Rihm tackles alternative powertrains and sustainability at customer event

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Updated Jul 5, 2024
Rihm CEO Kari Rihm speaks at the company's event
Rihm Family Companies CEO Kari Rihm speaks during “Driving Toward a Sustainable Tomorrow,” the company's education event and customer ride and last week in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Rihm Family Companies

Rihm Family Companies and Rihm Kenworth took its customers on a crash course through alternative powertrains and the future of transportation during its first ever “Driving Toward a Sustainable Tomorrow” education event and customer ride and drive Friday in Falcon Heights, Minn.

With speakers from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and well as trucking entities Kenworth, Cummins, NACFE, ATRI and a keynote address from American Truck Dealers (ATD) President Laura Perrotta, Friday’s event was designed to illuminate Rihm’s customer base about how the trucking industry and the equipment they operate is evolving.

Focused not just on alternative propulsion advancements, Rihm’s event brought in customers from across the upper Midwest and Great Lakes to better understand how adopting sustainable solutions can offer immediate profitability benefits, and better position their operations to adopt new powertrains and fueling options as they become more necessary to meet federal and state emission regulations.

“Rihm Family Companies’ goal was to empower businesses with knowledge and tools to drive change toward a more sustainable future in transportation," the company said after the event. “The genuine interest from attendees, some of whom made commitments to purchase and lease electric vehicles, shows that we successfully achieved our goal.”

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The event kicked off with comments from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Patrick Deal, who told of three businesses within the state that have started down their sustainability journey and are seeing benefits. Deal says sustainability has unquestionable environmental and societal benefits, but investing in it shouldn’t be solely done for marketing reasons. When executed well, he says sustainable solutions also can drive bottom-line success. He says sustainability can drive efficiency, increase access to capital and reduce risk in the future.

Kenworth T680 E in the lot at Rihm's sustainability eventCustomers check out a new Kenworth battery electric tractor during Rihm Family Companies' “Driving Toward a Sustainable Tomorrow” event last week in Falcon Heights, Minn.Rihm Family Companies

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NACFE’s Dave Schaller followed, picking up Deal’s baton to offer examples of carriers already operating in the North American trucking market that are investing heavily in battery electric and hydrogen vehicles as part of their sustainability initiatives. Schaller says NACFE’s research indicates trucking is entering its “messy middle” period, with lots of manufacturers and possible solutions coming to market to address reducing emissions across the trucking space.

Schaller says NACFE doesn’t advocate or back one solution; what works for one fleet’s sustainability journey may not work for another. “Every fleet’s operation is unique,” he says.

But NACFE believes electric trucks, hydrogen fuel cell technologies and renewable diesel or biodiesel solutions will see their adoption rates grow in trucking. Schaller says regulation will drive some of that, but not all. Regarding BEVs specifically, he says drivers behind the wheel of these new trucks love them, and if long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) rates can come in line with ICE engines, there will be carriers that commit to it.

He also warned the audience that any journey toward reducing emissions and improving sustainability is a long, costly journey where there’s “no easy button” to press.

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“This is really, really hard,” Schaller says. “The best thing you can do is do the basics right. Aerodynamics, tire pressure, those are range extenders for electric vehicles the same way they are with diesels … Do the basic blocking and tackling right.”

ATRI’s Dan Murray, who followed Schaller, agreed on the importance of efficiency as a path toward sustainability. But he says ATRI’s reach indicates government regulators focused on a zero-tailpipe emissions may be driving unnecessary cost and complexity into the industry where near-zero fueling options also have sustainability benefits. He says regulators, particularly California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), “don’t appear to be focused on pollution and climate change as much as they are tailpipe emission reduction.”

Rihm also spoke to the importance of understanding regulations and the impact they have on fleet operators. 

“As regulations become increasingly stringent, businesses must stay informed and adapt to new standards. By hosting events like this that focus on zero emissions, alternative fuels, and compliance with EPA 2027 and CARB rules, we aim to equip our industry with the knowledge necessary to navigate these changes successfully,” the company says. “Educating our partners and customers not only helps in reducing their carbon footprint but also ensures the longevity and competitiveness of their operations in this constantly evolving market.”

