In an exclusive interview with Electric Autonomy, Pride Group Enterprises CEO Sam Johal explains why he sees the company’s electric vehicle orders as a competitive advantage and teases their plans to roll out charging infrastructure on specific regional routes
Pride Group Enterprises, a Mississauga, Ont., holding company with business operations in truck sales, truck rentals and goods delivery and logistics, first made waves with news last fall that it would purchase 150 Tesla Semis. Earlier this month, it followed up that blockbuster announcement with word that it was also buying 6,320 electric last-mile delivery vans from Ohio-based Workhorse Group.
Following publication of our recent story on the Workhorse announcement, Pride CEO Sam Johal agreed to sit down with Electric Autonomy for an exclusive interview.
As you’ll read below, he discuss the deals, the company’s electrification strategy and how he sees the integration of electric trucks unfolding across its dealership, leasing and logistics divisions. Beyond that, he also elaborates on another plan that is sure to generate still more news — a network of charging stations to service its own long-haul trucks.
(Note: this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Electric Autonomy Canada: You recently put in two large orders for electric trucks: 6,320 delivery vans from Workhorse and 150 Tesla Semis. Why such big orders?
Sam Johal: It seems like a lot but we’re expecting deliveries over the next five to six years. This will give us time to see what our customers are comfortable with and adjust accordingly based on how business is evolving. We have contingency baked into both deals with regards to performance. In the case of the Workhorse delivery trucks however, these are already being used by other clients and so we know they work.
The orders might seem big, but if you look at how many retailers are doing their own last-mile delivery, as well as all the logistics companies across Canada and the United States, there’s a lot of demand, as well as vehicle turnover. The delivery trucks are a new business for us but it’s an area with significant growth potential, especially in the rental and leasing side.
Electric Autonomy: Beyond the environmental concerns, why such a focus on electrifying your fleet?
Sam Johal: Obviously emissions are a big part of why we’re pushing to electrify but from a maintenance point of view, particularly on the long-haul tractor-trailers, electric also makes sense. Diesel trucks have a lot of components and these components can break. When they do, they are costly to repair both in terms of time and actual dollars. With electric, there are no oil changes and maintenance is minimal.
Then you also have to consider the restrictions placed on diesel trucks. Often when drivers sleep in their truck, they need to leave it running for heat. But there are fewer and fewer places that allow idling. Moving to an electric vehicle solves this problem, which in turn makes drivers’ lives easier.
Last, these electric trucks come with a lot of safety technology and in some cases, autonomous capabilities. That’s going to help drive down insurance costs, which have been increasing exponentially in recent years. It’s also going to potentially help the driver shortage. The trucks will be easier to drive so you might not need a special licence like you do now.
Electric Autonomy: In order to have electric trucks on the road, you need the right charging infrastructure. You’ve said that along with your vehicle purchases, you’ll be investing in building this over the long-term. How do you envision that playing out?
Sam Johal: The charging for the last-mile trucks is easier because they can be charged overnight and will have enough power to do their entire run during the day. These vehicles could charge at one of our facilities, but we’re also thinking of renting out charging stations to customers.
For the long-haul trucks, obviously the challenges are greater. We don’t want to just build charging infrastructure. We want to build a better, more modern experience for drivers. So while they are waiting for their vehicles to charge, they can pop into our facility and get a really good coffee or some food.
Our goal is to create a proof-of-concept charging station within four to six months. The other thing to note, is that we plan to roll out charging infrastructure regionally on specific routes. So for instance, we might have stations for trucks travelling between Toronto and Montreal, or New York and Chicago. We know we won’t be the only player here and there needs to be a push from governments as well.
Electric Autonomy: There are several divisions within Pride Group: truck sales and leasing, financing and logistics. How does this business model impact your electrification strategy?
Sam Johal: I think we can take more chances. We have dealerships across Canada and the United States, so we can choose to deploy these electric trucks where it most makes sense. For instance, maybe we deploy more trucks to California at the outset, which already has a lot of infrastructure in place and where the market is more ready for them.
Electric Autonomy: Pride Group is growing but you are still a relatively new player. Why have you opted to take on these big investments and push to become leaders in electric commercial fleets?
Sam Johal: We want to encourage the change to electric and with our most recent investments, we think we can be two to five years ahead of our competition; that’s our motivation. This is where the industry is headed, and we want to have that competitive advantage. We also strongly believe we need to make the industry better and electric vehicles are one way to do that.