Tue. Jun 18th, 2019

From Walmart to Nikola: 10 questions for Elizabeth Fretheim

Elizabeth Fretheim has spent the final couple of weeks unpacking transferring packing containers and adjusting to strolling her canine within the dry Phoenix warmth. The previous senior director of provide chain sustainability for Walmart not too long ago left the retail behemoth after a decade and made the cross-country trek to hitch five-year-old clear truck startup Nikola Motor Firm. 

The climate will likely be only one change for Fretheim. Nikola is creating hydrogen-powered electrical semi-trucks to promote and lease to transport corporations and company fleets. The vans — that are supposed to enter manufacturing in late 2022 — will have the ability to transfer items with zero emissions and save corporations on diesel fueling prices. The corporate additionally plans to construct out hydrogen fueling stations throughout america to gasoline the autos, and it has teamed up with Ryder to supply on-demand upkeep and servicing.

Fretheim, as head of enterprise improvement, will act as liaison between fleet managers and Nikola, she instructed us, serving to the corporate construct merchandise that can serve their wants. On the similar time, she’ll assist the fleet operators perceive the potential of hydrogen-electric vans, a know-how that hasn’t gained a lot traction to date in america.

Nikola has a few large years forward of it. The corporate plans to lift extra funding, construct out its manufacturing unit in Arizona, set up a whole lot of hydrogen charging stations, get to commercialization and meet the calls for of its sizable variety of early orders. This week, Nikola is holding a two-day occasion, Nikola World, meant to indicate the world its merchandise and plans. 

On the eve of Nikola World, GreenBiz talked to Fretheim about why she made the transfer from the world’s largest firm to a startup and what she discovered serving to Walmart embrace extra sustainable transport. The next Q&A has been edited evenly for size and readability. 

Katie Fehrenbacher: Why did you wish to be part of Nikola, a younger auto-tech startup, after a few years because the senior director of provide chain sustainability for Walmart?

Elizabeth Fretheim: Rising up in Alberta, Canada, the place the primary trade was oil, sustainability turned a ardour of mine and how … we transition to cleaner vitality. As your whole readers will know, we’re just a little bit behind on our local weather targets, and once I was on the lookout for one thing new, I actually needed to seek out someplace the place they had been a revolution in transportation and know-how.

I don’t suppose now we have the time to only evolve what we’re doing. We have to revolutionize. I needed to seek out [an organization that] was trying to transfer quick and discover sustainable good options that transfer as quick as they’ll. Nikola was doing each. I actually needed to work with them to attempt to use my expertise and fervour for sustainability to assist them transfer quicker, if potential.

We do not have time to only evolve what we’re doing. We have to revolutionize.

Fehrenbacher: What had been a number of the largest classes you discovered at Walmart about clear truck fleets?

Fretheim: A truck isn’t a truck isn’t a truck. The transportation trade, particularly the freight motion trade, may be very advanced and numerous. The vans are completely different, the rules are completely different, the driving force issues, what’s the enterprise, what’s the responsibility cycle …  it’s a really advanced trade. It’s important to be ready to have the ability to take care of that range in your resolution.

That is going to sound apparent, however these vans are cell. You may’t take into consideration the place that truck begins or parks on the finish of the day; you want to have the ability to service the truck many, many miles away from the place it spends the night time.

These vans are additionally a instrument for the enterprise. Although I’m very targeted on transitioning to cleaner energies, on the finish of the day, the car has to do what the enterprise wants it to do. It has to have the ability to carry that freight. It has to make it from level A to B. It needs to be secure. So it’s not nearly transitioning to scrub vitality; you need to take into consideration the complete bundle.

Cents flip into dollars in a short time on this enterprise. In case you’re speaking a few cost-per-mile, only a few miles out of route, simply to go to a fueling station, could make a giant distinction for a few of these corporations. So I believe although I’m very passionate and targeted on transitioning to scrub, it needs to be properly built-in into the enterprise that we’re fixing for as properly.

Fehrenbacher: How does the clear truck market look to you proper now? Is it reaching some sort of tipping level or are we nonetheless extra within the early days?

Fretheim: I might say it’s each in several methods. For the tipping level, I might say there may be clear curiosity and dedication and momentum for these options. Even simply since I’ve been right here, I’ve had so a lot of my contacts at my prior life attain out and wish to know what we’re doing and the way they’ll get entangled. I believe, as one in every of my colleagues mentioned, we’re using the crest of the wave.

On the similar time, it’s very early days. There’s quite a bit to determine: the know-how; the infrastructure; rules; requirements. However I believe that’s additionally a part of what makes this very thrilling. We’re working from a clear slate right here at Nikola, too, which generally will be tougher, however generally you’re not tied to the way in which issues had been.

