Drive Tandem - The DL S4E2
Drive Tandem - The DL S4E2 is now available on your favorite podcast app!
In this episode of The DL, Diesel Laptops’ Founder and CEO, Tyler Robertson, is joined by Matt & Paul Sabatini Co-Founders of Drive Tandem.
Converting to an all-electric fleet is prohibitively expensive and risky for many, with such challenges as existing diesel fleets, unproven new technologies, and a lack of charging infrastructure. With Tandem Centaur’s instant hybrid solution, companies can safely and effectively migrate their way to a low-cost, sustainable future and reap the rewards that follow.
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As always, thank you for watching and listening!
CONNECT WITH Matt & Paul Sabatini at Drive Tandem
Website – https://drivetandem.com/
Transcript for Drive Tandem - The DL S4E2:
Tyler Robertson: All right everyone, welcome back to another episode, and again, this is the pre-conversation to talk about the episode, but I think what you're going to love here is the story. It's really, two brothers have an idea, have a dream, and they start in the garage and decide to build something that's going to impact the world, and I really relate to that a lot because that's my story, started in the garage, worked this up, bootstrapped it, figuring things out, and these guys really have, I think, a very unique product. The tagline is, your truck electrified instant hybrid. So basically they've built a product that allows you to turn your diesel powered truck into a hybrid powered truck in literally a couple minutes, and it's a very good story, these guys are working really hard, they're out there raising money, they're definitely an early stage company, they're beyond the prototype, they're in the pilot phase, they're hoping to launch product next year and they're just trying to get the word out there.
So if you enjoy this product, definitely like, comment, share, share the story with other people, especially people that own trucks that would be interested in something like this. I've said time and time again, we're Diesel Laptops, but electrification is here, it's coming, and this is what's amazing about this, new technology exists and all of a sudden you see all these things happening, EV truck manufacturers, you see new truck manufacturers, you see companies, like you're about to learn about here, that develop a brand new product around electrification, and there's more stories about these companies as well. So sit back, enjoy, relax, you're going to love it, and I think you're going to come away with it being like, "okay, there's something going on here", so we'll let you go at it from here. Thank you.
Welcome to The DL. I am your host, Tyler Robertson, the CEO and founder of Diesel Laptops, and this podcast is more of a trend of what we've been talking about more and more going on, where are trucks going? Where the future is going, and I can say I have never seen a product like this before, the first time I saw it, I was a little confused, I was like, "What is that?" And then I saw the video, totally understood it. The company tagline is, your truck electrified instant hybrid. So I know that's kind of vague, but I got some of the guys here that are going to break this all down for us. So Paul and Matt, welcome to The DL.
Paul: Yeah, thank you for having us. We're really excited to talk about the product and what we do.
Tyler Robertson: So I know you guys are brothers. So, I think we should set up a little bit of the background here first. So Paul, what's your role inside this company?
Paul: Yeah, certainly. So going back when we started the company, it started out of Matt's garage. So, really the two of us together were doing all the grunt work, we were building the initial prototypes, testing it on our personal vehicles, and after we moved out of that phase and we found ourselves in our first warehouse facility, we both got our CDLs and did some of the testing ourselves on our first Centaur, the Centaur is what we call the product. So moving into today, what we do is, we continue to test and build together and really get our message out there with the company. So that's really what we do day to day, is continue to get the message out there about instant electrification of these trucks.
Tyler Robertson: So Matt, my understanding is you're the one that had this unique idea that no one's ever seen before. Where did it come from? What's the background story of the idea of the product?
Matt: Yeah, I think what I brought to Paul in the beginning was, I had an old Jeep Grand Cherokee with a big V8 engine in it and I wanted both, it seemed like a lot of the hybrids came with a wimpy engine and an electric motor, which made sense then, but I didn't understand why you couldn't have both, and so the idea itself really came from Paul and I and we settled on, class eight vehicles have some of the biggest engines, some of the biggest benefits in fuel savings and emission savings if we could pull this off, and that's kind of where we landed.
Tyler Robertson: So Matt, were you guys like truck guys or even Paul, did you guys know much about commercial trucks or was it like, "Hey, I think there's a solution here and it fits really good into this market"?
Matt: We definitely weren't in the beginning. And then once we got our CDLs, I mean we were hooked. I mean, Paul and I both drive a tractor, we trained on a manual transmission, so we're definitely hooked now.
