EV Obsession and the 2023 ACT Expo

For a dozen or so years, Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA) have been placing on the Superior Clear Transportation, or “ACT,” Expo, combating the great battle and attempting to get firms to at the least faux to really feel dangerous that they’re burning a billion tons of planet-killing diesel yearly. And in that point, the market has type of come to them. From a mere 500 or so individuals at that first convention, the 2023 ACT Expo counted greater than 12,000 registrants within the days earlier than the doorways opened. That’s 50% greater than final yr, when the variety of massive electrical and hydrogen-fueled semi tractors poured out of the Lengthy Seashore Conference Middle and onto the streets, and that was 50% larger once more than the present’s earlier document, within the final “regular” yr we had earlier than we stopped pretending that society was being held collectively by stockboys and cashiers making minimal wage. And, for the second yr in a row, I discovered myself headed out to Los Angeles on a chilly Chicago morning — however this yr the vibe was a bit totally different.

For starters, the Readability pre-check line at O’Hare safety didn’t appear to be any shorter, or shifting any sooner than any of the opposite traces. The key is out on that, and $179 a yr isn’t sufficient to be handled like a super-citizen. Which is ok. I’m used to it. Being a tree-hugging automotive man means I’m hardly ever ever handled like something however a leper: at all times an excessive amount of of a tree hugger to be taken critically by the automotive individuals and drag racers, at all times an excessive amount of just like the automotive individuals and drag racers to hug a tree or two with out at the least imagining whispers of greenwashing and pandering.

The following spherical of eco-friendly surprises got here on the United terminal, which was plastered with posters about sustainable aviation gasoline and variety, with smiling, dark-skinned woman pilots casually, perhaps even playfully, trying over their shoulders at everybody who made it by means of the TSA pat-downs. The meals court docket was in on the act, too, with extra posters promoting Past breakfast sandwiches. (They style high-quality, should you’re curious and you want falafel and also you’re keen to spend $16 on a quick meals breakfast.)

The flight itself, regardless of being an unforgivably early one, was uneventful. I attempted to listed to American Kingpin whereas I stared out the window (I may by no means sleep on planes). I shared an armrest with a tall Indian child who was folded uncomfortably into his economic system row seat, quick asleep together with his AirPods blasting EDM into his mind and mine — the bass traces pumping loud and clear over the uninteresting roar of the jet’s engines and Nick Bolton’s darkish net traditional.

I’d made this journey a number of instances, however this was the primary time I actually observed the snow cap over the mountains. Was it larger? The glare was blinding and I turned away from it, considering of the snow blindness and people slick, cyberpunk goggles the First Nation Eskimos carve out of seal bone — however not earlier than I observed a number of inexperienced, too. Lakes and rivers and blue waters, and golf programs that I’d swear had been a uninteresting brown in journeys previous.

It was simply 9AM native time after I landed at John Wayne Airport, and it was the identical pleasant place I’d visited previously. If LAX is a cynical, high-pressure shopping center constructed to shill duty-free Rolex wristwatches and Coach purses, John Wayne is a small-town strip mall that’s attempting actually arduous to assist an honest wine bar.

There was nothing scheduled to occur at ACT for a number of hours, and I’ve by no means met a Hilton that might let me verify in earlier than 11AM, so I did my half to assist assist the wine bar, ordering an Argentinian Malbec to scrub down my second breakfast of varied “regionally sourced” cheeses, breads, and honeys.

All of us undergo.

It’s almost 11AM now. Although, I’ll admit it snuck up on me.

I caught a Lyft to the Anaheim Hilton (Uber nonetheless has an excessive amount of of “frat boy” vibe for me, regardless of how far they advance the EV motion) and bought checked in for the Expo. It was right here that I started to wrap my mind round how massive ACT had actually gotten. The road to choose up passes gave the impression to be a dozen or so deep within the Hilton foyer, and the plebeian’s line to verify in reached again to the Starbucks and wrapped round once more. It appeared to me that the store may clear up on cellular orders positioned by the poor saps ready to get by means of the road.

I wouldn’t stick round lengthy sufficient to know in the event that they have been. As a Hilton Honors Gold member, I walked proper to the entrance of my very own, cordoned-off line and as much as the smiling clerk — happy that I may, at the least, nonetheless purchase distinctive service on the Hilton.

