NEW YORK – On a sultry Thursday morning in the South Bronx, a stream of local politicians walked to an outdoor podium framed by a Volvo Class 8 VNR Electric Truck that will soon be quietly hauling trailers of cold beer with no exhaust emissions into Manhattan.

They celebrated the first of five VNR Electrics that Manhattan Beer Distributors bought with the help of $ 975,000 paid by Volkswagen AG to settle a diesel emissions fraud scandal. In a part of New York where 13% of residents suffer from asthma from poor air quality, the first eco-friendly electric truck is indeed a big deal.

Manhattan owner Sam Bergson decided to make a difference when he was asked two decades ago by then-US MP Jose Serrano to make the air more breathable in the heavily industrialized Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx. Much of the restaurants and groceries for Manhattan and other New York boroughs are trucked out of the area’s distribution warehouses.

Sam Bergson, Founder and CEO of Manhattan Beer Distributors, speaks on Thursday at a ceremony marking the receipt of the first Volvo VNR Electric Truck on the east coast. Bergson’s business will get four more trucks by the end of the year.
(Photo: Alan Adler / FreightWaves)

Started with CNG conversions

“It was spot on,” said Bergson. “I wanted to be emission-free by 2020, but then the business doubled from 200 to 400 trucks,” he said. It has a market share of 60% and delivers 45 million cases of beer annually, covering almost all adult drinks except Anheuser-Busch’s.

On the roof of the Manhattan headquarters is a 191,000 square meter solar system that delivers 1 megawatt of electricity annually, which Bergson sells to Consolidated Edison.

“It was just right.”

Sam Bergson, Founder and CEO, Manhattan Beer Distributors

Bergson’s efforts began in 2001 with the conversion of 15 diesel trucks to run on natural gas trucks. Today half of the Bergson fleet runs on CNG. The plan is to swap 35 trucks per year for CNG or electric trucks over the next four years in order to remove diesel from its fleet, with the exception of a few vans and small trucks.

“We’ve been working with Volvo for about 10 years on compressed natural gas vehicles,” Bergson told FreightWaves. “You were doing electrical engineering in California and we said, ‘Okay, let’s look at this in New York, too.'”

CNG trucks make up half of the Bergson fleet, replacing 1.35 million gallons of diesel consumption with 1 million gallons of CNG per year.

Although some drivers complain that CNG trucks are less powerful than diesel, they have 40% fewer parts, which contributes to lower maintenance costs. Electric trucks have even fewer parts that wear out or fail.

Six years of maintenance

Volvo offers six years of full service for the VNR Electrics. via Milea Truck Sales and LeasingTruck Sales and Leasing, another family business in the Bronx. Milea is the first Volvo EV Certified Dealer on the East Coast after selecting TEC Equipment in Fontana, California.

Volvo announced the order for the five trucks in June. The first truck will enter service on Friday and will stop on a seven-mile route into Manhattan. The other four trucks will be delivered from the Volvo plant in Dublin, Virginia, by the end of the year.

“This is a huge step, a huge event,” Peter Voorhoeve, President of Volvo Trucks North America, told reporters at a media roundtable.

The VNR’s electric range of up to 250 miles is enough to cover Manhattan’s longest route for two days without charging. The electrical change takes place via two 75-kilowatt tritium chargers, which can charge a VNR Electric to 80% in two hours, according to Allen Goetz, Market Development Manager Fleet e-Mobility at Gilbarco Veeder-Root.

The Volvo VNR Electric receives a fee before it goes into service and delivers beer from the Manhattan Beer Distributors headquarters in the Bronx. (Photo: Alan Adler / FreightWaves)

Volvo’s goal is to have 35% of the trucks it produces with electric drive by 2030. However, Voorhoeve will not talk about the order database.

“Trucks on the roads help keep the air clear,” he said. “Trucks on the order book will have an impact on this in the future.”

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.