Brazil's Ambev plans to add 1,600 electric trucks to fleet

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian beer maker Ambev plans to add 1,600 Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE electric trucks to its fleet, making it the largest fleet of its kind in Brazil, and which would be exempt from new fixed minimum freight fares for diesel truckers.

Ambev said ownership of the vehicles, which will replace older trucks, will be with 20 logistics companies that distribute Ambev’s products. It declined to name the companies.

Roberto Cortes, Chief Executive of Volkswagen’s bus and trucks operation in Brazil, told Reuters that negotiations with Ambev had long preceded the new policy, which came into effect this month. The timing was “pure coincidence,” he said, though he acknowledged the rule could lead clients to rethink their fleets.

Ambev’s plan, which had not yet been firmed up, follows a truckers strike in May that severely hampered the flow of food, fuel and key exports for nearly two weeks and forced the government to promise changes.

This month the government signed those promises into law, including a minimum fare for freight to be paid to diesel truckers, which is now higher than the current market rate. Electric vehicles are exempt from the price minimums.

“It’s obvious that a strike of that nature calls attention to the need of having products that are alternatives to diesel trucks,” Cortes said. “Still, we are not expecting any sales directly caused by this decision.”

Volvo AB and the Mercedes-Benz truck unit of Daimler AG have received inquiries from companies considering another option to avoid price minimums: buying their own truck fleets instead of relying on third-party contractors.

Brazil’s largest logistics company, JSL, expects its truck rental unit to grow as it rents out vehicles directly to companies, another exemption from the new rule, JSL Chief Financial Officer Denys Ferrez said, although the company has not received any firm orders.

With the electric trucks, about 35 percent of Ambev’s fleet will be electric, which the companies said will save about 30,000 tons of carbon emissions per year. It expects the 1,600 trucks will be delivered by 2023.

(The story corrects to show Ambev will not buy the trucks directly in headline, first paragraph.)

Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Susan Thomas