Tyler Robertson: Well, I can say this, nobody ever ends up in the heavy truck industry on purpose, it seems like we all fall into this thing, I know I did, sounds like you did, I talk to people all the time, no one ever says, this is the industry I want to work in when they're growing up, but once we get here it is really a great industry that we have going on. So Paul, can you maybe describe to everybody what exactly, when we say your truck electrified instant hybrid, can you verbally describe it for the audio portion? And I know on the video portion we'll have some overlay footage going here, but it'd be great to try to paint the picture a little bit for everybody.
Paul: Yeah. Of course. We refer to our product, the attachable electric vehicle, as the Centaur, because it sort of resembles the mythical creature, very tall in the front and short in the back. So that taller part in the front, if you're looking through the video, that's white, that's the battery stack. So that battery stack feeds the power to the independent electric drive axle in the back. So what happens when you attach the Centaur to a diesel truck, you can propel that entire truck and it's load just on the electric power. So of course that significantly reduces the emissions coming out of that diesel truck, and you significantly reduce your cost for miles as well. So as simply as I can put it, it's really a battery and an electric motor propelling the diesel truck [inaudible 00:05:49].
Tyler Robertson: So in the video I saw it was a single axle trailer and your product was just mounted right there on a yard, on stands and then the single axle trailer backed up to it, the fifth wheel connected to it, and now you have a tandem axle tractor essentially and it's electrified. So Matt, the question I always hear is, "okay, that's great. Now I hooked up this big battery pack to the back of my truck, but I still have a diesel engine, I still get a driveline", can you give us a little bit of the mechanics here? Is there still a drive line there? My idle in the engine? How does the operation work once you're attached?
Matt: Definitely. So they are separate. It's an independent electric axle and we do keep the diesel engine idling, because there's a lot of systems that are necessary that we can't shut off, it would take a lot more money for us to try and replace those systems than to just let them idle, and then in terms of software and control systems, we do have our own panel that goes in the tractor, we use a wireless version of it, but we do offer the ability to make it wired for additional safety.
Tyler Robertson: So the first time someone buys one of these and wants to get to work with their tractor, is it like a long process to get everything configured and set up and to get going and then once that initial configuration, sounds like something has to be in the cab and obviously something to control this with this new device attached to the truck, and then once that initial's done, is it a big process when you disconnect and reconnect each time? Or is it supposed to stay attached or what's the use case for this thing?
Matt: Definitely. So I'd say the first install, a white glove approach where we're really demonstrating it and showing it to somebody, I'd say it's about an hour process, and then after that it's a five minute process to connect and disconnect, but the great thing about what we're doing is, we're not modifying your tractor in any way that would affect you from not using the Centaur. When you don't have a Centaur attached, you can just go hook up to any trailer just like you would normally, and when you're ready to use a Centaur, it's just five minutes on to get going again.
Tyler Robertson: So I have this diesel powered truck, I hook up your Centaur system and I'm going, okay, so now I get it, I'm hybrid, my engine's idling, I got the electric, I'm assuming then you're just propelling the whole truck with your system. What kind of range are we expecting on these things? And I'm assuming there's some different pack levels or different battery levels as customers ranges are going to be needed.
Matt: Absolutely. So, there's two ranges that we're putting forward right now, is 75 miles of range and 250 miles of range, for short haul, local routes, local pickup and delivery, 75 miles of range is still really impactful without making that large investment into a bigger battery pack, and then 250 miles of range allows us to cover longer use cases, and of course that range is based on a heavy load, if you're doing a lot of start and stop operation and you're regen charging the battery from braking, you will get better range, these are worst case scenario, if you're just going in one direction.
Tyler Robertson: So Paul, I know range anxiety is a big thing with EVs, we hear it all the time, every time I see someone demo a truck or an article write up, it's always about they're watching that battery level. Does this help with the range anxiety thing a little bit? Because you're kind of a hybrid model at this point, can they flip it back to diesel if they're running out of problems or do they have to disconnect or how does it help solve that problem a little bit?
Paul: Yeah, of course. That's one of the great things about the flexibility of the Centaur platform, is that you can simply switch back your diesel when you're ready and even before the battery runs out. So there's flexibility to run it completely empty and then keep going with diesel or you can spread it out in a hybrid fashion. So being able to switch between the two modes is key to that range anxiety and also planning as well for those fleets who want to pick up a Centaur in one location, drop it off in another for another driver to come grab it, and in the interim, let's say it's an hour and a half or two hours, whatever it may be, that Centaur can be charging and then the next driver comes along and grabs it. So there's strategic planning that can be done to reduce the range anxiety with the Centaur.