My room on the 14th flooring wasn’t but prepared, but when I wished a room now I may have one thing on the fifth with a patio. “Reward Jeebus,” I mentioned. “Something. I don’t even care if you must hit me with the backyard hose — I simply must get this airplane funk off myself.”

In case your solely publicity to me has been CleanTechnica, The Fact About Vehicles, or (God forbid) the Electrify Expo, chances are you’ll not but know the way a lot I completely, wholly, and completely detest flying. The mere considered hurtling by means of the ether in a tightly packed metallic tube inhaling recycled cabbage farts whereas all of the fluid that’s or has ever been in my physique tries to drop-kick my eardrums out of my head whereas nibbling sadly on an $11 Toblerone is sufficient to jack up my blood stress, regardless of how good the eating places on the opposite facet of the journey are.

She laughed, politely, and requested if I used to be on the town for the ACT Expo.


“What have they got there?” she requested. “There are indicators all around the resort however I don’t know what the ACT Expo is. Is it, like, an performing factor?”

“Vans,” I mentioned. “It’s an enormous truck present. Huge eighteen-wheelers, cement mixers, rubbish vans, cranes, tractors. I just like the tractors.”

“I at all times wished to drive a tractor.”

“They’ll allow you to!” I instructed her. “Simply stroll over there (the resort was a part of the conference middle campus). Don’t cease on the gates. Stroll round such as you personal the place till you see a bunch of huge vans lined up subsequent to one another. Somebody will allow you to drive one.”

I assumed that was true.

Showered and correctly dressed, I made my solution to the conference middle correct and as much as the Volvo-sponsored media room. The swag on the journalists’ tables was phenomenal, although it seemed just like the trucker caps had already been picked clear. Honest sufficient. I’m a sucker for waxed journals and smooth-rolling pens, anyway.

Joe Annotti, GNA’s Senior VP and considered one of its managing companions, was the primary pleasant face I discovered. “Hey, Joe!” I mentioned, extending my hand.

“Hey,” he mentioned, reaching for my hand as I awkwardly tried for the fist-bump. “When did you get in?”

“Simply now,” I mentioned. “The hats are all gone.”

Joe nodded, however didn’t say something about whether or not extra hats may be coming. “The keynote presentation is about to start out at 3,” he mentioned, “nevertheless it fills up. You’ll wish to be there by 2:30.”

I strolled into the principle corridor at 2:53 and cursed myself for not listening to him. Keep in mind how I mentioned ACT had gotten massive? The principle stage at this yr’s ACT Expo was simply as deep because it had been the earlier yr on the Lengthy Seashore Conference Middle. However now, in Anaheim, it was about thrice as huge.

Worse, it was balls-to-the-walls full of fleet, utility, and ag guys. There wasn’t a facemask in sight, and I knew, in my coronary heart, that we have been at a “superspreader” occasion.

“When in Rome,” I mentioned, shoving mine again into my pocket. “Not less than we’ll die collectively.”

“What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I mentioned. “Simply mumbling.”

Trying across the room, I felt a genuinely bizarre vibe. These needs to be my individuals, in any case. The Superior Clear Transport present had at all times been the kind of place that individuals had severe conversations about lowering emissions, what number of miles must be pushed to offset the carbon value of batteries was, for instance, a standard factor to debate right here. These have been knowledge individuals. Numbers individuals. And, regardless of how good or promising and even clear a brand new know-how may be, “every little thing has to pencil.”

Trying round and soaking in a few of the conversations round me, although, I felt like this new, larger house had been stuffed by apologists.

Possibly “apologists” is the incorrect phrase, however that’s the one which got here to me. These firms have been right here to promote electrical semi vans and hydrogen and progress and perhaps even “sustainability,” certain, however solely as a result of they have to.

Don’t get me incorrect. GNA, as I mentioned, has been combating the great battle for greater than a decade — they’re not apologists. They do nice work. However the individuals on the present this yr? Within the minutes earlier than the home lights went down, I heard discuss BEVs not being prepared, about hydrogen being the longer term, and heard at the least one particular person lament the truth that California was “maintaining all of the renewable pure gasoline for itself.”

