Flurry of fleet EV investment hits Southeast.

PositionElectric vehicles

This story first appeared in the Dec. 13 print edition of the GSA Business Report.

Auto companies unable to adjust to the coming tide of change electrification, autonomy and connectivity will likely not survive the next decade.

That was the smoke signal Andraes Bareid, electric vehicle account manager for the ERP software company Qad, picked up from the auto industry in 2019.

Bareid saw the prediction only amplify this year's struggles in the automotive sector as ships, heavy with cargo containers, stalled outside ports, and glistening lines of undriven cars awaited computer chips.

The industry as a whole contracted by 16% in 2020, while the electric car market expanded by 41% year-over-year, according to the International Energy Agency's 2021 outlook report.

"Little did we know how the pandemic would act as a catalyst to this change," he said. "It's not only regulatory change, consumer behavior, supply chain shortages, but it's also how we are choosing things differently."

Lightweight consumer vehicles tend to take the drivers' seat when it comes to electric vehicle development, but the past year has prompted a flush of investment in fleet and commercial vehicle production.

"The transformation is accelerating," Brett Pope, electric vehicle director of Volvo Trucks North America, told the crowd at the 2021 S.C. Manufacturing Conference and Expo in November. "We clearly see that when we talk to our customers and talk to our customers' customers."

Volvo Trucks North America, with headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., began manufacturing two electric tractors and a straight truck at a plant in New River Valley, Va., this year through a $400 million investment.

Customer demand and a spike in e-commerce prompted the company to fast track the production of the electric regional, or day-cab, vehicle, Pope said.

A $45 million grant from the California Air Resources Board also enabled the company to launch Volvo Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions, a three-year pilot project where the company uses battery-electric trucks and equipment to move freight between ports and warehouses in Southern California.

"The diesel combustion engine is not going away," Pope said. "It will be there, and it will continue in certain applications in certain regions of the world, in certain heavy, heavy-duty applications where it makes sense."

Earlier this year, the Volvo Group announced plans to go fully electric by 2030.

A few years ago, the only large commercial EVs...

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