Groupe Morneau drives toward a sustainable trucking future

Groupe Morneau drives toward a sustainable trucking future

The fleet's future is bright with its use of solar panels at its terminals and battery electric trucks on its routes.

At a glance Groupe Morneau’s updated brand image, reflected in a new logo, is about its three distinct but equally cohesive service offerings. Looking deeper, however, you quickly realize that the more modern look adopted by the Montreal, Québec carrier also symbolizes the forward-thinking steps it is continually taking to evolve.

“Our vision for our business is about shaping the future of road transport,” said David Morneau, executive vice president and chief operations officer, Groupe Monreau. “We have a new brand architecture for our extensive freight network and the services we offer, and we have a sustainability plan aimed at reducing our environmental footprint across the supply chain we serve. In addition to the planet, we’re also thinking about our 1,500 employees and the people and communities we interact with daily.”

Among the steps that Group Morneau is taking include equipping its 23 terminals across eastern Canada with solar panels and LED lighting and increasing green space by changing ground coverings to reduce heat islands around facilities. Today as well, its sustainability initiatives are focused on converting 60% of its fleet to electric vehicles by 2035.

The adoption of battery-electric trucks at Group Morneau began in early 2022 when the carrier took delivery of its first Volvo VNR Electric truck. The zero emission Class 8 tractor was purchased through Paré Centre du Camion, one of the first Volvo Trucks Certified Electric Vehicle (EV) Dealers in Canada.

The Volvo VNR Electric at Group Morneau is the first heavy-duty battery-electric Volvo truck operating in Québec City and the first Volvo VNR Electric tandem rear axle configuration in Canada. It will also be supported by Paré Centre du Camion with maintenance services and an inventory of parts and components.

“We had support from the dealership’s sales team and the Volvo Trucks electromobility team to determine ideal routes for the Volvo VNR Electric based on range, charging opportunities, and duty cycle,” Morneau related. “Offering a range of truckload, LTL, dry and refrigerated services gives us the opportunity to selectively position EVs in our operation.”

For example, Group Morneau was able to overcome concerns about the higher weight of the electric vehicles. While the loss of payload capacity would have an impact on its linehaul runs between terminals, for instance, using the VNR Electric with a 36-ft trailer in local operations eliminated that issue.

A major consideration for Group Morneau as it embarks on its adoption of EVs has been the financial aspects of the initiative. “Electric trucks as still considerably more expensive than diesel models and in an economic downturn there’s less capital because freight revenue is down and all of our costs are higher, so margins are low,” Morneau said. “To make this work financially we need government help and grants.

“We also need to involve our customers,” Morneau added. “We’re finding more companies are asking about having their freight moved on electric trucks because they want to make good choices for the planet, but when we consider the cost of EVs they also need to be willing to pay more.

“As a trucking company, we have to be smart and look at our costs, but it’s not our responsibility alone to absorb all the expenses of EVs,” Morneau continued. “We know It’s not easy to figure out how to pay for this, but we do know that we need everyone to keep an open mind and to collaborate so fleets, shippers, suppliers and the government all chip in at the same time.”

The first Volvo VNR Electric truck at Group Morneau is also helping answer some key questions. “We’re familiarizing ourselves with battery-electric vehicles by collecting as much data as possible,” Morneau said. “Testing leads to effective ways to accelerate electrification of the fleet and help the industry as a whole go green.”

One aspect of EV operation that group Morneau has been focusing on is battery capacity under severe temperatures. “We’ve operated the first unit through two Quebec winters so far and we’ve seen a loss of about 10 percent in range in colder weather,” Morneau related.

It is well known that battery-electric trucks can experience range reductions during extreme temperatures. To understand the science more fully, Volvo Trucks North America is working with the University of Minnesota to conduct extreme weather testing of its Class 8 VNR Electric model and analyze the impact of ambient temperature on a truck’s battery life. The testing is part of a Battery Efficiency for Sustainable Trucks (BEST) Project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technology Office.

Volvo has also developed a dedicated Battery Thermal Management System (BTMS) for the VNR Electric to help maintain optimum battery temperature range. The BTMS is a dedicated heating and cooling system connected to the batteries.

Groupe Morneau is actively looking a development in EV technology as well. “We’re having discussions with Volvo about its second generation VNR Electric, which we expect will have about twice the range between charges and that will be a game changer,” Morneau said. “We also anticipate battery technology will continue to evolve over the next few years, adding more range as development continues. Overall, we’re talking to several OEMs, especially as more choices for electric trucks and tractors come onto the market.”

Group Morneau has also been addressing the charging infrastructure it will need for a fleet of EVs. In that area, Morneau noted, the company is relying on its experience switching all its forklifts from propane to electric-powered models over the past few years.

“It’s not like plugging in a toaster,” Morneau said. “We had to change the electric capacity in our facilities to make sure we have the power we need, and with electric trucks the space for charging will have to be discussed as well.”

None of the challenges it is addressing with electric vehicles, however, have slowed the desire of Group Morneau to continue down a path to electrification of its fleet. For the 80-year-old family business, now in its fourth generation of ownership, that initiative is a key part of its vision to continue being a leader in transportation and logistics.

“We know well that the transportation industry is changing, and the world is changing,” Morneau said. “Along with a fresh new brand image, we are moving forward with sustainability plans that we hope will become permanent parts of the future of road transport at our company and across the entire trucking industry.”

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