Meijer deploys first all-electric semitrucks with donation to Gleaners

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Detroit — Meijer Inc. deployed its first two all-electric semitrucks on Thursday in a donation run of more than 40,000 pounds of food to Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit that will help hundreds of families this holiday season.

The Freightliner eCascadia trucks from the Mercedes-Benz Group’s Daimler Truck AG will operate from the Lansing Distribution Center to supermarkets within 200 miles. Meijer says it’s one of the first retailers to deploy the trucks outside of California and the first to track their performance in a cold weather climate as part of a U.S. Energy Department grant to Daimler. The deployment is part of Meijer’s goal to reduce absolute carbon emission by 50% from 2018 levels by 2025.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks Thursday at a press conference at Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit showcasing Meijer's new all-electric semitrucks for food delivery.

“One of the things that we’re interested in testing is: How to do these trucks perform in the winter weather?” Meijer CEO Rick Keyes said during a news conference. “You think about the cold and the effect on the batteries, and so when the offer came up from Daimler Trucks North America, we really jumped at it. It isn’t often that our Michigan winters play in our favor, but this time, our cold Michigan winter really has worked for us.”

Meijer has 250 trucks in its Michigan fleet employing more than 400 drivers that travel 70 million miles a year. It has tested Freightliners since 2009 and has installed special charging infrastructure in Lansing to power the new semis. Daimler has tested the eCascadia in cold winter weather, but this represents a real-world application.

“Michigan’s got a proud tradition of being the place that solves mobility issues,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. “We can’t always assume that that will always be the case. That’s why we’ve got to be aggressive and sort of get incentivized, so we’ve worked so hard to ensure people know what a great place this is to do business. We’ve got the engineering. We’ve got the talent. And as you can see, we’ve got the creativity to collaborate.”

“We certainly want to mitigate our supply chain challenges overall,” said Gerry Brisson of Gleaners, “We want to mitigate our geopolitical risks that we have, and we consider localizing in the United States a very key pillar of that strategy.”

The average range for the configuration of the Meijer Class 8 trucks is about 220 miles with their 438 kilowatt-hour batteries from Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., said Rakesh Aneja, chief of emobility at Daimler Trucks North America. They can haul the maximum allowed 82,000 gross vehicle weight and can be charged to 80% power in a little more than two hours, though other configurations can get there in as little as 90 minutes. The powertrains are assembled in the city following a $20 million investment last year. The truck is built in Portland.

The eCascadia is evolved from the diesel engine version of the truck. The next-generation for the vehicle seeks to increase charging speeds to 30 minutes or less, the equivalent of a lunch or coffee break, Aneja said. The challenge, though, is having the infrastructure to emit the needed power in a short amount of time. He estimates the industry still is a few years away from accomplishing that.

The DOE program also is in collaboration with UPS Inc. The budget is $10 million with a 50-50 cost share between the department and Daimler. Aneja said electric trucks are two to three times more expensive their diesel counterparts.

The company also has the goal of assessing opportunities to localize battery production in North America, which would represent billions of dollars in investment, though no timeline has been shared at this point. Aneja praised the legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act that incentivizes production of electric vehicles and their batteries in North America.

“We certainly want to mitigate our supply chain challenges overall,” he said. “We want to mitigate our geopolitical risks that we have, and we consider localizing in the United States a very key pillar of that strategy.”

Meijer’s inaugural delivery to Gleaners included 44,136 pounds of peanut butter and canned vegetables, fruit and meat. Food insecure households miss five meals a week per person, said Gerry Brisson, CEO of Gleaners in southeast Michigan.

“Our network of over 600 partners will see tens of thousands of families, children, seniors, veterans and many others seeking help just this month,” he said. “And it’s only by coming together that we can take hunger off the table for the many people that need us.”