The home lights went down, and ACT Expo 2023 bought underway.

ACT Expo kickoff, photograph by the creator.

GNA’s individuals hit the bottom operating, patting themselves on the again (as they need to) for the billion-plus {dollars} of state and federal grant cash they’ve helped dole out to America’s fleet patrons lately, goosing the electrical fleet market to what it’s develop into as we speak … and what has it develop into as we speak?

Let me put it this fashion: if the normal auto present with its sales space babes and static shows and $18 all-beef sizzling canine combos served with a watered-down, lidless Pepsi is dying, the clear tech trucking present is the alternative. The ACT Expo is positively exploding with life — like a kind of nightmare spiders or a vampire that bursts right into a cloud of bats, however not horrifying. It’s a superb factor to see and be part of. Trying round on the 1000’s of individuals sitting quietly, taking in GNA’s each phrase, it may really feel, only for a minute, like the great guys have been successful.

The slides change. ACT is simply too massive for California, they’re saying. We’re going to Las Vegas subsequent yr, and thank God for that! (Nobody makes a cucumber smoothie just like the Wynn.)

My notes (from Google Preserve) right here get quick and clipped as we get into the meat of the presentation. They learn:

  • Greater than 40% of the group in SoCal is weak, low revenue, and ACT is placing the social and environmental justice side entrance and middle with its first speaker.
  • JETSI challenge is about to launch 100 new electrical vans in California by June of this yr.
  • Keep in mind why we’re doing this. Poor children, outdated girls, the sick and crippled.
  • The “complete of presidency” method.
  • Daimler has a launch video speaking about “the Pace of Proper.”
  • It will need to have value one million {dollars}. A tragic crooner chants “it’s an exquisite world” within the background. It’s a bizarre scene.
  • We’re the issue, the video says. However we’re additionally the answer.
  • Rainbow flags. Variety. Daimler appears to be shifting in the correct course, which is the left course (at the least till the taxman cometh). There isn’t any apology of their video. It’s a straight “f*ck you” to the MAGA diesel massive rig tradition.

“Good for them,” I bear in mind considering. “I’m undecided it’ll fly with the Freightliner crowd, however they must do one thing to distinguish themselves, and the tree hugging/homosexual agenda messaging has definitely labored for Volvo.”

We’re shifting ahead right into a way forward for change.

They’re singing about shifting ahead, ahead into the longer term. It’s like that episode the place Kang and Kodos put on Clinton and Dole skins. Twirling, at all times twirling. It will be virtually laughable if it wasn’t a multi-billion greenback firm attempting to persuade a room filled with trade those that all of them wanted to work collectively to construct out the EV charging infrastructure. I laughed anyway.

  • Daimler’s speaking head is committing to “all three,” which is: electrical, hydrogen, and pure gasoline.
  • Within the meantime, we’ll proceed to enhance our diesel engines as a lot as attainable.
  • Supertruck 2. It doesn’t have the identical vibe as Volvo’s “purple haze,” however Fred didn’t ask me for any names beforehand, so I’ll ignore the truth that Freightliner has a wealth of Transformers lore to name upon when naming its present vans.
  • Optimus Prime.
  • He’s teasing that infrastructure is the holdup. Will Daimler step up? Is that the tease?
  • Greenlane Challenge Juno is now a JV with Daimler. That is it!

For a sizzling second I used to be genuinely excited. It appeared like Freightliner was asserting its personal nationwide charging community on the ACT Expo stage. That’s information! Scorching rattling!

Nope. Strolling it again. Speaking about not with the ability to do it alone, authorities assist, get the utilities on board, blah blah. All issues that Tesla solved by itself dime over a decade in the past.

“How can we handle the infrastructure part? Collectively.”

Weak f*cking sauce.

ACT Expo corridor, photograph by the creator.

The following morning, I used to be nonetheless visibly salty about it.