Tyler Robertson: Well, I'm always curious to hear about the business side and the entrepreneurship side, because I know you guys mentioned, "hey, we started in our garage", I started in my garage, dining room table, I had product I could obviously sell and bootstrap and cash flow and do those things, but you guys are designing an entirely new product. I mean, how has that been? You have to go find outside investors, I'm assuming, to go be able to do these things, has it been hard finding people that believe in the vision and want to do these things or has that been a challenge or what's that been like trying to scale up a company and I think a lot of people are always interested to hear that story behind the story?
Paul: Well, it hasn't been hard finding people who want to join because a lot of people understand how important this is, and we found a lot of passionate people to jump on board, but before we did find those people, and it was just Matt and I, we did a lot of bootstrapping, put a lot of money in ourselves and it was very important to us to build the product first, we really didn't want to put out renderings or anything like that and try to go after funding.
So we gave ourselves a task of making sure that the product worked on a class eight vehicle before we asked anyone for money, and that's what we did. So that was really important to us, but building a novel hardware unit just as two guys in a garage and bootstrapping was difficult, and I could talk a long time about some of the stories of trying to find parts and some people are kicking us out of their shops saying, "You're trying to do what? No, get out of my shop, I'm not going to do that for you", but anyway, after we got past all that and started finding some investors and advisors to jump onto the company, it's really like this cool ball of energy that everyone's keeping in play and I look forward to the future.
Tyler Robertson: So I guess I'd like to get a little clarity too, where the company's at, obviously you have a prototype, I've seen it in action, seen it on your website, it sounds like you guys have a warehouse, you're trying to scale things up, where are you guys at now? When does production happen? When are they ready to sell? What's the timeline currently looking like for everything going on with you guys over there at Drive Tandem?
Matt: Absolutely. So we have a few Centaurs out in the field that we do our own internal testing with. We have owner operators and smaller fleets come by, getting the tractor, test it out, we get great feedback that way. What we're doing towards the end of this year is we're building pilot program units. So these will be units that will be dedicated to our interest in customers, they'll get to really put time in, test it, give us that feedback, save money on their operations, and then into next year that's when we'll really start to scale this up for sales.
Tyler Robertson: So, as I've been talking on this podcast with EV manufacturers, I've seen Navistar said, "Hey, we're going after the bus market", makes a lot of sense, buses are dedicated routes, same routes every day, they're not gone for long, they can charge the middle of the day, all these things. We had Mack on here, Mack Trucks, they're going after the refuse market, again, it's kind of set routes, nobody wants a diesel engine waking them up at six in the morning picking up their garbage cans, totally all makes sense. Is there a certain geographic area or a certain industry niche that has seemed to gravitate towards this? Or is this kind of a to start with? Or are you guys focused on a particular market segment or is it wide open?
Matt: So it works with everything, but to answer your question, the immediate market that we're attacking is single axle tractors because we are adding an axle to the back and a tandem axle tractor is something that's pretty common in the industry. A triple axle tractor is something that will have to help show people that it works there too, once we've covered the initial market. So what's best, where a single axle is used a lot, ports, local is one ongoing by me right here now picking up in the warehouse park that we're in, and then there's also some applications of it for hauling doubles, I see a lot of doubles out on the road, they're using single asset tractors, so some application there as well.
Tyler Robertson: So, do you guys think this product is more fit for the guy that has a single axle diesel and he's had it for a couple years and he wants to go electric? Or is it more for people that want an electric truck but they can't get what they want from the factory so they're going to buy a single axle diesel knowing they can then add yours on right out from the factory? Or is it kind of both? Or has that come up in conversations at all?
Paul: Yeah, I think it's certainly all of the above. We do know that those people who are running a single axle diesel tractor on short haul routes, this is highly desirable for them, because the Centaur does very well in city environments as well with plenty of region breaking. So it's for everyone who intends to transition to EVs in the near future or not. The Centaur itself as a platform is really helpful in the near term for the transition into electric vehicles as well, where you don't have to become fully dependent on electric charging infrastructure, you still can lean on the existing diesel distribution that's out there.
