiting for something to be perfect.

“We must be willing to change as technology changes,” he said.

“Far too often we’re mentally enslaved to the familiar.”

Avatar photo

John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.