Video of Elizabeth Fretheim, Walmart

Fehrenbacher: Do you see a wide range of applied sciences taking part in completely different roles throughout the completely different truck functions and drive cycles?

Fretheim: I do. I believe every know-how can have its greatest responsibility cycle. We discuss usually about it being a poly-fuel future. 

For hydrogen and gasoline cells, there’s undoubtedly a bonus if there are longer routes or even when a truck is doing a number of runs in a day. Hydrogen [technology] can do something that diesel can do however it’s zero emissions, it’s quieter and works properly in chilly climate. We have to assist our prospects perceive the know-how and the way it matches of their enterprise.

Fehrenbacher: What’s Nikola’s benefit? What’s the pitch for a few of these fleets?

Fretheim: I’m tremendous excited that they’re actually this from scratch. They’re constructing these vans from the bottom-up to be hydrogen-fuel-cell vans versus retrofitting a diesel truck or perhaps a pure gasoline truck. They’re actually what they should do to optimize the truck and the service for hydrogen as a gasoline. And so I believe that’s one of many largest benefits. They’re pioneering this, and so they’re doing it in an aggressive and artistic means. On the similar time, they’re working with nice companions to ensure we’re constructing sound, dependable, sustainable know-how.

Fehrenbacher: What do you suppose are the largest challenges for startup automakers constructing clear vans, aside from the plain startup challenges, elevating cash and being a brand new firm?

Fretheim: The infrastructure is a giant piece. It’s important to construct a producing plant and put in a maintenance-and-parts service community. And there are all of these complexities we talked about: every of your prospects is completely different, and you may’t essentially simply construct one resolution. It’s going to be completely different for each buyer.

Additionally gaining the boldness of the purchasers. A number of these OEMs have been round for a lot of, a few years, and so they’ve constructed good relationships and loyalty with their prospects. And rightfully so — they’ve constructed an important product that has continued to enhance. So we have to begin to construct confidence with the purchasers [proving] that now we have the product, have that infrastructure and we are able to service them properly.

Fehrenbacher: How ought to corporations like Walmart, large fleet suppliers, take a look at working with younger startups like Nikola?

Fretheim: You may add a number of complexity into their enterprise for those who can’t service nationwide or for those who’re including a number of complexity into the coaching of their technicians or elements stock. I believe my expertise at Walmart, and how can we make certain that is seamlessly built-in as a lot as potential into the present operations, goes to be vital. We wish to be sure that our prospects really feel like once they put one in every of these vans on the market, if one thing occurs, the wheels can flip rapidly once more.

These vans are a instrument for the enterprise, and so they’re earning money when the wheels are turning and so they’re hauling their load. So if we may also help them really feel good and now we have the infrastructure to assist them, that’s going to be key.

These vans are a instrument for the enterprise and so they’re earning money when the wheels are turning and so they’re hauling their load.

Fehrenbacher: What do you suppose are the largest challenges usually for the rising clear truck fleet market?

Fretheim: Price and uncertainty. Diesel vans have been round for a few years, and folks perceive the know-how and perceive when one thing goes to interrupt and the way … they put together for and take care of it. A few of these new applied sciences are very advanced and excessive tech, and that may be considerably unnerving for the [fleet operators]. 

That uncertainty together with all the pieces else happening within the trade proper now could be quite a bit for the fleets to be coping with. It may be very overwhelming and generally when one thing is that overwhelming, it is rather simple to say, “I don’t wish to take care of this proper now.” We’re simplifying this so it’s simple for them to make the swap.

Fehrenbacher: Do you see stress coming from the top buyer eager to have their provide chain be extra decarbonized when it comes to transport?

Fretheim: One of many issues that stunned me once I acquired right here [to Nikola] was the range of the inquiries from everybody from shippers and enormous fleets, all the way in which right down to a lot smaller fleets which might be very on this know-how. I discovered that to be promising and thrilling. That is going again to how we’re at just a little little bit of a tipping level when it comes to curiosity and these applied sciences.

Fehrenbacher: With out revealing an excessive amount of, why ought to the trade be enthusiastic about Nikola World?

Fretheim: There’s a lot. There’s been a number of uncertainty concerning the know-how and what it may do. You are going to come to Nikola World and see it work. Hopefully, that can get prospects excited concerning the know-how and what it may do and see that that is actual. This will likely be an answer for them and for the targets that they’re attempting to get to. That’s tremendous thrilling. You may additionally get to seek out out extra about what they’re pondering when it comes to the stations and the enterprise mannequin.

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