Tyler Robertson: Yeah, I mean overall this is just, again, it's like a built on power train for an existing truck, which is, again, a very novel, unique approach to the entire thing. So I guess I'm just curious, I don't know this, I mean, is there approvals you need to get from NHTSA, and government approvals and that type of thing? So it's part of the power train or is it just an add-on or is there government regulations standing your way at all? What does that look like?
Matt: So, because it's a very novel approach, we're working very closely with groups that can help us make sure that we follow that, because as we've just talked about, it doesn't really fall into power unit or a trailer. Right now they're registered as trailers, but in terms of regulation that exists today, we fall within all of it. So height, weight, length, width, all of these different rules, we fall within that, and then in terms of how you're spreading the weight across your axles, we can even help you a little bit there because we're adding another axle, it does fit within regulation that we see right now.
Tyler Robertson: Yeah, that is interesting. I guess it technically is a trailer, just a really short trailer that ends up attaching another trailer to it, so that is unique and you can obviously look at it and see there's been a lot of engineering work and a lot of effort that's gone into making this thing compliant and all those things you just talked about. One of the things that often comes up with these EVs is, we saw with Nicola, they're truck weighs almost 30,000 pounds, it's considerably heavier than a diesel powered truck, and now we're doing both and they have no diesel engine, they have just the battery pack, but it's significantly heavier. How much has weight come into the conversation or how much has been added, if you can speak to that at all, or does it not really apply? Because it's kind of more the application that it's used and, Max noted 80,000 pounds anyway in this case, I'd love to hear your opinion or where you guys are at on that.
Matt: Absolutely. So, this is a huge reason for why we've got two separate models. Batteries aren't really something that weigh, well, they don't, they don't weigh different if they're fully charged or not, it's minute differences. So giving someone that smaller battery pack allows them to do their operations a bit better while still getting the benefits of electrification, the weight of our base model is 2,500 pounds, in the United States you're allowed to carry extra weight if you're being pushed forward by an electric motor from batteries or natural gas, so that addition is 2000 pounds. So there's only a ding of 500 pounds to your payload when you're using our base model.
Tyler Robertson: Yeah. No, that's great. I mean that's always been the big concern, and again, the range anxiety, that's what I love about this, it's like an idea two guys had, and it's solving a lot of problems with the existing new technology coming out, so it's just mind blowing to me seeing all these industries and companies popping up that are solving legit problems that are happening here in the industry. So I get the current product and I know this has happened to me, I build a product and I love my product and I start talking to customers and they start saying, "Well, I wish you had this. I wish you had hydrogen or I wish you had this or that", have you guys started to run across that as you've talked to customers? And is there plans in the future to expand beyond the current product that you have today?
Paul: Yeah. We've actually been through iteration cycles from hearing the feedback from those industry experts or customers. So we are in the process of making further iterations from what we want to change and also from what those potential customers want. So yeah, we do work on that.
Tyler Robertson: Yeah. All right. Best case scenario, when you think these things are ready to sell for the market, is it that 2024 target as you guys were talking about earlier? Or is it somewhere, am I outside the range there?
Matt: Well, you'll see them on the road next year. We'll be going through our pilot programs, they might start as early as the very end of this year, and then in terms of wide at scale commercial production, the end of 2023 would be a target for us for completing those pilot programs, switching over to production.
Tyler Robertson: Well, I really look forward to seeing them out there. I'm definitely going to keep my eye out now that I know what they are when I actually see them out there on the road. So again, for people that want to learn more, see some videos, connect with you guys, where's the best place to do that?
Paul: Yeah, definitely our website, drivetandem.com, has a lot of info there and we have a contact form, people can get in contact with us that way and we're happy to share all the info that any small operator wants to know or even the biggest fleet wants to know. So definitely through our website, we put all of our content there.
Tyler Robertson: All right. Well listeners, there you have it. Again, very unique thing, I love it, I love new products, I love ingenuity, these guys definitely have it and I know they're going strong, and I wish you guys the best of success out there, everything you have going on. So we're going to call it an episode, and again, let's just remember, it's not just always diagnostics, it's diagnostics done right, new technology, electrification, a lot of things happen in our industry. I'm sure we'll have these guys back on another episode in the future to catch up with them, see how things are going. So like, subscribe, comment, share, all those things help, and we will catch you on the next episode.