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An Electric Propulsion System on Commercial Trailers

Learn about how an electric propulsion system on commercial trailers results in huge fuel-savings and lowers carbon emissions.

Episode 314: We’re back with more insights from our TMC interviews. Join us on an electrifying journey as our host, Jamie Irvine, interviews renowned engineer Ali Javidan, CEO and Founder of Range Energy. Javidan sheds light on the importance of electric trailers for fleets and on how they support drivers to feel confident and comfortable on the road.

With his extensive experience and collaboration history with Elon Musk at Tesla, Javidan offers invaluable insights into the electrification landscape, empowering fleets to make informed decisions. The technology his company has developed results in huge fuel-savings and lowers carbon emissions.

Learn about how an electric propulsion system on commercial trailers results in huge fuel-savings and lowers carbon emissions.


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Disclaimer: This content and description may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, The Heavy Duty Parts Report may receive a commission. 

Transcript of Episode

Jamie Irvine:

You are listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine, and this is the place where we have conversations that empower heavy-duty people.

Welcome to another episode of The Heavy Duty Parts Report. My name is Jamie Irvine and I’m very happy to be here to talk to you today about challenging the status quo in the trucking industry. Many of you know me from my days of manufacturing and distributing heavy-duty parts when I was either working as an operations manager or working as a sales manager.

Some of you who’ve been following the show got to see that transition where I moved from that role into the host of The Heavy Duty Parts Report and, for dozens of leadership groups who’ve worked with our company, the Heavy Duty Consulting Corporation, you know me as the CEO of that company.

Regardless of what role you’ve worked with me in the industry. If you know me, you know how dedicated I am to the concept of heavy-duty people flourishing. Now, as Bob Dylan once said, in a famous song times, they are a changing, and that has never been more true than it is right now in the trucking industry.

And because of all of this change, the need for heavy-duty people to be adaptable and for them to challenge the status quo and do things differently has also never been more needed than right now. Because of that, I am always on the lookout for guests that I can bring on the show, who really exemplify what it takes to challenge the status quo in the trucking industry.

And today’s episode is one such guest. Now, in early March, we attended the Technology and Maintenance Council’s spring annual meeting in New Orleans. And so you can imagine how excited I was when I was able to schedule an interview with the CEO and Founder of Range Energy.

This company is very, very much challenging the status quo when it comes to the electrification of commercial equipment. First of all, this guest actually worked with Elon Musk at Tesla.

Second of all, this guest has had over 15 years in working on the electrification of vehicles. There’s not too many people who can say that, but most importantly, this particular guest and the company that he founded, Range Energy has taken an approach with the electrification of commercial equipment in a completely different direction than what you think when you hear electrification of commercial equipment.

So for all of these reasons, I was extremely excited to interview my guest today. And in addition to that, they actually set up a podcast studio in the back of a 53 foot trailer at the convention site.

So whereas most of my interviews were conducted in the booth, this particular interview is conducted in this awesome podcast suite where we were able to sit down on couches and there was soft lighting and it was so comfortable and it was such a great opportunity to have a really extended conversation.

At least an extended conversation from the perspective of being at a trade show to talk about this incredible technology and the way they’ve gone about challenging the status quo in the trucking industry.

So I’m going to let my guest introduce himself and we’re going to get right into the interview. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Ali Javidan:

Hi, my name is Ali Javidan. I’m the Founder and CEO at Range Energy.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, this is not the usual setup for me at a trade show. We are here at TMC and my guest today was kind enough to create a podcast booth just for this interview. Just for you, just for me. I really appreciate it. My guest today is Ali Javidan. He’s the CEO of Range Energy. Welcome to The Heavy of Duty Parts Report.

Ali Javidan:

Thank you so much.

Jamie Irvine:

Nice to have some time together.

Ali Javidan:

Yeah, it’s great to finally meet you and I’m glad we could host you inside of our dry van, our alpha trailer.

