Line of electric vehicles charging at charging stations

Are electric vehicles complicating your finished vehicle logistics? RTLS can help.

We all know electric vehicles (EVs) are good for the planet. But they throw a wrench in  the downstream finished vehicle logistics supply chain, significantly complicating activities.Today, EVs are being blamed for decreased efficiencies at vehicle lot operators, transportation companies, and railroads.

Why is this happening? Because EVs have a very different physical footprint from traditional internal combustion-powered vehicles. They also have very different handling requirements when it comes to storage in vehicle yards and at railheads.

In short, EVs require special treatment. This post will explore what you need to know about transporting EVs and how to solve these added complications.

What makes EVs different and more complicated? 

Let’s start with the physical footprint. EV batteries add significantly to the overall weight of an EV. A typical mid-scale luxury electric SUV might weigh 2,500kg (5,500 lbs), for instance, while a similar luxury diesel SUV might weigh 2,200kg (4,850 lbs)—a difference of 300kg (660 lbs). That’s enough to affect vehicle handling and stability, which in turn prompts vehicle designers to make EVs lower and wider than traditional internal combustion-powered vehicles.

Across a vehicle load, the impact of that additional weight on vehicle transporter fuel consumption—not to mention transporter wear and tear—is obvious and is enough to affect the economics of the industry. But there’s a bigger problem: all that additional weight can take vehicle loads over legal weight limits.

Weight limits and loading issues

In the transport industry, internal combustion-powered vehicles’ weight hasn’t traditionally been a problem as transporter loads have tended to bulk out before hitting weight limits.

This is no longer the case. Increasingly, carriers are having to leave one or more vehicles off the load to stay under weight limits. And this isn’t just a problem for road-based vehicle transportation: at scale, the weight issue is also worrying shipping companies transporting vehicles by sea as well as rail freight companies.

The issue goes beyond the overall weight of the load, as the stability and balance of the load are also impacted. Instability is a serious cause for concern as ocean-going car carriers can experience severe lists, capsize, or sink. Look no further than incidents involving the MV Cougar Ace, MV Höegh Osaka, MV Modern Express, and MV Golden Ray as proof.

To avoid instability issues, EVs are best carried on lower decks, not upper decks.

The need for battery charging

Weight isn’t the only problem that EVs bring to the finished vehicle logistics industry. Electric vehicles’ batteries also pose challenges—specifically, charging them, and keeping them charged.

EVs typically have a battery charge of 30-50% when leaving the assembly plant. That doesn’t leave much power for subsequent vehicle movements — prompting some manufacturers to forbid in-yard vehicle movements without their authorization. This policy can present difficulties for yard operators who may need the freedom to move vehicles for operational purposes.

And there’s another caveat: at the point of delivery to the end customer, market expectations call for a higher level of charge than the typical level of battery charge when the vehicle leaves the assembly plant. This presents a challenge, and logically, in-yard charging may be the best solution to meet these demands.

Upfront, this obviously requires yard operators to invest in in-yard charging infrastructure—perhaps at the level of 50 vehicles at a time. But going forward, this involves a whole additional in-yard operation, the impact of which is going to become increasingly severe as the proportion of EVs in the overall vehicle mix increases.

Meaning that yard operators, including those working at railheads and seaport terminals, will need to quickly and efficiently find vehicles, transport them to charging stations, and subsequently return them.

That’s a lot of vehicles and a lot of movements. In many cases, additional headcount will be necessary to keep up.

RTLS: The solution for EV complications   

By streamlining the process of accurately pinpointing vehicle locations, an effective real-time location system (RTLS) can mitigate many of the concerns associated with EVs.

With a dependable RTLS, drivers can easily navigate to the exact spot where a particular vehicle is situated and transport it to its intended destination — be it a charging point or transporter. No need to search for it.

Additionally, there’s no need to carry out yard audits to make sure that vehicles are correctly located. And of course, there’s no need to hunt for ‘lost’ vehicles either. When you need to load vehicles or charge them, they are findable and exactly where they need to be, all the time.

At Cognosos, our RTLS utilizes low-cost, wireless GPS-enabled hardware tags equipped with onboard accelerometers — these automatically update vehicle locations every time a vehicle is moved.

This approach is far more reliable than relying on barcodes or error-prone RFID. Barcodes can be damaged or obscured by weather, resulting in missed scans. RFID solutions can also experience missed scans and read-errors, as well as requiring expensive infrastructure like read-gates throughout the yard.

Moreover, our RTLS accurately tracks vehicle positioning, pinpointing drivers to within ten feet of the vehicle’s location, which equates to two or three parking spaces. Need to locate a vehicle during unfavorable weather or at night? Not a problem. The tags, typically hanging from the rear-view mirror, can be activated to flash a bright light, making the vehicle highly visible.

And Cognosos’ RTLS also includes a cloud-based application platform, to transform that tracking data into actionable intelligence, boosting productivity, and further helping to drive down costs.

Want to know which drivers move the most vehicles? Which move the least? Which drivers incur the most vehicle damage? How quickly do drivers move from one task to the next? As any yard operator knows, these are important questions—questions to which yard operators generally struggle to find accurate answers. Until now, that is.

Final thoughts

EVs aren’t going away. Their proportion of the vehicle mix in the downstream finished vehicle supply chain is only going to increase. And unless vehicle yard operators do something, the cost and complexities of handling EVs are only going to increase. Productivity will fall; manpower requirements will increase.

Yet when it comes to ‘doing something’, yard operators don’t have many options.

But they do have the option of investing in an RTLS.

If you want to learn more about how Cognosos’ next-generation RTLS technology can support advanced tracking for vehicle logistics, download the eBook, “Productivity Gains in Real Time: Unlocking ROI in Vehicle Logistics Tracking Solutions.”

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