Penske Trucking helping to plot future of electric vehicle charging

Penske Truck Leasing is working to promote electric commercial vehicle charging standards. (Source:

Imagine you could transport yourself back in time to the late 1970s when tech companies were developing the first home video products.

Perhaps you could get the VHS and Betamax people to come together to develop compatible technology.

Instead of fighting it out over format – with Betamax going down in defeat – the two sides could have worked together. Betamax could have saved money, and the company, by cooperating.

Sure, since we know history we know the whole analog video tape industry will eventually be beaten down by DVDs (digital video discs) and then completely killed off by streaming content, but it could have had a good run in the meantime.

Well, it’s a different time and a different technology, but that’s where folks in the transportation industry are now as they look to the future of alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas, liquid natural gas and electric vehicle chargers.

And Berks County’s Penske Truck Leasing, as one of the largest transportation providers in the nation, wants to make sure it’s at the table for future electric commercial vehicle charging standards to ensure no one is left as the Betamax of the trucking industry.

Penske, which is in Cumru Township, has joined the Germany-based Charging Interface Initiative, a worldwide industry alliance focused on promoting combined charging systems as the global standard for charging electric vehicles of all types.

“As a leading services provider to commercial fleets, we feel standardization around electric vehicle charging and charging stations will help accelerate the use of electric vehicles within the transportation industry,” said Brian Hard, president and CEO of Penske Truck Leasing in a statement.

And being proactive is important, said Bill Combs, director of connected fleet for Penske.

He noted that while electrically charged vehicles are becoming popular for cars and small trucks, the use of the technology for medium and large trucks is rare.

“There aren’t many of these vehicles out on the roads yet,” he told LVB. “There’s nothing that’s really been established.”

So, a platform for the discussion about what is best for everyone is needed now.

“We want to get a head of this before someone comes up with a station that won’t be intercompatible,” Combs said.

There are many reasons standardization of commercial vehicle charging stations is important, he said.

One important consideration, he said, is that many businesses use multiple types of vehicles. They may have large tractor-trailers for long hauls and smaller box trucks or pickups for local deliveries, for example.

Also, he said, on a busy commercial travel route more than one truck may need to be charging at the same time.

Facilities are need so that more than one truck can use a charging station and get back on the road as quickly as possible.

And it’s equally important to have charging stations where they are needed so trucks can get where they need to go, said Alen Beljin, spokesman for Penske.

“If you can’t fuel your trucks, you can’t run those routes,” he said.

Combs noted that while it is joining the call for standardization, Penske isn’t asking for a single, firm product, but rather is being part of the effort to study how large trucking customers are using electric charges and how effective they are so that the best possible charging system for everyone can be developed.

Beljin said the company has contracted with Freightliner Trucks to buy 20 electric vehicles, 10 of which will be medium-sized box trucks and 10 will be tractor-trailers. They should be on the road by the end of the year.

Their use will be studied, and Penske will take input from their users to optimize the standardization of charging stations.

It’s not the first time the company has helped test new innovations. Beljin said Penske has tested pre-mass market transportation products in the past to provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t before they are put into commercial production.

But he said this particular work is very important to help commercial electric vehicle transportation become viable in the future.

“Adoption of this technology is largely dependent on the availability of infrastructure,” Beljin said. “We found that out with liquid natural gas and with compressed natural gas and now with electric.”

So, hopefully, Penske’s work with the alliance will put the electric commercial vehicle industry one step closer to the future, and one step further away from the fate of the Betamax.

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