Jamie Irvine:

So this is the Technology and Maintenance Council. It’s a big fleet show. We’re in New Orleans right now, and this is a time when the whole trucking industry comes together. And so it was a great opportunity for us to talk about what your company is, what it does, how it’s really changing things in the industry.

But before we get into that, tell me a little bit about the trends that you saw that as a CEO and Founder made you see an opportunity to help the trucking industry.

Ali Javidan:

Yeah, so back in around 2020, 2021, early 2021, I started to think kind of what my next career move was going to be. And I recognized that there was a lot of effort and energy being put in the commercial electrification and just generally commercial decarbonization.

And I’ve been in the electric vehicle space for the last 15 years, a little bit more than that. And so as I started to look at opportunities, and obviously I started to see the big stuff, the Tesla Semi and Freightliner eCascadia and all of this other stuff.

And one of the areas that, so I started to recognize that a lot of these solutions required massive changes to operations and to infrastructure to adopt. When you electrify the primary mover, that’s it. If that thing isn’t charged or it’s not working or there’s a problem, your customers are not getting the load, right?

And so you couple that kind of, this is a very binary, like everything’s going great or everything’s really scary moment with the looking at the space of innovation, one of the areas that I noticed no matter what, whether it was the super truck program or any of the electrified or hydrogen solutions, fuel cell solutions, I recognized that the trailer was staying the same and nobody was innovating on the trailer.

And I’ve been driving trucks and trailers mostly kind of small scale driving trucks and trailers since I was around 14 or 15 years old.

And I know that the kind of anxiety that a driver has, I know the safety implications that exist when you’re towing a trailer, especially in the Class eight space. And so I have this kind of immediate empathy for the driver and for the industry thinking, well, what’s going on with the trailers?

Nothing’s being done to the trailers. And so that’s when I realized, well, we should think about electrifying the trailers, what happens when we electrify the trailers? And as I started to think through that, we were thinking about efficiency and energy safety started to pop up because now the electric axle can actually act as a new braking modality for the trailer augmenting the ABS and the friction brakes.

And so you can go down a long grade, a long mountain grade six, 7%, and the trailer will actually hold the system speed and put that energy back into the battery pack of the trailer. And then you start thinking about operational fit.

Well, if you buy an semi, you have to also buy some property. You have to buy megawatt charging, you have to, hopefully the utilities will show up someday. All of that stuff plus the CapEx to do all of that work, well, the trailer has to be parked somewhere.

And generally it’s parked at the loading dock when it’s getting loaded and unloaded.

And so if we can build a charging infrastructure that works while the trailer is at the loading dock being loaded and unloaded with goods, then now this is a decarbonization solution that number one works on the tractors that exist and will continue to work on the electric tractors or the compressed natural gas or fuel cell or whatever the direction is that we go in the future and do things like double the range of an eCascadia, for example.

And then there’s that, the operational fit. This has to fit in the way that the fleets work today because the worst thing I could possibly do as a quote ‘technologist or a Silicon Valley person’ is to show up and say, look at how cool this thing is that we made.

You guys aren’t working very efficient, efficiently change everything about what you’re doing to use this. We go the opposite. We say, how do you work and how can we develop tools to slide into the operations that you have today and bring in marked benefits?

Jamie Irvine:

So when we talk about the general trend of electrification, you saw that because people were ignoring the trailer, there was an opportunity. Now were you the first person to approach that and try that, or is this a completely untouched area or has other people gone there before and were unsuccessful and you found a way to succeed?

Ali Javidan:

So the short answer is that other people have tried this before. Yeah, a little bit longer answer is that back in 2008, we actually talked about electrified trailers at the early days of Tesla. When we were talking brainstorming, this was in the early Roadster times and we were ideating the sedan and what that sedan could look like and what the features could be.

And we were also thinking about what else has to be true for electric vehicles to proliferate on the roads. And we were thinking supercharger networks at that time and all of that, electric trailers was actually an idea that a few folks within this early R and D team had.