And Schaller adds while Class 8 BEVs do reduce total life cycle emissions from conventional Class 8 diesel engines, renewable diesel is capable of lowering emissions even further. And because renewable diesel is molecularly identical to petroleum diesel, trucks on the road today could immediately convert to the fuel and lower their emissions.

ATRI’s most recent report indicates commercial trucking costs were up nearly 7% last year (when excluding reduced fuel costs). Murray says not all carriers can afford to make gargantuan investments into ZEV technologies at a time when the trucking market has seen six consecutive quarters of contraction.

Yet for the customers at Rihm’s event eager to start their sustainability journey, there are a multitude of options available. Kenworth’s Sean Henebry and Andrea Hillan and Karl Palmer of Cummins also spoke Friday about the technologies their companies have brought and are bringing to the market. The manufacturers reiterated the messaging from Schaller and Murray that many solutions will likely be used to help trucking continue to reduce its emissions.

Henebry says Kenworth estimates ZEV marketshare will approach 50% around 2036, but notes “there’s going to be a lot of learning along the way,” to get there.

[RELATED: Analyzing the details of California early ZEV sales success]

Friday’s event then concluded with a keynote address from ATD’s Perrotta, who touched on the complex regulatory journey CARB has created that is about the spread outward across the country, and a panel discussion on adopting BEV’s with Henebry, Paccar Parts’ Jennifer Davis, Xcel Energy’s Ehren Korshus and Erin Koegel, chair of Minnesota’s state sustainability and infrastructure policy group.

ATD President Laura Perrotta on stage at Rihm eventATD President Laura Perrotta presents during Rihm Family Companies' “Driving Toward a Sustainable Tomorrow” event last week in Falcon Heights, Minn.Rihm Family Companies

During her presentation, Perrotta addressed how ATD is fielding scores of calls from dealers in California and its MOU partner states that fear they may not be able to sell new diesel trucks when all of CARB’s new regulations go live. Perrotta says due to the complexity and overlap of CARB’s regulations, dealers are being forced to manage all three major regulations — even though they are not explicitly mandated to sell ZEVs under the new rules.

“It’s a truck recession that this point in California,” she says. “I don’t think anyone really understands how complex this is going to get and how hard it is going to get.”

Perrotta adds ATD is responding through congressional engagement, trying to show policymakers and regulators that CARB’s regulations (and to a lesser degree EPA’s Phase 3 regulations) are “too far, too fast.”

The closing panel was a wide-ranging discussion, with Paccar’s experts touching on how fleets can evaluate low- and zero-emission technologies and best determine the options that work for their operations. Korshus also provided vital real-world experience for his company’s adoption of BEVs; while Koegel shared how industry can educate with government entities to help drive acceptance of fuel and powertrain solutions that make the most sense fiscally and sustainably.

Adds Rihm, “It is only by working together that we can drive innovation in zero emissions and alternative fuel technologies, ensuring that our industry remains compliant and competitive. Government policies provide the framework, while businesses bring practical insights and innovations to the table. Collaboration is essential for both the environment and the economy.”

Panel discussion at Rihm's sustainability eventTPS Editor Lucas Deal (left) moderates a panel on the future of trucking sustainability with Ehren Korshus of Xcel Energy; Erin Koegel, chair of Minnesota’s state sustainability and infrastructure policy group; Jennifer Davis of Paccar Parts; and Sean Henebry of Kenworth.Rihm Family Companies

Hydrogen Fuel Cell & BEV Survey
The following survey was sent as a link in an email cover message in February 2023 to the newsletter lists for Overdrive and CCJ. After approximately two weeks, a total of 176 owner-operators under their own authority, 113 owner-operators leased or assigned to a carrier and 82 fleet executives and 36 fleet employees from fleets with 10 or more power units had completed and submitted the questionnaire for a total of 407 qualified responses. Cross-tabulations based on respondent type are provided for each question when applicable.
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