Breakthroughs and misconceptions: 9 questions with ChargePoint’s Rich Mohr

Rich Mohr spent a quarter-century at Ryder System Inc. working to solve challenges for fleets, some of which they didn’t even know they had.

Earlier this year, Mohr took his talents from Miami to the West Coast, where he is helping newly public electric charging station manufacturer ChargePoint Holdings (NYSE: CHPT) figure out how to make fleets comfortable with moving to battery-powered trucks. For all the hype about the great electric truck migration, it’s not that easy.

At Ryder (NYSE: R), Mohr oversaw a nationwide rollout of electronic logging devices, various connected vehicle technologies and the early days of predictive maintenance. As chief technology officer, he introduced one of the nation’s first charging networks for commercial electric vehicles three years ago.

“Customers need to feel like solutions already exist in the fleet space,” Mohr told FreightWaves. “It can’t seem like something that’s completely foreign to bring in an electric vehicle. It needs to feel like you’re bringing in a regular vehicle, just with a different fuel source.”

“It can’t seem like something that’s completely foreign to bring in an electric vehicle. It needs to feel like you’re bringing in a regular vehicle, just with a different fuel source.”

Rich Mohr, Global Vice President Fleet, ChargePoint

Mohr offered his perspective on where electric fleets and infrastructure stand as a long-delayed federal infrastructure bill appeared on track to finally clear Congress. ChargePoint, meanwhile, is adding tools to help Mohr, including Wednesday’s $88 million acquisition of European fleet management company ViriCiti. 

The Q&A is edited for length and clarity.

FREIGHTWAVES: On a 1 to 10 scale, what is the fleet interest in electric vehicles?

MOHR: “On the depot side, which is return to home, last mile, final mile, you’re somewhere in that 7 to 8 [range] right now. Final-mile and last-mile providers are getting pushed from their retailers and end customers to solve their ESG [environmental, sustainability and governance] problems. They are trying to get to their goals and they’re offloading it to their carriers.

“On the over-the-road side, [adoption] is still pretty low, like a 2. It doesn’t pencil out yet with the amount of weight that you have to carry and the purchase price of the tractors.The only way you can get that OTR model to be profitable is [running] at extremely high utilizations, and you can’t do that on just battery-powered tractors.”

FREIGHTWAVES: What about the higher upfront cost of commercial electric vehicles?

MOHR: “The TCO [total cost of ownership] of maintaining an electric tractor over 10 years is already better than one running on diesel that doesn’t go over the road. What you’re seeing on yard tractors moving trailers around all day at big terminals, you don’t run into some of the costs of diesel because of [brake] regeneration and all of that stuff.”

FREIGHTWAVES: What will it take to make electrification work for long-haul trucking?

MOHR:  “The goal of electrification is to lower the total cost of transportation. There are so many more opportunities in freight utilization: empty miles, backloads, trailer sharing, networking. On the Class 8 side, if you’re in a daycab and you’re doing 125 miles a day 10 times a day, there’s probably a pretty good business case for electrification.”

FREIGHTWAVES: You seem to be describing drayage.

MOHR: “It is drayage in that last mile from the city center to the loading docks. It’s the model where the sleeper comes in with the trailer, dumps it in a terminal, and then that trailer goes and gets offloaded at five retailers. That’s the perfect situation for an electric tractor. I think that’s why you’re seeing Daimler and Volvo doing daycabs.”

FREIGHTWAVES: How important are high-speed megawatt chargers for commercial vehicles?

MOHR: “It’s not that important right now, and it won’t be for a while. But what is important is what Daimler is doing with that [Electric Island] site. They’re doing interoperability testing across multiple brands of chargers, and that is extremely important in our industry. 

“The other piece that‘s really important is the business parks across the U.S. How much electricity do you need in a business park to have your customers switch to electricity without having to put in their own infrastructure? When you start standing up shared, high-power charging in business parks, you start to open up access to businesses without them having to make investment.”

FREIGHTWAVES: So, is ChargePoint’s business model charging as a service?

MOHR: “Absolutely. It’s something we already do. It’s a matter of identifying who wants to own the real estate. There’s three things that are really important that are the same in the diesel business: visibility, access and control.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Where does autonomous charging fit in the equation?

MOHR: “When you look at the autonomous pilots that are going on right now, especially on the yard tractor side, there’s no driver to get out and physically charge the truck. We don’t care what the receptacle is, whether it’s inductive or overhead. We can install and operate any one of those. We focus on the charger, then the access and control, our enterprise software, and our fleet depot software. Those are the things that we do really well.”

FREIGHTWAVES: What about the electric grid itself? Is it robust enough to handle the coming demand?

MOHR: “I can tell you from our experience that utilities are prepared for this. They want to sell power and they want to do upgrades. I think there’s this misconception that there’s not enough power available. They have plenty of power built. It’s a matter of planning for these major infrastructure projects. Are you planning with utilities far enough in advance so they can meet the demand of that site? That’s really what it comes down to.

FREIGHTWAVES: How concerned are you about the cleanliness of the grid, coal-fired plants versus renewables?

MOHR: “I think that comes down to the utility balancing where their power comes from. My job is to make sure that the power we use to fuel your vehicles is being used as effectively and efficiently as possible. What I’m focused on is making electrification in the fleet space as simple as every other fuel source. That’s it.”

Truck-focused Electric Island charging site opens in Portland, Oregon

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Volvo takes holistic approach to heavy-duty truck electrification

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.