Fleet builder: Alta eMobility founded to help integrate batteries, hydrogen into fleets
By Chad Elmore29 March 2023
When companies tell the world about the aggressive zero-carbon goals they have placed on their mobile equipment fleets, an uncomfortable discovery often follows. Writing that press release was the easy part: The real work starts when it’s time to secure financing and then build an infrastructure that will support the lithium-ion or hydrogen power requirements of a new fleet.
Thanks in part to the close working relationship Alta Equipment Group has with its customers, the construction and material handling equipment dealer saw an opportunity to help its clients keep their promise. It has launched the Alta eMobility business unit to help customers move through the process of converting fleets of trucks and heavy equipment to alternative power – from strategy and funding to execution, sales, service and maintenance.
“There are so many reasons for fleet owners to make the shift to electric, and we realize how daunting the process can be,” said Mike Bucci, vice president, Alta eMobility. “We’ve built our team from industry experts to provide our customers with a seamless, turnkey experience that takes a fleet from traditional power to electric power in the most efficient way possible.”
Based in Livonia, Mich., Alta Equipment Group sells, rents and provides parts and service support for several categories of specialized equipment, including lift trucks and aerial work platforms, cranes and earthmoving. It has a network of more than 70 locations in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New England, New York, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Also headquartered in Livonia, Alta eMobility will operate out of key locations within the network.
Alta started looking for ways to enter the on-road market two years ago, and the path was set after it signed several key suppliers. Like most distributors, Alta eMobility gets its components from specialists and uses that equipment to create and assemble a package that will meet the customer’s unique requirements. The company works as project managers to install the charging infrastructure required to support fleet goals, and the business will also handle the voucher (issued by the state) and rebate (from the utility) process.
Foundations and pedigrees
“When you fly into metro Detroit, Alta has equipment in nearly 40% of the companies that have material handling equipment, whether that rooftop is home to manufacturing or distribution. About 50% of our customers down there have some type of fleet and 100% of that customer base needs workplace charging – and that’s just the Detroit area. Let that sit for a second,” said Bucci. “When we talk to suppliers, there’s a lot of sales potential in that number. The strong relationships the company has developed with its customers can be an advantage for its partner suppliers, particularly start-ups.”
“Alta eMobility would be a good partner to help them get in front of mid-market companies,” he said. “Let’s face it, everybody knows Amazon; everybody knows Walmart. But not too many know the 25-truck fleet down the street we’ve been selling forklifts into for over 35 years. And there are a lot more companies of that size out there.”
Last year, Alta eMobility became responsible for sales, service, commissioning and infrastructure installation for Nikola Class 8 trucks in New York, New Jersey, New England, and Pennsylvania. More recently, it reached an agreement with BorgWarner Morse Systems to distribute and service DC fast chargers designed for a wide range of vehicles. The company said it expects to secure more than 350 of the chargers over a two-year period – thereby ensuring it’s got inventory in the warehouse.
“I would say the foundation of Alta eMobility was the agreement with Nikola, but our pedigree is everything we as Alta have done up to this point,” said Bucci. “What’s cool about Alta is we’ve got all this lithium battery and hydrogen experience from the forklifts we sell and service. It was natural for us to make this step; we understand the buyer’s journey because that’s what we’ve always done.”
With Bucci’s background in fuel cell technology and automotive fast charging, the team has been assembled with experts that have similar backgrounds.
“E-mobility is sexy,” said Bucci. “We’ve been able to recruit experts who know charging systems inside and out. They know how to walk a site and they understand how utility rebates work. One of my key hires did about $100 million in sales in forklift fuel cells before joining the team. I believe Alta eMobility knows more about hydrogen generation and distribution, energy storage and DC fast charging than any distributors out there right now. It’s a very powerful combination.”
For the BorgWarner chargers in particular, potential clients contact Alta eMobility directly to discuss acquisition and installation. “When they pick up the phone to work with Alta eMobility, the customer has one person to talk to from the beginning to the end,” said Bucci.
Using strategic partners and BorgWarner’s own telemetry platform team, Alta can install the chargers in any state or province. It will also remotely monitor the chargers and provide data that can help the end-user better understand their status and educate them on their proper use.
“What I love about this business is that it helps our existing customers,” said Bucci. “And it also provides them with another opportunity to work with Alta. We’re a trusted name in the material handling space. But now our forklift guys can go to a target account they’ve never done any business with and ask, ‘Have you thought about electrifying your tractor fleet?’ When they ask that, we have found that they’ll get a call back nearly 60% of the time, and that contact will bring someone higher up to the next meeting so they can talk about the entire fleet. Think of that – on a cold call, 60% of the time they’re invited back to a company they’ve never visited before. That’s awesome.”
Bucci said the timing is right for Alta Equipment Group to get into the clean energy space in a big way.
“We’re in the ‘hand-raising’ stage of the adoption curve now. In the EV space in general, the missionary work started with the GM EV-1,” he said. “Then it all paused before it picked up again in 2010, and then OEMs like Tesla pushed the envelope and pushed the industry. Now we’re past the early adopters and we’re onto the next level of the adoption curve. It’s really exciting.”