And it was just a kind of a fun thing. And yes, since in the, let’s say if we fast forward to the last three or four or five years, there have been folks like highly on trailer dynamics and others that have attempted this type of work and trailer dynamics is actually making some headway in Europe.

But nobody has done this kind of full systems approach where you actually incorporate functional safety, where you incorporate things like torque security in your drive stack where you actually develop a purpose-built battery system for this environment.

Something that can work in Minnesota as well as it works in the summer in Texas, really thinking about this as a true vehicle or a true robot with full safety, that’s basically in the form of the things that we know how to use.

And so that was the kind of thinking about everything that had been out there before and thinking about the complications that were in the previous stacks of ideas and things, we really wanted to dramatically simplify everything.

And one thing that we have been able to do that nobody’s ever been able to do is use the kingpin as the primary input for the trailer controls.

And what that does now is that that’s what truly allows us to work on an old Peterbilt or Freightliner or a brand new Tesla semi is because we’re not relying on any data connection. We’re just sensing how hard the tractor is pulling and we tell the trailer, come along and make yourself feel weightless both in acceleration but also in region as well. And that’s how we can get double the fuel economy.

If you’re getting five or six miles per gallon, now you’re getting 10 or 11, maybe 12 miles per gallon depending on the route, we’re reducing harmful diesel particulate emissions by about 70%. And that’s really because we are able to hook up to any of these tractors and really sense the intention of the tractor and the driver and just have the trailer be a very, very fast follower.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. We’ll be right back.

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We’re back from the break. And before the break, I thought Ali did an excellent job of explaining their origin story of their company, of how he came about this idea to add an electric propulsion system onto trailers. And now we’re going to really dive into the impact this technology is having on drivers and the fleets that operate this commercial equipment. I hope you enjoy the rest of this interview.

Jamie Irvine:

So I remember when something like an automated transmission came out, the drivers, it took a number of years for drivers to really, who had always done it the old way to adapt. Now I’m imagining they’re still driving an ICE vehicle, right?

Maybe they’ve adapted to an automated transmission and now you want them to pull an electrified trailer. Is that dramatically changing the driving experience? And how have the drivers reacted when they’ve tested this for the first time?

Ali Javidan:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ll give you a little bit of another verbose answer. So before I was doing any electrification, I spent about 10 years in the motorsport industry as a race engineer.

And one of the most important lessons I learned as a race engineer is that if the driver is absolutely confident in the driver’s seat, then you can extract all of the speed you ever want out of that car. And if the car can’t go any faster, it’s not because the driver is not comfortable and that driver is your primary point of feedback.

Jamie Irvine:

So just let me ask you something. So if the driver isn’t comfortable, you could have better technology on the car and get slower speeds.

Ali Javidan:


Jamie Irvine:

And if they’re comfortable, you could have at least at par or better technology and get maximum out of that.

Ali Javidan:

That’s right. In racing, it’s a little bit of a different scenario because you’re talking about how you get the driver to push the car to 10 tenths all the time. And if they’re not comfortable, no matter how much technology or how much grip those tires have or downforce has, that driver’s not going to get to eight tenths or nine-tenths to even touch 10 tenths.

But if they’re confident, even if that car has inferior tires or inferior arrow, if the driver’s at 10 tenths, they can do heroic things into turns and out of turns and they have that confidence to charge through the race.

Jamie Irvine:

There is a correlation with professional drivers on the road absolutely getting that the most out of your truck and trailer is the essential job of the driver. Maybe the only thing more important than that is maintaining safety so that the public are safe.

Ali Javidan:

So what we do is how we carry that into our time here. Essentially what we’ve been able to do with the driver feedback is that we are now actively looking for areas that the driver feels uncomfortable, and we have our powertrain support in those moments. So when you’re facing up a hill, we have enough sensing in this trailer to know exactly what you’re doing, where you’re looking,

Jamie Irvine:

All of that. So you’re climbing the mountains in Colorado or in British Columbia.