“It’s all bullshit,” I mentioned to Lawren Markle, GNA’s head of comms, as he sat down throughout from me within the Volvo-themed media room. “You take a look at an organization like Tesla. Say what you need about Elon Musk — he’s a racist and a Nazi coddler and a dipshit chess membership nerd with a pre-teen humorousness and no matter else you possibly can consider — however when Tesla wanted an EV charging community to promote their vehicles, they went out and constructed one. It value them billions of {dollars}, and it was an enormous threat, however they did it. Daimler? Daimler has billions. They’re manner forward of the place Tesla was when Elon introduced the Supercharger community. They might do the identical factor right here. Decide a number of in style routes, perhaps alongside I-80 or I-10, and so they may construct one. And it could be theirs! And everybody else would seem like an a**gap together with his hand out begging for unfastened change!”

Lawren hadn’t requested, however remained the consummate skilled. “I hadn’t considered it that manner,” he mentioned.

Honest sufficient.

I went again to the ground and performed a number of extra interviews, assembly up with outdated mates at ABB, Flo, Trillium, and some different locations. I had nice chats with the blokes at GreenPower Motor Firm and Highland Electrical — previous visitors on CleanTech Speak — and usually had a grand outdated time, if not an sudden one.

As for what was sudden, there have been a number of surprises at this yr’s ACT Expo.

REE Sales space, interview in progress, by the creator.

First off, I wish to give a hat-tip to REE CEO Daniel Barel (one other previous visitor on the present), who had a fully-conceived, production-ready REE Motors electrical field truck on show at his ACT Expo sales space, in addition to considered one of his patented REE Sensible Corners. So far as the tech goes, I’m intimately accustomed to Daniel’s idea — a totally self-contained wheel, steering, drive, and suspension unit that may be positioned nearly anyplace in relation to 3 different such corners, and which might then connect with the remainder of them to create competent steering, dynamic dealing with, and braking traits utilizing software program versus geometry … and it’s not that the tech was sudden, it’s that Daniel’s firm was nonetheless alive in any respect.

“I can’t consider you’re right here with this,” I mentioned, shaking his hand and eye-balling the hand sanitizer simply to his proper. “I believed this could be too good for many of those guys.”

“It’s,” he mentioned. “However I don’t want a thousand individuals to know it, I simply want one or two of the large guys to know it and provides us a strive. They may strive one or two or perhaps ten, after which they may see that it really works. Then they order 100 vans, then a thousand. That is the way it works. Nothing begins at scale.”


I get a notification on my cellphone from the ACT Expo app. Amazon is switching to 30,000 gasoline cell forklifts, shifting them away from pure gasoline. They’re aiming for sustainable electrical energy sources to make the hydrogen, not counting on exterior provides from legacy fossil manufacturers.

On the opposite facet of the ACT Expo corridor, GE-backed Hyliion introduced a 3D-printed, exterior combustion engine that makes use of a warmth exchanger to push a linear piston, and that piston’s motion by means of a set of magnets creates a present that may then be saved in a battery or handed alongside on to an electrical motor. This factor can burn absolutely anything flammable with thermal efficiencies that might make Rudolf Diesel flush with disgrace, and regardless of being a combustion engine, it’s an extremely slick piece of know-how.

I excitedly grilled one of many engineers for over an hour earlier than he instructed me that he couldn’t be quoted, and every little thing he instructed me needed to be “off the document.”

The Hyliion engineer launched me to the model’s sales space babes, who linked me with Ryan in comms. As she walked me by means of the show (sure, the one named “Jo” makes do with he/him more often than not, “Ryan” goes with the she/her), there was a number of discuss straining the grid, gasoline provide logistics, every little thing you possibly can consider seemingly designed to take the shine off of EV’s apple. “We have to have a 360 give it some thought,” mentioned the media-trained Hyliion staffer. I’m speculated to nod alongside.

It’s too dangerous, too. Their linear piston is the nuts.

As for me, I’m already headed again to Chicago as I sort this, grateful for the expertise and the journey out to the 2023 ACT Expo, and optimistic about the way forward for low-emissions transportation. Nonetheless, I’m however ever so barely involved that the foxes have discovered their manner into the henhouse this time. The stink of the oil firms was in all places and in each dialog round hydrogen and pure gasoline — however we have a good time each constructive change regardless, proper? A heroin addict who goes from utilizing soiled needles to utilizing clear needles is shifting in the correct course, at the least — and perhaps the hydrogen pushers have their hearts in the correct place in any case.

Or, to place it one other manner: at all times guess on the darkish facet.

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