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SMUD Unveils Electric Service Truck and Pilot Plans

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District is set to begin a six-month pilot to deploy and test several electric service trucks, with the aim to eventually decarbonize its entire 1,000 vehicle fleet.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District CEO and General Manager Paul Lau and Zeus Electric Chassis Chief Revenue Officer Bill Brandt unveiling one of several electric fleet trucks to be piloted by the utility at the California Mobility Center.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District CEO and General Manager Paul Lau (right) and Zeus Electric Chassis Chief Revenue Officer Bill Brandt (left) unveil one of several electric fleet trucks to be piloted by the utility at the California Mobility Center March 17.
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The next generation of bucket and service trucks used by the utility industry are being developed from a former army depot in an industrial zone of California’s capital city, where they are being use-tested by the local utility provider.

Zeus Electric Chassis Inc. unveiled its base electric vehicle to reporters Thursday from the California Mobility Center (CMC), a nonprofit support organization for early stage companies looking to innovate in the electric transportation space.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), a not-for-profit electric provider for 1.5 million customers across a service area of 900 square miles, will begin a pilot project to deploy and test five of the new vehicles.


“What is so important about what SMUD will do for us, they’ll take these five trucks, put them in five different crews’ hands, and along with some other service providers of the CMC, we’re going to do a six-month fleet adoption program, and have a third party that’s going to basically measure the gains that this truck will serve in the industry,” Bill Brandt, chief revenue officer for Zeus Electric Chassis Inc., explained at the unveiling.

The electric trucks will be manufactured in Minnesota, but the company has been working out of the CMC, where it has gained a better understanding of the quickly evolving electric vehicle market in a state that is arguably the national leader for electric vehicles. The Golden State is the largest electric car market in the country, and ranks EVs as one of its top manufacturing exports.

The CMC was established two and a half years ago with founding members like the city of Sacramento, Sacramento State University, SMUD and the University of California, Davis, with the idea of creating a new organization to help early stage companies navigate the friction points of bringing new products to market, Mark Rawson, chief operating officer for the CMC, told reporters. The facility, located in a 25,000-square-foot space in a decommissioned military installation, marked its one-year anniversary of operations at the event.
One of the medium-duty electric work vehicles made by Zeus Electric Chassis.
SMUD will pilot several medium-duty electric work vehicles made by Zeus Electric Chassis.
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
SMUD, which provided $15 million in seed capital to the CMC, operates more than 1,000 vehicles, and has already electrified light-duty vehicles like sedans.

“But there’s a challenge for the medium and heavy-duty vehicles,” said Paul Lau, CEO and general manager for SMUD. “So as part of the founders for the CMC, we were ecstatic when we found Zeus is in the market, built in the U.S., that’s going to work with us.”

The utility provider has a vision to decarbonize its generating plants by 2030.

“But in addition, we also really want to advance e-mobility for both transportation and the utility industry,” said Lau.

“Yes, it’s going to cost a little bit more money, but when you think about, you want to decarbonize, and really accelerate e-mobility, you have to work with companies like this,” he added.

And indeed, the partnership between Zeus and SMUD will be well watched by other utilities up and down the West Coast, as well as cities and counties which also invest in medium and heavy-duty fleet vehicles. A number of cities like New York and others have explored the idea of transitioning specialty vehicles like garbage trucks and fire engines to EVs, but have found few options to choose from on the market. Companies like Zeus hope to change this.

“You can also put refrigeration on here and do food delivery. So this is just a base chassis that’s very versatile, because… existing bodies can fit on the back,” said Brandt. “We are targeting the utility market initially. And so the applications that we’re proving at SMUD… we’re creating a product portfolio that will fit into any number of utility companies.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.


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