By early September, 4 Gen Logistics will have 64 battery-electric Class 8 trucks in operation in its California drayage operations, and HDT is honoring the man in charge of that transformation as a 2023 HDT Truck Fleet Innovator.
4 Gen is the sister company of Arizona-based Duncan and Son Lines, which drays containers from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to Arizona and other southwestern states.
Four generations of the Duncan family have owned and operated the company, which has earned EPA's SmartWay Excellence Award for over five consecutive years as a leader in clean fleets.
This year, its clean fleet efforts are seriously ramping up, as 4 Gen Logistics has pledged to become the first North American motor carrier to own an all-zero-emission drayage fleet by 2025. That’s 10 years before the regulations will require it.
A few years ago, looking at the southern California ports’ initiative to be zero-emissions by 2035, company officials decided they needed to get out in front of the shift. It started with three battery-electric BYD trucks shuttling containers in and out of the southern California ports.
Then the company brought in Brad Bayne as VP of strategic initiatives to go full steam ahead on 4 Gen’s zero-emission efforts.
Bayne got his start in the business on the distribution side, working at a Walmart distribution facility in Colorado while he was going to college. “I really just went there for a job, and then it ended up becoming my career in logistics,” he says. He worked his way up and has had a career at varied logistics and transportation companies.
When told he was being considered as an HDT Truck Fleet Innovator, Bayne credits fourth-generation owner and CEO David Duncan. “He has always been on the cutting edge and a trendsetter when it comes to certain areas of the business and understands the importance of doing our part to lower emissions.”
He was also quick to point out that this transition to electrics is very much a team project and would not be possible without the efforts of many talented people — including the ones who will be behind the wheel. “Get your drivers involved early in the process," he says. "Let them test the vehicles and provide you feedback.”
Late last year, 4 Gen added a Volvo VNR Electric as part of the Volvo LIGHTS demonstration project. In March, its 20 battery-electric Kenworth T680E trucks were starting to arrive. This summer, 40 Volvo VNR Electrics will be on their way.
“Hopefully, late August, early September, we’ll have a fleet of 64 total up in operation,” Bayne says. “Right now, I’d say we’re well ahead of most others heading down this path.”
The EV and Operations Puzzle
Despite the influx of new EVs, Bayne says the company plans to remove diesel and CNG trucks by either transferring units to out-of-state locations or remove them from the fleet as they reach the end of their lifecycle.
Why aren’t the electric trucks simply replacing diesel or CNG models right away? It comes down to charging time, one of the many pieces of the EV operations puzzle the company is working out.
4 Gen is somewhat unusual, Bayne says, in that it runs a two-shift operation, with drivers working 10-12 hours a day.
"Right now, we slip seat our diesel units and run them almost 24 hours a day," he explains. "With our switch to electric trucks, we will not have time between shifts to charge, in most cases eliminating our ability to slip seat."
Even with 4 Gen’s new high-speed 350-kW chargers, it’s a two- or three-hour charge time.
In addition, he says, on some routes they won’t be able to finish the whole day without charging. “So we’ll have some other trucks that are available sitting on the chargers ready to go, or we’ll take advantage of some opportunity charging if the drivers are back in one of our yards.”
All that could mean the company will need a ratio of three trucks for every two drivers. But they just won’t know for sure until they actually start running the trucks.
Although 4 Gen. has done extensive modeling to get a picture of what it believes its operation will look when it goes live with BEVs “I love data, and I can’t wait to have the first 90 days of data just to understand how we may need to adjust our expectations and our operation going forward based upon our initial numbers,” Bayne says.
"Every fleet looking to make this transition understands that electrics will not go toe-to-toe with diesels when it comes to range and time to refuel. That’s the reason we’re going to increase the size of our fleet, because we understand that unfortunately, with our operation we’re not going to be able to work them as much as we do [our diesels].”
4 Gen has two types of operations, each with its own challenges. One set of drivers works out of the Long Beach yard and pull containers out of the ports, which may be only 50 miles a day. That’s where they’ll use the electric Kenworths, which are expected to have less range than the new six-battery Volvos.
In Rialto, however, many of the drivers travel 160 to 200 miles a day, bringing containers from the ports back to customers in the Inland Empire or to 4 Gen’s yard. Other drivers do local deliveries within the Inland Empire, and their day could add up to 100 to 200 miles.
“We anticipate we will get about 120 miles from our Kenworths,” Bayne says. “Our initial modeling shows from 180 to 220 miles for our Volvos — I hope this is truly the case. But once again, we won’t know until we get into it. So that’s kind of the great unknown. It goes back to just having the trucks on the ground and actually using them to see what the real-world results are going to look like.”
The trucks will be maintained as part of the purchase structure with the respective dealerships.
“Really, outside of tires, we are anticipating that there will not be a lot of maintenance costs. It’s kind of all built into the price of the truck," Bayne says. "The truck as a whole has fewer moving parts then a traditional ICE unit, and I believe all companies are expecting lower overall maintenance costs from the electrics."
One thing Bayne doesn’t want to deal with is taking trucks to the dealership for routine maintenance. He’s been working with 4 Gen’s Kenworth and Volvo dealers to provide a mobile unit to allow basic maintenance to happen in the company’s facilities.
Like others who have been bringing electric trucks into their fleets, Bayne says one of the biggest challenges is the charging infrastructure.
“We’re so far ahead in the process that our team has become a resource for a lot of others looking to get into the electric game,” Bayne says. “We like to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and some of our struggles, to help other fleets avoid some of the things that we’ve experienced.”
The first thing fleets need to do, he says, is talk to their utility providers.
“Before you approach them, get a solid plan in place that includes both your short- and long-term power needs for your proposed charging site," he advises. "With this information they will tell you if that’s even something that's feasible and give you a general idea of the timing to provide you the power needed."
After you understand the utility piece, he says, then you can turn your attention to what equipment works best for your operation.
4 Gen may be ahead of the game, Bayne says, but the charging infrastructure is still behind the original projections for its two-phase implementation plan.
For phase one, it has partnered with Electrify America, a project which will result in 44 high-speed 350-kilowatt chargers. Thirty will be at a location at the Port of Long Beach, and 14 at 4 Gen’s main yard in Rialto.
“We got lucky that both of our phase one sites had enough power already close by to support the infrastructure that we were putting in,” Bayne says. “When I talk to a lot of people right now that are talking with their utilities, they’re finding out that they just can’t support the amount of electricity they need initially for what they would like to do.”
Phase two will double the charging capacity, he says, with another 46 chargers planned. That will make a total of 60 in the Long Beach port facility and 30 in Rialto.
Originally, the first phase was expected to be completed by the end of 2022, but the company recently broke ground on its first site. Phase two is expected by the end of 2024.
“We hope to have infrastructure in place, knock on wood, about the same time most of our trucks are showing up towards mid to late summer.”