Einride Wants to Charge LA

Einride Wants to Charge LA
Einride’s charging facility in Lynwood.

Swedish transportation developer Einride AB made a splash last month when it unveiled a 65-unit charging station in Lynwood that can reportedly fully charge as many as 200 battery-powered drayage trucks a day.

And while this hub is starting off as a perk just for trucking companies within Einride’s own network, the firm aims to eventually open the station to other subscribers. It also hopes to continue establishing its North American presence as shippers, trucking firms and governing bodies push toward zero-emission infrastructure.

“This is the biggest one we’ve done yet and the first in the U.S.,” Einride Chief Executive Robert Falck said. “We do charging in multiple locations, but this is, concept-wise, the biggest.”

The so-called Smartcharger Station’s placement in Lynwood was deliberate to cater to truckers hauling cargo out of both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. Regulatory changes targeting the emission levels of such vehicles have left truckers anxious, not only because of sticker shock at the prices of all-electric trucks, but also about the question of where to recharge – and how long that will take.

This Einride hub is an encouraging first step, opined Matt Schrap of the Harbor Trucking Association, but if zero-emission trucking is the future, there are many more questions to be answered, he said.

“I’m glad to see it. It’s good to show that it can be done,” Schrap said. “It’s good to see, but it’s a drop in the bucket and not reflective of the real need, which is robust, publicly available charging infrastructure.”

Los Angeles: Trade hub and EV hub

Located just off the 710 Freeway, executives at Einride fully intended the Smartcharger Station to be a quick trip away from the nation’s most significant containerized cargo import source.

“People talk about Hollywood and movie stars, but the biggest industry in Los Angeles is the harbor,” Falck said. “Los Angeles is by definition a trading hub. At least 20% of the entire U.S. economy goes there. It’s not as glamorous as Hollywood, but it has potent value.”

Formed in 2016, Einride designs and manufactures battery-electric freight trucks and initially made a name for itself with cab-less, remote-controlled trucks. After fully entering the EV market in 2020, the company also offered a full platform that monitors and analyzes data from trucks to make drivers more efficient and to optimize charging patterns, among other details.

Danish shipping giant Maersk – an investor in Einride – ordered 300 of the trucks in 2022 and will be the only company utilizing the station for the time being.

The station is being hooked into the main power grid here, and with its 65 charging stations should be capable of fully charging as many as 200 trucks a day. Falck noted that depending on the truck and needs of its driver, ports can be modified to recharge the battery quite quickly or left to a trickle charge overnight – which, long term, is generally the best practice for batteries.

This sort of planning is where the company’s digital platform comes in handy, Falck said.

Einride’s charging facility in Lynwood.

“The important part is how you optimize the entire fleet setup,” he said. “You can crank up the juice a bit, but if you want to take care of the battery, you want to slow-charge it.”

Perhaps most impressive is that the station – built in conjunction with Canadian electric vehicle charging company Voltera – took 18 months to permit, build and energize. The experience of getting one infrastructure project off the ground in Los Angeles County may help the firms optimize future development, Schrap speculated.

“The first time is always the hardest,” he said. “They’ve gone through the motions, so now they’ll probably be able to create a playbook or process to deal with future sites.”

Einride did not disclose the cost of building the station, although it and Voltera expect to receive some public funding through Southern California Edison’s Charge Ready Program.

What’s the future of EV freight?

While pleased with Einride’s station getting off the ground, Schrap contends there is much work to be done to ultimately solve the “chicken or egg” question of migrating from diesel to electric.

There are other players coming to town. Oakland-based Forum Mobility announced in November it was constructing a charging depot of similar scale at the Port of Long Beach. In July, Long Beach-based WattEV unveiled a smaller-scale station at the same port capable of charging 26 trucks at a time, and El Segundo-based Zeem has a 500-truck-a-day station underway at Long Beach.

All good news, Schrap said, but one of the issues is that, with the exception of two public chargers at Terminal Access Center shared by the ports, there aren’t many options for truckers who are not part of these charging networks, which tend to require planned-out contracts.

Not to mention that at fast-charging mode – which, again, degrades batteries quicker – you’re still looking at up to 90 minutes of downtime. And then there’s the fact that the current generation of trucks is getting around 250 miles on a full charge, which Schrap said produces “range anxiety.”

“Hydrogen (fuel-cell) is a bit more attractive (for zero-emission transition),” he added. “You get 500 miles. Depending on the models, you don’t have as much of a weight penalty. Your fueling time is similar to what diesel is.”

On the other hand, Falck said Einride’s success is thanks to its customer demand for battery-electric trucks.

“Drivers are very pleased with electric trucks,” he said. “There’s less vibration and a healthier work environment. What we see as the main driver for the switch is the drivers who consider it to be a better work environment.”

And Falck also contends that range anxiety can ultimately be alleviated by the cost-benefit ratio of using electricity, as well as the network that Einride’s drivers can use to map out their journeys with ease.

“We always talk about the range of electric vehicles,” he added, “but electricity is cheaper per miles driven than diesel, so that will drive the customer base.”

Schrap added that he thinks it would be a smarter strategy to incentivize large operations to buy more EV trucks now and set them up to change out their stocks when a future generation of the trucks hits the market. This would probably give smaller, independent operators a better chance of purchasing EV trucks, which remain enormously expensive when new.

“The technology is evolving, which also gives some fleet operators hesitancy, because you’re wondering how this technology is going to evolve and if you’re going to be stranded with outdated equipment,” Schrap said. “If we can get more and more of these vehicles into the system and the hands of the largest fleets in the world, you get them into the hands of these larger companies who have the ability to absorb these costs, let them run them three or four years and then put them back into the market.”

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