Ali Javidan:

So we were helping assist up, so at the grapevine, which is a route in Southern California, 6% grade, 42 miles over a mountain, our tractor trailer did 60% throttle, 55 miles an hour, loaded up that mountain, didn’t touch the brakes on the backside of the mountain, and we put all that regen energy back into the trailer.

And what that does is that gives the driver the confidence to know if they need to pass somebody, they can, if they need to slow down, they have nice cold brakes ready to be applied anytime so that they have that driver’s confidence. And so the last piece I’ll say is that we’ve done a couple of customer pilots and one of the customer pilots, they had just come off of a pilot with an electric semi.

That electric semi company gave a rating of basically a score chart to each driver out of 110 points. That electric semi scored a 77 out of 110 in that fleet, we use the same word for word, we use the same exact survey with the drivers and the drivers getting out of their own tractor with our trailer scored 108 out of 110.

And we got quotes like, holy moly, you made my tractor feel like my Tesla. And we’re really, really actively targeting the driver experience because ultimately the driver experience is also going to correlate with efficiency and most importantly with safety.

Jamie Irvine:

So now the trailer gets pulled into a shop and a technician looks at it, how are you going to support the maintenance, the replacement parts, the inevitable repairs and diagnostics that are going to need to be done? How are you going to support that throughout the industry?

Ali Javidan:

So diagnostics is a little bit of an aside, but basically what we’re doing is we’re building a standardized kind of diagnostics protocol and communications protocol that information will be available to any of the fleet, or sorry, fleet management tools or diagnostic tools that the fleets currently use. So we’re not…

Jamie Irvine:

You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to fault codes or anything like that.

Ali Javidan:

Yeah. We’re basically kind of going with industry standards here, and the intention here, again, kind of leading into this industry with humility is that when we enter a fleet and we start talking to a fleet, one of the first things we do is we’ll go sit and talk to the union steward, we’ll talk to the mechanics, we’ll talk to the fleet operators and we’ll understand even down to what tools they have in their toolbox.

So the intention here is that this trailer should be able to show up to any fleet yard and be serviced using the same exact tools, and maybe the axle now has a bigger lump in the middle of the wheel ends, but the wheel ends are the same brake tools on the wheel ends, same lug nuts, same, all of that other stuff. It’s just this lump in the middle little bit different.

Jamie Irvine:

You’re not adding complexity to the technician’s world.

Ali Javidan:

No way. No way. Actually, I used to be an A SE certified master technician.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve done a lot in your life, my friend.

Ali Javidan:

Yeah I have. And I’ve worked on cars and trucks, I still work on them at home, and so I’m incredibly empathetic to all of the different folks that keep this industry running, and we want to make sure that everywhere that we bring a new piece of technology, it feels familiar and it feels like something that is comfortable to use, even if it’s something completely new to the fleet.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. Well, it has been a wonderful opportunity to talk to you. I’m very excited to see where you take this company and how you continue to transform the trucking industry. Maybe just by way of conclusion, could you just talk a little bit more about the anticipated benefits that fleets are going to get by utilizing your trailer technology?

Ali Javidan:

Yeah, so on the very, very surface is that we get about 40 to 50% better fuel economy. So if you’re getting five or six miles per gallon, expect to get 11 or 12 miles per gallon, and then we’re reducing the diesel emissions and the harmful particulates by about 70%.

Jamie Irvine:

With no other change to the emission system?

Ali Javidan:

Nothing at all. That’s just on the quick surface. And if you don’t have any charging infrastructure in your fleet, we get about 10% better fuel economy because we’re regen through that axle.

And so there are fleets that are running routes and running lanes without charging at all and seeing net benefits because there’s also, in addition to the efficiency benefits, our system can run a reefer, especially if you’re running over the road, we can actually run that reefer essentially indefinitely by turning up and down the regen on the axle.

