Sponsored Content

“Electric Generation” Episode Four: A New Frontier for American Business

Listen to more episodes from “Electric Generation”

Episode Transcript:


Chuck Nice VO:

I want you to think of a noisy highway. What’s making all that racket? Well, some of it is passenger cars, sure. People are going off to the roller rink, or wherever. But what’s the really loud stuff? Oh, there’s a delivery truck. Ah, that’s an 18-wheeler hauling some heavy cargo. Hey, look at that. It’s a fleet of ice cream trucks! Today, we’re talking about them. No, not ice cream trucks, although I do want some ice cream right now. We’re talking about those big diesel-powered fleets of work vehicles. Because, you see, one of the biggest opportunities for electric vehicles isn’t what’s in your garage, it’s what’s in your job’s garage.

Chuck Nice VO:
Hey, I’m Chuck Nice, and this is “Electric Generation,” presented by Ford, the podcast where we explore how electrification is changing this country. Today, we’re going to stop talking about ourselves for once. The topic: how businesses are converting their fleets to electric, and why that’s easier said than done. During the technology event TechCrunch Disrupt, I was able to  speak with Ted Cannis, CEO of Ford Pro, the motor company’s business-focused arm, and Sam Abuelsamid, an automotive journalist and co-host of the “Wheel Bearings” podcast. But first, I want to talk about companies that are really excited about electrification: power companies. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company in California is doing everything they can to help businesses convert their fleets to electric. And much of that falls to this one guy in San Francisco. 

Suncheth Bhat:
So, my family is, you know, sort of the classic immigrant story of having come to the U.S. to have a better life.

Chuck Nice VO:
This is Suncheth Bhat.

Suncheth Bhat:
My family’s originally from India, and so, as a kid, we would go to India quite a bit to visit family and stay connected. And I just remember some of those trips going there and seeing poverty, pollution, and I even remember taking showers, and there’s sort of a black soot that would come off when you’d shower. And then that just got me thinking about what I would want to be doing in my life and trying to have a role of being a steward of our environment. 

Chuck Nice VO:
Suncheth became director of the clean energy transportation group at PG&E, where he goes to businesses with fleets of gas-powered vehicles to hold their hand and say, “Hey, it’s going to be OK. We can do this together.” 

Suncheth Bhat:
The primary goal is to get as many EVs adopted as possible. We’re helping about 80 customers electrify over 1,300 medium- and heavy-duty EVs. And so, these range from delivery vans, light-duty trucks, the F-150 Lightning, all the way up to big rigs and transit buses, school buses. 

Chuck Nice VO:
Suncheth is helping businesses convert one at a time, building out the infrastructure to enable more and more companies to make the switch to EVs. But something like this takes time. It’s not like flipping a light switch.

Suncheth Bhat:
Given the technology is new, there’s a bit of a hesitance to go all-in all at once. There’s actually a little bit of, like, an initial I wouldn’t say shock, but a bit of a learning curve of trying to understand how an EV works. Actually, a couple of weeks ago, I was at a location where we had built out some charging infrastructure for school buses at the bus yard, and talking to the customers, it was actually quite a pleasant surprise to see their own evolution in acceptance of the school buses, from the bus driver who actually goes out there, connects the bus to the charger, hearing from her how much she enjoys driving the vehicle, to the maintenance people who are telling me how there’s significantly less work that’s needed on these buses, to the director of the program who’s looking at new ways to add more school buses to their fleet. So, I think the overall experience has been incredibly positive. These are buses that have zero tailpipe emissions, and that’s incredibly important when your purpose as a vehicle is to transport kids from one place to another.

Chuck Nice VO:
What these kids are experiencing is just the beginning. As we see more fleets going electric, you know Sucheth and the power company will be right there to make it happen.

Suncheth Bhat:
A lot of people, for a long time, have been talking about EVs and that they’re coming and that infrastructure is going to come. Well, we are building it. We are making that future happen right now. 

Chuck Nice VO:
That’s exactly right. We are in the electric future right now. Now, you may think the right time for every delivery truck in our neighborhoods to go electric was yesterday. Hey, they’re getting there. It’s just that a company thinks about their vehicles differently than people think about their cars. So, I’m about to speak to Ted Cannis, who leads Ford Pro. This is the part of Ford that sells fleet vehicles and services to commercial and government customers and often helps them transition these fleets to electric. Also, we’ll have Sam Abuelsamid, who spent two decades as an automotive engineer before trading in his wrench for a pen to become a journalist.

Chuck Nice:
Ted. How are you?

Ted Cannis:
I’m awesome, Chuck. How ya doing?

Chuck Nice:
You are awesome, sir. I like that kind of confidence. Hey, Sam, how are you?

Sam Abuelsamid:
I’m doing just dandy, Chuck.

Chuck Nice:
Fantastic. I am so happy that both of you have joined me. We got some exciting stuff to talk about. I want to turn our attention to business fleets, instead of personal cars and personal use, because businesses use a lot of vehicles. You’re talking about cab companies. You’re talking about delivery businesses. I think of the bakery down the street from where I live and the guy has six trucks sitting outside of his bakery. And so, that brings me to my first question for both of you. In your opinion, which kinds of businesses are most ripe for electrification?

Sam Abuelsamid:
Yeah, I would say almost any business, but especially businesses that operate in a local area, delivery companies, caterers, any kind of service people, contractors, electricians, plumbers, because they’re generally not taking long road trips. They’re operating within a geographic area, usually returning to the same location every day. So, electric vehicles make perfect sense for that kind of use case.

