By Tod Trousdell, Fleet Marketing Consultant
October 11, 2023
EVs have captivated fleet perhaps more than any other innovation in the history of the auto industry.
Over the past three years it seems the entire fleet space has gone ‘all in’ on what many considered little more than a mere phenomenon a few short years ago. Today, governments make laws that mandate EVs. OEMs have retooled factories to build them. And most fleets are either in the process of implementing them or planning to do so soon.
Further clouding the issue, just about every fleet is on a unique implementation path, making it hard for fleets and service providers to sing from the same song sheet. And while many work fleets are well on their way to fielding electric fleets, a good many are not – especially those that require large work EVs, which aren’t as widely available as passenger vehicles and work vans.
Given this challenging environment, the question must be asked:
What are service providers doing today to help fleets thrive in an EV world tomorrow?
And while not all service sectors are focused on EVs – for example remarketers – at this early stage of adoption, one that will have an outsized effect on fleets on their journey to electrification is vehicle upfitters. Considering their vital role, I thought it would be a good time to look at how some of the industry’s top upfitters are helping fleets successfully transition to the brave new world of electrification.
Ranger Design: Focused on Innovation
A Canadian upfitter that’s been aggressively pushing into the US fleet space, Ranger Design is a family-owned business focused on helping fleets successfully transition to electric vehicles.
According to Peter Young, EVP of Business Development at Ranger Design, and the Strategy Chair for the Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA), Ranger Design’s decision to focus on EV innovation is a direct reflection of the company’s legacy of superior engineering and a history of designing new products and solutions based on customer needs, instead of simply following what other upfitters were doing at the time.
Today, as it helps customers successfully transition to EVs, Ranger Design has introduced a series of EV specific products and solutions. These include a breakthrough no drill ‘E-Floor’ that prioritizes installer safety, an ergonomically superior van partition that limits noise and conserves energy to extend range, and a composite van shelving system that’s over four times lighter – yet twice as strong – as steel alone.
To back up its growing line of EV-specific products and solutions, and to ensure it can meet the EV needs of its customers, Young said Ranger is dedicated to delivering superior quality, unmatched customer service, and the shortest lead times in the upfitting industry. And while most upfitters are focused primarily on finding ways to increase range by installing lighter materials, Ranger Design has prioritized maximizing payload, especially at a time when work vans are getting smaller, and much of the research around lighter upfits increasing range has been inconclusive.
In an effort to better respond to the exploding EV market, Ranger Design is also expanding its footprint in the United States, opening new facilities in Seattle, WA, on the West coast and Charleston, SC, on the East coast, to better serve customers in different parts of the country.
“It’s an exciting time for both our industry and our company,” said Young. “We know that in order for fleets to successfully transition to EVs, they can’t rely on the old ways of doing things, which means Ranger’s focus on innovation is something they can rely on as they face the challenges of EV adoption.”
Sortimo: Right-sizing Vehicles and an ESG Focus
Headquartered in Germany, Sortimo develops upfits that fit the design of their client’s EVs rather than forcing EVs to fit the way it designs upfits, according to Erik Nelson, General Manager of Sortimo North America.
In addition to these efforts, Sortimo – the largest provider of work van upfits in the world – is focused on its own ESG initiative, having built the world’s largest charging facility in Germany, while also working with some of Europe’s largest EV fleets to successfully upfit their work vehicles.
Nelson added that because Europe is a few years ahead of the US when it comes to implementing and upfitting EV fleets, Sortimo has already helped some of the world’s biggest fleets successfully transition to EV work vehicles, a fact he thinks leaves the company better positioned to help US customers implementing electric vehicles.
Looking ahead, Sortimo expects to implement two important initiatives it thinks will benefit customers making the transition to EVs. The first is to utilize aerospace grade aluminum in all its products and solutions by the end of 2023. The second is that the company plans to increase the warranty on all new products from three years to five years within the coming months.
Masterack: Leveraging a Partner Business Unit Focused on EVs
Like most of its competitors, upfitter Masterack is focused on partnering with customers to design upfits that reduce range anxiety without compromising cargo management. But unlike its competitors, Masterack will have the advantage of working with EAVX, a business unit started by parent company JB Poindexter, to develop next generation EV work truck bodies, upfitting and accessories.
Stacked with former OEM engineers, the partnership has already paid dividends that may have taken years for Masterack to attain on its own. That includes several planned body innovations, as well as a new system that tracks everything from EV systems to on-board tools.
According to Brian Barber, SVP of Sales and Client Relations for Masterack, the two companies have been working closely to deliver sustainable work vehicle solutions for customers looking to reduce their carbon footprint. “The partnership will put us light years ahead of our competition, and grow exponentially as EV adoption proliferates,” said Barber.
Dejana: Managing Expectation for Maximum Performance and Value
Helping fleets transition to EVs will be a challenge – no one argues that. But managing their expectations about how that transition will occur IS perhaps the biggest challenge for service providers, according to Patrick Rogers, Director of Fleet at truck body manufacturer and upfitter Dejana. And while the longtime provider has yet to release new EV-specific products or solutions, Rogers said the company’s ability to successfully manage customer expectations around EVs has been key to its EV efforts to date.
“Just about all the EV customers we’ve worked with want the same kind of upfits and components that they do with their ICE (internal combustion engines) assets, but we know that just can’t be the case,” said Rodgers. “At this point, it’s our job to manage those expectations against the reality of what’s possible, so we’re finding that managing that expectation is the most important thing we can do as our customers transition to electric vehicles.”
FMCs Taking Consultative Approach, Looking for Partners
For their part, FMCs have also realized the importance of upfitting when it comes to facilitating a realistic approach to EV adoption. According to Bryan Schieler, Director of Operations Engineering at Holman, it’s about taking a “consultative approach” to helping fleets make the best choices for their own unique needs and vehicle mix. “This is all new territory, and it’s our job as the expert to make sure our clients choose the right path,” Schieler said. Seconding that, Robert Sheaffer, a Truck Consultant at Wheels, agreed by saying he sees upfitting EVs as one of the “best ways to prepare fleets for future success.”