And so there’s a bunch of different benefits there. And the important piece here is that we are building this trailer as a new platform for all of the other stuff that’s showing up.

Electric lift gates, solar, electric….all of that stuff. And so our battery and the generator that is the e axle will also act as the power supply and the power generation plant within the trailer to power all of these other ancillary components that are coming out.

We’re just starting just by driving and showing the efficiency information and the safety stuff. We’re just scratching the surface of the opportunity for these trailers in these fleets.

Jamie Irvine:

And when it comes to the way that a fleet specs this, is it only on new trailers or is there a retrofit option that’s going to be available?

Ali Javidan:

The retrofit option is a real thing thanks to the industry that have standardized a lot of things like tandem sliders and things like that. And so our slider will carry over from, we can basically build a kit that gets retrofit into your old trailer. Fantastic.

The last element, sorry from your last question about charging because this is something that I think a lot of the customers are going to be asking or the listeners are going to be asking about. Charging is something that’s very, very important to this industry and the infrastructure around charging is very important.

If you think of an electric tractor, you have to install megawatt charging, you have to do 800 megawatt, 1.2 megawatt charging stations. And those tractors, every time they’re parked, they’re burning money.

The trailers, because they’re parked at a loading dock, we can charge at the loading dock using shore power because we can actually leverage 150 kilowatt, 200 kilowatt, 300 kilowatt DC fast chargers that are readily available in the automotive space that can use building power and just charge at the loading dock DC or even better, some of our beverage routes.

They just hook up overnight and the thing is loaded up overnight, the driver shows up in the morning.

Jamie Irvine:

Charged and ready to go.

Ali Javidan:

Route, it’s charged, ready to go, and we just use level two charging basically that you can buy off of Amazon. And so the charging solution becomes much more flexible this way. Obviously, our trailer will also charge off the megawatt charging that most of the fleets are building, but that charging element is a very, very important piece to this because it oftentimes just gets kind of brushed under the rug.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, and especially over the years where we’re going to do this transition, this is not going to happen all at once. So there’s going to be different scenarios at different locations as each fleet and each location gets to that level of electrification.

Ali Javidan:

And then you start thinking about the warehouse operators, like the Prologis of the world, as they build new warehouses, they start to see technology like this and they incorporate that charging at the loading dock, so then it truly becomes completely transparent no matter what your lanes look like or what your operations look like.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. My name is Jamie Irvine. I’ve been speaking with Ali Javidan. He is the CEO and Founder of Range Energy.

If you’d like to learn more, go to Range.Energy links will be in the show notes. Allie, thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you so much and thanks for building a podcast studio for us. That was great.

Ali Javidan:

Of course, of course.

Jamie Irvine:

Adding an electric propulsion system on a commercial trailer definitely qualifies as challenging the status quo in the trucking industry in my books. I hope you enjoyed that awesome interview.

This episode originally aired on Monday, April 15th, 2024, and I am on my way down as we speak to Grapevine, Texas, which is just outside of Dallas for HDA Truck Prides Annual Meeting. I’ll be conducting several interviews with HDA Truck Pride members.

These are parts and service locations that serve the trucking industry. We’re going to be talking about the challenges they’re facing, some, the innovative things they’re doing to overcome those challenges and the benefits of being a member of HDA Truck Pride.

These interviews are going to air in May, so if you haven’t already, head over to heavydutypartsreport.com. Sign up to our weekly email. You’ll get one email a week where we update you on the latest content so you never miss out.

If you like listening on your podcast player of choice, hit that follow button for free, and if it gives you the option, give us a five star rating and a review. It really does help us to spread the word. And if you like watching the video version of our show, make sure you hit the subscribe button on YouTube and click that bell notification so that you get notified of new episodes being aired.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support of The Heavy Duty Parts Report. My name is Jamie Irvine. I’m your host, and as always, I want to encourage you to Be Heavy Duty.

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