Electric vehicles are front and center as Southern Automotive Conference begins

Rivian R1S SUV
Electric vehicle maker Rivian plans to build a production facility east of Atlanta, but has faced vocal opposition from neighbors (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Electric vehicles are top of mind at the Southern Automotive Conference in Gwinnett County this week. The gathering is being held as Georgia positions itself as a hub for EV manufacturing.

Among the half a dozen vehicles that were on display Wednesday just outside the entrance to the Gas South District Convention Center, almost all are fully electric.

There’s an electric school bus made by Georgia-based Blue Bird, a Rivian R1S electric sport-utility vehicle and an all-electric tractor trailer made by Peterbilt.

Dennis Kunz is VP of Revenue, Strategy and Operational Development with the Michigan-based logistics company Benore. The electric tractor trailer on display at the conference is among is one of three in Benore’s fleet.

“When we drove it down here we went to the parking lot across the street at the mall and plugged into a car charger there,” Kunz said. “Obviously it takes a little longer because it has a little more batteries, but the system is the same.”.

A four-hour charge time is one of the drawbacks for electric big rigs. They also can cost three to four times more than a diesel semi-truck. It also has a limited range.

But Kunz says there is market for short-haul EV tractor trailers

“There’s a really large number, 70% to 80% of Class A tractors that only do 250 miles a day or less,” Kunz said.

High Demand for Electric School Buses

Albert Burleigh, Executive Director of EV Business Development with Blue Bird, says the Fort Valley, GA-based company has already delivered some 700 electric school buses. And he says demand is high for more.

“The EPA has $5 billion in the clean school bus program available in grants for these products and the first round was recently released, about a billion dollars, so that’s going to fund a lot of school buses,” said Burleigh.

Blue Bird Electric School Bus
Blue Bird, which is based in Fort Valley, Ga. says it has already produced some 700 electric school buses. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

With Blue Bird’s factory, plus Hyundai planning an electric vehicle plant near Savannah and SK Innovation building a battery production facility in the state, Georgia’s path to becoming the center of EV manufacturing in the U.S. has been mostly smooth sailing.

That is except for the intense opposition from neighbors near the site of Rivian’s new plant east of Atlanta. There was also a legal setback last week for the billions in state incentives the state offered to bring Rivian here.

In response to that ruling, Georgia’s economic development department, along with the joint development authority representing the four-county area where the plant is set to be located, said they are “currently assessing all legal options.”

The three-day Southern Automotive Conference will also feature discussions about workforce and supply chain issues, among other topics.