TEAM Global Express (formerly Toll Global Express) has provided an update on its industry-leading electrification journey, dubbed Project Cobra, at this year’s Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) Australasian Fleet Conference in Brisbane.

Speaking to the audience of fleet managers, legislators and manufacturers, Team Global Express director of ESG, Heather Bone, provided an update that didn’t shy away from the electrification challenges the company has faced along the way.

Ms Bone joked: “This is the stupidest idea I have had in a long time.”

“I went to our CEO and said, ‘how do you feel about going for some grant funding and will you let me buy 60 electric trucks’ and we now have the most amazing project!”

Team Global Express partnered with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) back in 2022, with a plan to replace a third of the trucks at its Western Sydney depot with electric models.

The $44.3 million investment, partly financed by ARENA with $20.1 million allocated from its Driving the Nation fund, will see 36 Volvo FL Electric and 24 Fuso eCanter trucks operating out of the Bungarribee depot in Western Sydney.

Team Global Express now has 49 of the total 60 planned trucks on the road, making emission-free deliveries around Sydney on a back-to-base model.

On top of the investment in electric trucks, Team Global Express installed 63 chargers, consisting of 47 slow chargers and 16 fast chargers, strategically placed along the depot’s 3.5km conveyor system.

“We had to have three weeks of cable pull through in order to get the power from or the energy from the main switchboard up front, all the way through to the back,” Ms Bone said.

Team Global Express also installed a 1MW battery energy storage system (BESS), colloquially known around the depot as ‘Bessy’, powered by a 400kW solar setup.

“She (Bessy) is doing exactly what we want her to do,” Ms Bone said.

“We turned the battery on a couple of weeks ago when the peak load at the site started to skyrocket and we saved over $13,000 in one hour!”

The key to Bessy’s savings lies in Ms Bone’s strategic management of charging windows, opting to recharge the trucks during off-peak times.

“What happens is the trucks pull in and they plug in, but we don’t turn on the power until about nine-o-clock at night,” she said.

“If you don’t manage your load, you’re going to make a mess of your EVs.”

Real-world running

Team Global Express has been using the new trucks around Sydney after putting drivers through a change management program to shift both attitudes and operating behaviours.

“The drivers love them and I can’t emphasise enough the changes our drivers went through as part of a change management program to do this,” Ms Bone said.

“The Fusos are now very comfortably doing about 100 to 150 kilometres a day, and the Volvos are very happily doing about 250 to 350 kilometres a day.”

Despite being reliable so far, Ms Bone said that one truck did experience a solenoid failure, within the battery, which required repair.

“They are, so far, incredibly reliable and the maintenance is low, but if something does go wrong it’s very challenging to fix,” she said.

“We’ve had two trucks we had to tow back, but we knew it was going to happen and that’s why we are doing a trial.”

The trucks have been put to work within a 30 kilometre radius of the Bungarribee depot, but  one trial run further afield left a driver stranded and in need of a tow.

“For whatever reason, the scheduler decided to send the Fuso over the Blue Mountains, up through the ranges, on a 45-degree day,” Ms Bone said.

“He made it back to within two kilometres of the depot – two kilometres!

“We learnt a lesson: don’t send them out on a 45-degree day if you’re going a little bit too far.”

The learnings have led to the adoption of advanced telematics solutions that not only monitor range remotely but also allow schedulers to determine whether a truck will make it back to base.

“We now have Geotab in our Fusos, we have Teletrac Navman in some of the others and we have Volvo’s onboard telematics too,” Ms Bone said.“I have dashboards that can look at these and tell me where the truck is, how much charge it’s got…we’ve completely changed our scheduling.

“It means that we know exactly where we can send these trucks, the route they’re going to take, the hills they’re going to take, we just plug in the temperature and we know it’s going to come back with x-amount of energy left in the tank.”

Ms Bone’s advice to fleet managers at the event was to consider electric vehicles to be part of a larger ecosystem rather than a simple fleet addition.

“Whether it’s a car, truck, or light rigid, this is a huge learning experience and is the biggest change since the diesel engine was invented,” she said.

“But don’t think about it as a fleet, think about a total management system and know that things are going to go wrong.”

Future focus

Despite investing heavily in electrifying a third of its Western Sydney fleet, Team Global Express won’t be parting with diesel entirely for its biggest, heaviest trucks – at least not for the foreseeable future.

“We’re going to be highly reliant on alternative fuels and we know that electric vehicles are going to play a part of what we want to achieve, but it’s not going to be the answer to all of it,” Ms Bone said.

“We know that the light- and medium-rigids, maybe even some of the heavy-rigids, because those trucks that are going shorter distances and they’re not carrying the same sort of payloads, are going to be the electric vehicles of the future for us.”

But, Ms Bone thinks heavy vehicles will benefit from alternative liquid fuels like renewable diesel or liquid hydrogen – but not gaseous hydrogen.

“We know that at some point in time yes we’ll have hydrogen, but I frankly don’t think it’s going to be this decade,” she said.

“I think it’s going to be 2030 and beyond before we really get there, and it needs to be liquid hydrogen, not gaseous hydrogen.

“We have to have renewable diesel, we have to have an alternative form of a liquid fuel.”

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