Walmart: Sustainability key to network development, serving customers

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Updated May 29, 2024
Walmart transportation leadership panel
Walmart's Ravi Mishra (far left), Senior Director of Energy Transformation, moderates a discussion panel with other important company transportation leaders at the 2024 ACT Expo.
Clean Trucking

A group of Walmart executives specializing in transportation, technology, and logistics held a panel discussion last Thursday at the 2024 ACT Expo in Las Vegas where they focused on critical issues such as innovation, safety, and the road to a zero emissions future.

Sustainability is the key to how we’re developing our network,” said panel moderator and Walmart’s Senior Director for Energy Transformation, Ravi Mishra. “It is an ambitious goal to transfer the fleet to zero emissions by 2040. Our aim is to continue leading the charge to zero emissions with industry collaboration. And we’re always putting the customers first.”

Other panel participants included:

  • Chad Harris, Senior Director, Product Management
  • Brooke Weeks, Senior Manager, Engineering
  • Ryan McDaniel, Vice President, Transportation
  • Warren J. Moore, Vice President, Dedicated Delivery

Like America’s entire freight and transportation industry, Walmart must achieve zero emissions by 2040 per the EPA’s Phase 3 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Heavy-Duty Vehicles. Mishra acknowledged that while the political winds are expected to change to varying degrees between now and then, the country’s largest retailer is firmly committed to a sustainable future. For example, Walmart is “the first transportation company to pilot the 15-liter natural gas engine by Cummins, which has the same torque and power [as a conventional diesel] but at lower emissions.”

[Related: Consumer protections included in Phase 3 EPA rule]

Driver Safety, Logistics, and Customer Focus 

Migrating the company’s fleet to zero emissions powertrains is just one part of the larger equation. Issues like driver safety and ensuring customer satisfaction cannot be ignored. 

Chad Harris said that these “challenges are not unique to Walmart. What is unique is the scope and scale of the business. There are three things we learned that are shaping our approach: First off, electrifying everything is not the answer. There are different vehicle types, different cycles. Two, we have to find the right partners. Partnership is critical. It takes a village from an OEM and charging perspective. And three, [this must be] solved holistically. We need to be thinking about our customers and helping them save money and live better.”

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Driver safety remains critical and Walmart has no intention of replacing its drivers outright with autonomous technologies.

“We’re not looking to replace our drivers with autonomous technology,” Harris added. “We’re not looking to leverage that technology but we see it as a way to increase the safety of drivers. We will not settle or bend on our safety expectations. Lane keep assistance and avoidance collision; vehicles have to have these safety features.”

Maintaining driver comfort within tight delivery deadlines is another factor being addressed with new technologies such as charging times. Walmart driver poses in front of his truck"Safety is our absolute top priority," said Walmart's Ryan McDaniel, VP of Transportation. "Our private fleet is the safest of the year for the ninth consecutive year."Walmart

“[Our] drivers spend four nights a week in the tractors,” McDaniel said. “Their schedules are optimized to match the workload we move. It’s optimized to run as few miles as possible and to make sure drivers are productive. It’s a very well orchestrated machine. Testing and learning is the key piece. As the operator, we have to change.”

McDaniel was also very clear regarding charging times: “A customer is not going to accept a late delivery because the driver had to stop for charging or the grid was down. The better the vehicle the range, the better it protects us. We need easy access to charging. There are three key factors: procurement cost, fuel cost, operating cost. How can we find as a collective community to do some shared charging access?” 

There is another critical factor that’s being taken into account with the implementation of electric vehicles: range anxiety. 

“Range anxiety is an emotion drivers experience,” McDaniel continued. “At around 20% [range remaining] they start to become concerned. Anxiety introduces another variable that can alter drivers’ schedules and safety.” 

New Technologies

Meanwhile, selecting the right vehicles to purchase now and in the future falls to Brooke Weeks. It’s not a simple task.  

“We’re trying to find solutions across all fleet types,” she explained. “Each asset has its own unique challenges and complexities to solve. Over the road and refrigerated trailers are the challenge right now. We’re working directly with OEMs on how to approach choosing the right vehicle in the first place to deliver the best service. We’ve developed a comprehensive approach to testing, specifically evaluation testing. [This consists of] running out specific types of routes, climates, terrains, and different payloads all done before deployment. We’re also looking at creative ways to reduce infrastructure costs. Automated distribution centers are one example.” 

Warren J. Moore reminded the audience that Walmart’s EV fleet has driven “over 40 million electric miles to date [and that] more than 1,100 EV delivery vans are currently in operation.” Along with working to increase both of those numbers, driver safety and repairing damaged vehicles are also under his purview. Many new technologies are on Moore’s radar, including drones.

“Our associates need the right equipment. They need a safe driving experience, such as cameras that surround the vehicle, bulkhead door closures, and the height of the steps. Our OEM partners need to think about collision shops. Simply anything to get damaged vehicles back on the road quickly. Basically, what do things look like with EVs running?” 

Despite the many challenges ahead, the panel's overall concluding message is that change is happening right now and it must be carefully monitored and done responsibly. 

“TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) is tough today,” Weeks said. “There is a lot of room to go to get to cost parity. Over the last three to four years and every year we discuss how we’re going to scale but the prices have gone up. Hopefully, this will change.”

Jay Traugott has covered the automotive and transportation sector for over a decade and now serves as Senior Editor for Clean Trucking. He holds a drifting license and has driven on some of the world's best race tracks, including the Nurburgring and Spa. He lives near Boulder, Colorado, and spends his free time snowboarding, climbing, and hiking. He can be reached at [email protected].

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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