Jason McDaniel | Refrigerated Transporter
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eSmart reefers: Intelligent refrigerated vehicles go electric

Sept. 21, 2023
Great Dane and its TRU partners spotlight advancements in the highly connected, temperature-controlled trucks and trailers of the future at the foodservice industry's largest trade show.

FORT WORTH, Texas—Great Dane stakes its claim in the refrigerated market as the best-selling manufacturer of reefer trailers for customers in the foodservice industry. To serve them, the company is on pace to build 8,000 reefers this year—and aiming for a return to producing 11,000 Everest units annually in the next few years.

“Foodservice involves a lot of customization,” Tim Schmeits, director of engineering for Great Dane’s Everest line, told Refrigerated Transporter during the International Foodservice Distributors Association’s (IFDA) 2023 Solutions Conference.

“Everybody has their own unique niche, and demands they have, and Great Dane is well-suited to service them.”

To secure its utility well into the future—and meet current production goals—the Chicago, Illinois-headquartered trailer OEM is focused on making its reefers smarter and more sustainable. Great Dane recently completed integrating Thermo King’s TracKing transport refrigeration unit (TRU) telematics into its FleetPulse platform and began testing a medium-duty electric truck featuring a Carrier Transicold Supra eCool TRU with Performance Food Group (PFG).

“It’s an unknown market, but everybody’s trying to figure out what to do, so we’re wading in,” said Tim Miller, Great Dane truck body product director.

Ready or not, ‘we’re there’

They don’t have a choice, really.

Refrigerated fleets with seven or more truck-mounted TRUs must convert 15% of their fleet to zero-emission units starting next year to meet California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandates, which many other states are adopting; and CARB’s Advanced Clean Fleets timeline calls for all “high-priority” fleets with 50 or more vehicles operating in California to convert 15% of their box trucks to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2025.

So the demand is coming—and reefer vehicle and equipment OEMs must prepare now.

See also: TRU tech is evolving—and suppliers aim to help

“We’re there,” Sid Gnewikow, Thermo King Americas small truck product manager, confirmed to Refrigerated Transporter. “Truck is already in that position, with CARB regulations and what-not. The small-truck mandate takes effect next year, where small trucks in California will start to need to convert to electric, and therefore we’re going to need electric transport refrigeration units to support that transition as well.”

The deadlines for long-haul trailers and TRUs are further off, but Schmiets said they’re already contemplating how they’ll offset the TRU battery’s weight, which is expected to add 2,000 lbs., after removing the refrigeration unit’s diesel engine and fuel tank. “There will be continued efforts to reduce the weight with more composites in the trailer,” he said. “We also want to increase the thermal efficiency of the trailer itself, so you won’t need as big a battery pack to maintain that same temperature.

“It’s still early, but everybody knows [eTRUs] are coming, so we’re starting to look at them.”

Embracing the change

Great Dane already is learning from its work with Carrier Transicold and Navistar on a reefer body mounted on an International MV electric chassis. The company modified PFG’s preferred box spec to accommodate the truck battery, which is supplying about 100 to 150 miles of stop-and-go range, while also powering the TRU. And Thermo King is bolstering its lineup of electric TRUs—the company unveiled a small-truck TRU prototype in Fort Worth—while expanding its telematics solution through new integrations.

“Our new partnership with Thermo King to offer refrigeration data inside the FleetPulse portal gives mutual customers one-portal access to all available trailer data,” Justin Garver, Great Dane FleetPulse sales manager, explained. “Having one subscription for both services also helps simplify the billing process.”

Garver said emerging technology, like autonomous and electric vehicles, and challenging market conditions are leading more fleets to view trailers as the next frontier for fleet optimization and capital conservation—and FleetPulse is uniquely positioned to upgrade refrigerated operations across multiple departments. “We went from a few hundred test units [four years ago] to tens of thousands deployed today,” he said.

“So people are getting used to the idea of the trailer as an untapped ROI point; and being able to not only use the equipment more efficiently, but also prevent roadside repairs and things like that. There is a lot of money to be saved, and efficiency to be gained, by paying attention to what’s going on with the trailer.”

Smarter integrations

Great Dane’s collaboration with Thermo King also includes newly validated remote TRU start-stop commands, allowing customers to batch schedule multiple trailers for pre-cools through the FleetPulse platform, which also delivers fuel levels and alarms, refrigeration unit fault codes, and multi-zone temperature set points. “Everything you can get from that TRU, you’re going to see inside our dashboard,” Garver said.

The manufacturer also is working on integrating Carrier units with its “OEM-designed smart trailer telematics solution” by early next year, Garver said, and adding solar power for FleetPulse in model-year 2025 trailers. “It’s surprising how many trucks are not supplying proper power through the blue pin,” he said. “We were counting on that to supply power at all times when the trailer’s moving, but a lot of miles are accumulated without that blue pin properly powered, so we came up with an alternative power source.”

FleetPulse, available in Base, Pro, and Go versions, also offers trailer and cargo tracking that boosts utilization and deters theft, and advanced anti-lock braking (ABS) and tire-pressure monitoring (TPMS) system integrations. “Being able to show what assets on the road are exposing them to liability is a huge advantage—and it’s a data point you can’t get from anybody else because we’re tied directly into the brake valve, and getting all that through the CAN [bus], and then overlaying it with our own breadcrumbs,” Garver maintained.

Expanding TRU options

Thermo King’s electric TRU lineup currently includes the e200 rooftop-mounted unit for small- and medium-sized trucks and vans, the large-capacity e1000 for Class 5-7 trucks, and the Precedent S-750i hybrid trailer unit, which combines a diesel engine with an electric generator and compressor, facilitating shore-power sustainability. The new nose-mounted e300 single-temp TRU for Class 2-4 trucks is expected to be available in Q2 2024.

The unit will offer a refrigeration capacity similar to Thermo King’s V-520 while running on electric standby power, which reduces the truck battery’s range by 15 to 20 miles per charge, Gnewikow said. “It’s fully integrated with an electric vehicle chassis battery,” he said. “It’s a 400-volt system taking power from the vehicle’s ePTO and driving our power management module—a reciprocating electrified compressor.”

See also: Utility brings Cargobull TRUs to U.S.

The e200 will be manufactured in Thermo King’s Hastings, Nebraska, truck facility.

“We’re excited to launch this unit, get it out in the market, and see what our customers think,” Gnewikow said.

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has nearly 20 years of experience as a journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.

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