Exploring Electrification to Understand the Next Generation Truck

For years, Wegmans has been focused on improving the efficiency and sustainability of its fleet. What that looks like and how we get there continues to evolve as advancements in technology become available for testing, and ultimately brought to market.

The fleet and sustainability teams, once focused on diesel efficiency, now have their eyes set on diesel elimination, a goal made possible by the advent of new technologies. In the past two years, they’ve made huge strides by replacing diesel tractors with compressed natural gas ones and transitioning to fully electric yard trucks.

“Eliminating diesel is our goal for today, but we’re also looking to the future and our ultimate goal of operating a carbon-free fleet. We’re likely a decade or more away from being able to achieve that goal; the technology just isn’t where it needs to be to do the job we need it to do,” explains Matt Harris, Wegmans sustainability manager for energy and fleet technology. “But that doesn’t mean we just sit back and wait. We’re constantly working with technology providers and trialing new technologies to understand what they can and can’t do, and to be part of the innovation process, helping to ensure the technology is headed in a direction that works for real-world applications.”

With that future goal in mind, the team is currently exploring electrification through a trial of the Nikola Tre battery-electric vehicle (BEV) demonstration unit. Trialing new technologies helps the team understand the capabilities and reliability of the technology, the infrastructure needed to operate the vehicle, and how it might fit into our fleet in the future. It also helps them understand if that technology can help them achieve their three main goals – reduce our carbon footprint, reduce noise pollution, and improve safety.

When it comes to measuring the sustainability of a class-8 electric truck, there’s a lot to take into consideration – from the fossil fuels needed to produce and properly dispose of the batteries, to the strain on the electric supply grid – and a lot of questions that still need answers.

“The pilot is all about learning,” says Harris. “We need to understand electrification in order to understand the next generation of trucks – trucks that achieve a lower carbon intensity score than their diesel counterparts through a combination of technologies and the use of cleaner fuels. Those are the trucks that will allow us to bridge the 10-to-20-year gap between now and when a cost-effective, alternative truck is readily available in the marketplace and can truly do what a diesel-powered truck does today – without compromise.”

While a fleet of fully electric trucks isn’t on the horizon, a successful pilot could result in the addition of one, or even a few, electric trucks to our fleet.

“It’s all about the application of the technology,” explains Harris. “During the pilot, we’re using the Nikola demo unit for shuttle work – moving product around Rochester and mixing in a few store deliveries. If the truck performs well, helps us achieve our goals, and makes sense for our business, then there could be a spot for it in our fleet.”