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Frito-Lay Electric Trucks Quieter Than a Doritos Crunch

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Frito-Lay's electric truck (Photograph courtesy of EarthTechling)

Frito Lay has been steadily making inroads on sustainability throughout their operations. Beginning in late 2010, they launched an innovative electric fleet of delivery vehicles around the U.S., and have steadily been building out the fleet in key markets since then.

EarthTechling recently sat down with Frito Lay’s National Fleet Sustainability Manager, Steve Hanson, and his regional Pacific Northwest counterpart, Rich Wilson, to talk about everything from how these vehicles have boosted internal morale to whether you might buy an extra bag of Doritos once you get a look at one of them.

EarthTechling (ET): Start at the beginning and tell us how this program got off the ground. Why big electric vehicles?

Frito Lay (FL): Part of our objective at Frito Lay/PepsiCo has been broad corporate sustainability, a program going back really to the late 90s that’s primarily centered in manufacturing. On the fleet side, when fuel hit three and four bucks-a-gallon people started getting really serious about fleet sustainability. So we set some internal targets and now we’ve got public targets surrounded around turning down our on-road fuel usage by 50% by 2020.

ET: How many trucks are you guys rolling out across the country?

FL: Last year we ended up with 176 on the road in the U.S. and Canada, and then we’ve placed our next order for 15 and those should hit the road in the first quarter.

ET: Have you guys done calculations on your end about when it becomes cost effective? Or is it more for you guys a strategic environmental target that you’re trying to hit?

FL: Certainly one of the points of emphasis in all our sustainability activities is we are a publicly traded company. We do have to answer to shareholders at the end of the day so we’ve never tried to be green for the sake of being green. Certainly along with that comes the whole green-washing piece and the token purchase and press release. That’s really not the emphasis of what we’re trying to do.

We definitely need to see an economic return on the purchase. It’s a capital intensive project. The particulars we wont go into, but its a fairly manageable number that’s well within the capability of the vehicles, of the battery pack, the size of the purchase – if we’re hitting a number between 35 and 42 miles per day then that puts us where we need to be to hit our cost goals.

ET: With almost every publicly traded company that we talk to, the goal has to be somewhat economic and it looks like you guys obviously did the math about the hybrids vs. the electrics.

FL: Yeah, we did some testing back probably seven years ago with the state of Texas on some hybrid delivery vehicles, which is a smaller class of truck. We got, quite honestly, decent fuel performance but we could go spend $20,000 less on the cleaner new diesel technology and get better MPG so it didn’t make sense to pay for all that extra complexity.

The beauty and the sweet spot to be in when it comes to fleet is that you save money and reduce emissions and do the right things by the environment- it’s all the same thing. It’s not this balancing, complex equation. It’s less fuel, it’s less emissions, it;s less money, it’s fairly simple.

And when you’re trading to 10 cents per kWhour for electricity from three or four dollars per gallon of fuel, the math isn’t rocket science.

ET: Do you feel like it is generating consumer goodwill as well? That people see the trucks and feel positively about them?

FL: We’re probably never going to do big marketing campaigns around this – we’re a consumer product brand, we’re not a transportation company or whatever. But, you know, you like to see it and you start to hear lots of stories about people who start to notice these things, and we don’t take it for granted that we need to win over our consumers everyday and earn their trust and respect as a company.

ET: Where are the trucks being deployed now? They are here in Portland, and you said you have 176 trucks around the country.

FL: Yep, we’ve got a sizable number in the Bay Area as well as Southern California, a couple markets in Texas, Atlanta, Orlando, the D.C. Metro area, New York City, Boston and Columbus, Ohio. And then we’ve got a couple trucks in Toronto and Montreal.

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ET: Do local government programs influence at all where you guys decide to put the trucks?

FL: It certainly helps. At this point in time it’s no shock to anybody that it’s an expensive proposition. It’s very early on and government incentives definitely help to make the economics more feasible and make it successful in our program. So we absolutely take that into the factors that we look at.

ET: What do the drivers really love about the trucks?

FL: It’s new. It’s brand new, so I mean, everyone likes a brand new rig. It’s quiet and doesn’t have a diesel making a lot of noise. They can talk to somebody out the window of the rig at the store or whatever. It is also just the pride of, “I’m drivin’ something that’s cutting edge stuff.”

ET: Where can people expect to see the trucks next?

FL: I would say you can expect to see a bunch more in the Pacific Northwest as well as California. New York is certainly being aggressive about trying to induce folks into coming and putting more trucks in their state, so we’ll do our best to accommodate them as well.

Patricia Marchetti

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.