Frito-Lay’s first sustainable trucks hit New York's streets this week. Part of a larger green initiative from PepsiCo, the move is emblematic of a shifting tide in companies’ use of electric commercial vehicles – and a greener consciousness that is becoming part and parcel of good and right business in the 21st century.
Frito-Lay's fleet (the seventh largest in the U.S.) has ordered 176 of the battery-powered delivery trucks. Manufactured by Smith Electric Vehicles, they can run up to 100 miles on a single charge. They boast zero emissions, 75% less greenhouse gas than diesel, "significant" noise pollution reduction and offer a "long-term economically viable solution" for the brand's fleet.
In this initial roll-out, five electric trucks per location will be based in New York City, Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Worth, plus an additional six vehicles in Canada. Brandchannel's Q&A with Mike O’Connell, national director of fleet capability for Frito-Lay, about the change-over is after the jump.
BC: What was the biggest challenge in switching to electric trucks?
O'Connell: Since PepsiCo has been in sustainability for over a decade, the biggest challenges were actually a series of smaller ones – training the drivers for the differences. There’s no starter noise when you start the engine – just an electric panel that gives a green signal when ready; emphasizing level speed – no speeding; less idling – all parts of our driver engagement program.
How do Frito-Lay’s green initiatives compare with other companies in the category?
Sustainability, environment and good business are all corporate initiatives and there are no trade-offs. All three work in tandem. We’re a leader in the fleet arena of new technologies. The tone and directional framework was set up in 1999 when we began looking at water usage and electric versus natural gas company-wide. The manufacturing arm of Frito-Lay began these initiatives then – and extended it to fleet about three or four years ago.
Is there a substantial cost difference in going electric?
It's about two times more of an investment than a traditional truck, but the evolution of batteries will continue to improve and make these trucks a viable alternative. The Smith trucks carry 16,000 pounds and reach 50 miles per hour. Once the planned 176 electric trucks are deployed we will eliminate the need for 500,000 gallons of fuel annually.
How did this partnership with Smith come about?
We’ve been partners with Smith for years now – and as we studied industry pilot solutions, electric was the #1 component. With 22,000 vehicles in our fleet, from the big tractor rigs to small and medium trucks, there are different applications for different sizes – including natural gas and propane. But for urban environments, like NYC, with delivery runs under 100 miles, these medium electric trucks are perfect.
Any difference in chip-carrying capacity?
No. The design of the truck body is the same.
Is the re-charging process cumbersome?
Not at all. There’s a different cord – which you plug in and then press one button. It takes 6-8 hours to recharge.
Is there newfound status for the drivers of electric trucks?
Yes! There was competition for the first five Sales Associate Drivers. In Canada – we hear that the trucks caught people’s eye for being so quiet and for their different appearance. It got a lot of consumer street attention.
How organic is the commitment to greener practices at Frito-Lay?
(This one answer is from Aurora Gonzalez, PR Director, Frito Lay)
Aurora Gonzalez, PR director for Frito-Lay, adds: "Sustainability and environmental initiatives are part of the general culture now and Frito Lay has a long, rich history. In tough economic times, sustainability often goes away, but at Frito-Lay – it’s integrated and a core value. Business and environmental strategy are inter-connected. We have a substantial commitment to and pride in employee engagement. People, process and technology are company goals – and innovation is the way to maintain those goals. Frito-Lay is in line with PepsiCo’s vision – there’s belief at the very top."
In NYC, Frito Lay partnered with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Frito-Lay and PepsiCo’s strategic goal is a 50% reduction in fleet fuel use by 2020.
"Frito-Lay's truck program is a significant step forward in the advancement of electric vehicles," stated Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles. "Businesses will improve their environmental impact and see cost savings with the reduction of fossil fuels. More importantly, the insights gained operating in urban environments will be invaluable in extending electric vehicle technology to consumer markets in the future."
Smith’s other launch partners for the Smith-produced EV include Coca-Cola, Staples, AT&T and PG&E. Now, if they could just use the same smarts and conscience to reduce the salty snack food obesity footprint…