Chuck Nice:
Awesome. How are the needs of retail EV customers and business EV customers different?

Ted Cannis:
It’s totally different, and you really see it in this space. A retail customer, you and me, our household that we buy on a “might.” Ah, we bought a seven-seater ’cause we might have grandpa come in in the third row. How many times have you done that? Three times. But a commercial customer, it’s a business. They’re running math, they’ve got cost of ownerships. 

Chuck Nice:
Oh, interesting. You talked about grandpop in the third row. Alright. So, that is a kind of anticipated use. And then you talk about business owners. They know what they’re doing every single day. Is there a customization in EV commercial utility vehicles that allows them to anticipate what they need, and then you meet that need for them?

Ted Cannis:
Absolutely. We are deep in conversations as we get ready to launch these vehicles. And it’s not just a range thing. The EVs that we build have new capabilities that we’ve never had before. I can power up a job site or use my truck as an office because I got all this power there to do productivity improvements. I can do backup generation for my home with the new F-150 or make a generator for my site that I never had. I have new spaces like the mega-front, lockable storage on a pickup truck. So it’s really opening up new capabilities.

Chuck Nice:
Wow. Like, uh, where the engine would have been is now cargo space.

Sam Abuelsamid:
And, it’s a really large cargo space, but to follow up on what Ted was saying, commercial customers, even now, before they go electric, they’re customizing those vehicles, you know, they’re putting tool racks or equipment racks or storage racks in the back of their trucks or their vans. And, more often than not, when they replace their vehicles every few years, they tend to stick with the same one. And they take all of that equipment out from out of one and put it into the next one and so, you know, having something that has compatibility across your fleet is really important to make that use case, you know, because that’s another thing that you don’t have to spend extra money on if you don’t have to. And that’s all part of that total cost of ownership equation that Ted’s talking about.

Chuck Nice:
So, Sam, what can we expect from this current generation of electric vehicles in terms of push and pull? 

Sam Abuelsamid:
I got a ride in the F-150 last spring before they first showed it off, uh, out at the Ford Proving Grounds. And, over the last decade, I’ve driven a lot of different EVs. And one thing about modern EVs is these are not glorified golf carts. These things can go, and they’ve got more than enough torque to do the kinds of jobs that are expected of these vehicles. You know, it’s not going to have the rumbling sound of a V8. But it’s got more than enough performance to tow 10,000 pounds. 

Chuck Nice:
Ted, anything to that?

Ted Cannis:
I would say there’s a lot of myths in this space in general. And people are kind of nervous. So, they got that around the decision. Fleet managers, their employees. Should I use it? Should I plug it in? I don’t know. Can I do it in the rain? There’s the batteries, we’ve all had batteries. We have cell phones. People have a lot of history with batteries, and they don’t know how to judge. How do I know, is the chemistry the same? Is the construction different? I don’t know. The same thing in how they fuel. Today, you go out to fuel. We have, and I saw it when we launched Mustang Mach-E, people think you can’t power in your house. You have to go to some public charger like you go to a gas station. They can’t imagine that you could power this up every night, saving even more productive overtime for employees. And, to Sam’s point, they have this myth about the capabilities. Because of early days of hybrids, they were small, little econo cars, or the first EVs were little, small cars. So, therefore, all electrics are not capable. We have made unbelievably built Ford-tough capable vehicles that can do amazing things.

Chuck Nice:
That is awesome. By the way, to your point, Sam, that  you know, you’re used to the rumble. I, I kinda liked the idea of just sitting in my electric truck, going [makes car noises] making it myself. 

Ted Cannis:
But I tell you, we did a little research, I will tell you, and we put as truck owners in electric vehicles. I won’t say how or who. And we said, well, don’t you wanna hear the sound? They’re like, yeah, not really. I, you know, I come into the neighborhood at night, the neighbors complain, I got to get work done.vI go to the site. No, not, not really.

Chuck Nice:
OK, give me one thing, each, why this future tech that’s happening now should happen.

Sam Abuelsamid:
Got to save the planet.

Chuck Nice:
That’s a damn good one. Oops, sorry. [Laughs] Ted?

Ted Cannis:
That was going to be my answer, but we’re also going to allow people to work better than they ever did before. We’re giving them new solutions onsite as an office on wheels. Awesome new way to run the business.

Chuck Nice:
Fantastic. Thank you guys for being, like, interesting, just let me say that. And, it’s such a pleasure to have you both. Thanks, guys.

Sam Abuelsamid:
Thank you.

Ted Cannis:
Thanks.

Chuck Nice VO:
Thanks again to Suncheth, Ted and Sam for sharing their bright views of a less smoggy future. As we see more and more electric vehicles on the road, I think we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier. Did you see what I did there?

“Electric Generation” is presented by Ford and produced by Yahoo Creative Studios, At Will Media and me, Chuck Nice. The At Will Media producers are Mitch Bluestein, Josh Farnham, Drew Beebe and Tina Turner. Editing and sound design by Andrew Holzberger. Check out more “Electric Generation” on TechCrunch, where you can find bonus material for this episode and the video of my TechCrunch Disrupt panel with Ted and Sam. And thanks to you, in advance, for giving us a great rating and subscribing to our podcast. The opinions given on this podcast are personal and do not represent those of the Ford Motor Company, or anybody else with an ounce of sense, for that matter. I’m Chuck Nice and make sure you plug in next time to “Electric Generation.” Thanks for listening.

 

From Ford:

To find out more about how Ford is leading the way toward a more sustainable, electric future, visit ford.com/built-for-america.