In the bustling heart of Los Angeles, Salim Youssefzadeh’s journey from an avid outdoor enthusiast and pilot to the visionary founder of WattEV has been nothing short of remarkable. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Salim’s adventures, academic pursuits, and entrepreneurial drive that led him to shape the future of transportation through sustainability.
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Outdoor Enthusiast to Entrepreneur
Born and raised in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, Salim’s love for the outdoors shaped his early years. Hiking, skiing, and fishing were not just activities but a way of life.
After completing his undergraduate degree at UCLA and earning two master’s degrees in San Luis Obispo, Salim’s passion for problem-solving and challenges paved the way for a journey into the world of engineering.
From Electrical Engineering to Problem Solving
Salim’s academic pursuits reflected his deep-seated interest in problem-solving. Initially pursuing electrical engineering, he expanded his horizons by adding an applied math major. This thirst for knowledge continued into his graduate studies, where he obtained an MBA on top of a Master’s degree.
His pursuit of constant learning even led him to obtain a pilot’s license, emphasizing his commitment to continuous improvement.
Venturing into Entrepreneurship
Post-graduation, Salim transitioned into the corporate world, working as a software engineer at HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital. He worked there for around two years, programming on a day-to-day basis.
However, driven by an entrepreneurial mindset, he later transitioned into project management at Global IP, a company focused on providing internet services for sub-Saharan Africa.
Salim recalls how the project was complex and involved creating a satellite in partnership with Boeing and working with SpaceX to launch the satellite.
This marked the beginning of Salim’s journey into creating solutions and led him to explore smart home automation, where he developed a voice-controlled device, filling a gap in existing technology.
Salim remembers how the creation was more of a hobby, leading him to realize that he could sell it to build a business. Up until now, he had been doing side projects but was now ready to step into the venture world.
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The Birth of WattEV
WattEV’s inception wasn’t an overnight revelation but a result of extensive research during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Intrigued by hydrogen as a potential fuel source for the future, Salim explored its advantages over electric trucks.
The key objective was to look for alternatives that were faster fuel time, lower weight, and more mileage.
However, deeper investigations revealed the challenges and costs associated with producing green hydrogen. As Salim started to research, he realized that they would have to use electrolysis to source hydrogen.
Although he could have used solar power for electrolysis, generating the power needed would involve extensive investment. Further, storing and transporting hydrogen is also cost-prohibitive. This led Salim to shift his focus towards battery electric technology, laying the foundation for WattEV.
Battery technology was already seeing rapid advancements with higher-density batteries and Megawatt charging (MCS).
Salim could visualize electric trucks and build a business model to deploy the next level of technology that would have Megawatt charging available at stations to charge the vehicles more rapidly.
Salim admits that he did not have a background in transportation, but his penchant for problem-solving and his incessant search for new opportunities paved the way for this exciting new venture.
WattEV’s Vision and Mission
WattEV’s vision is to simplify the transition to zero-emission offerings for shippers and carriers. The company aims to be a leading infrastructure provider for zero-emission transportation, starting with depots strategically placed in Southern California.
However, Salim quickly realized that they couldn’t have the depots sitting idle, so his next solution was to create their own transportation division and Truck as a Service offering to test the capabilities of vehicles, make the trucks more accessible to carriers, and act as an off-taker of the infrastructure.
He emphasizes WattEV’s unique approach, not just focusing on depots but also operating a transportation division to ensure the infrastructure is efficiently utilized.
WattEV now has a division where the company hauls freight for shippers using zero-emission trucks. This service helps transportation companies meet their sustainability and ESG goals much faster without investing any upfront costs.
Smaller carriers that can’t afford electric trucks or the costs of installing the infrastructure can use WattEV’s Truck as a Service solution that offers a truck all-inclusive of infrastructure and maintenance on routes within their growing network.
WattEV As a Service Solution
The company also bundles vehicle maintenance and damage insurance and charges a fixed price per month on routes that have been pre-tested. The WattEV market is initially more drayage- and Middle-Mile-focused.
At the moment, they serve Southern California but will be rolling out more depots along California and other locations that are adopting similar mandates.
As Salim reveals, WattEV is designed with future-proof technology to help get from current technology to the next generation. He cited the Long Beach operational depot as an example, which has the capability of charging 26 class 8 heavy-duty trucks at once.
But future charger versions offer dynamic charging in a packaged solution to cater to both current-generation CCS trucks and next-generation MCS trucks.
Several other sites are coming soon in the inland empire, including Vernon and Bakersfield, essentially a network of electrified corridors that go from the border of San Diego all the way up to Northern California.
A newly procured site in Sacramento has recently been awarded a $30M grant to build out the next level of charging stations.
Salim acknowledges the challenges faced in the industry, from power availability and scaling infrastructure to reducing charge times for electric trucks.
WattEV’s innovative solutions involve creating microgrids, developing future-proof charging equipment, and working closely with truck manufacturers to pioneer Megawatt charging levels.
Salim talks about creating their subsidiary company, Charge America, which procures and develops its own charging equipment to stay ahead of the current market.
Funding the Future and Impact on Sustainability
WattEV’s journey is not without financial challenges. Salim details the grants and incentives they’ve received, amounting to $60 million to date.
The company successfully closed a $6 million seed round in July 2021, followed by a series A round in November 2023, securing support from major infrastructure developers like Apollo and Vitol.
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Salim reflects on the impact of private equity involvement, noting that it has accelerated WattEV’s growth. With Apollo and Vitol’s support, the company can move faster, bringing more sites online and scaling up its fleet of electric trucks.
To add perspective, Salim reveals how there are 30,000 trucks registered to go inside the charging ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles. These 30,000 trucks are predominantly operated by owner-operators or smaller fleets.
Although the site has five Megawatts of power and the ability to charge 26 trucks concurrently, the next goal is to lower the charging time from two to three hours to 30 minutes.
The shift towards zero-emission trucks aligns with the growing global consciousness around climate change. Starting conversations with shippers, WattEV aims to create a comprehensive ecosystem where electric trucks become the norm, significantly reducing CO2 emissions and helping businesses achieve sustainability goals.
Salim envisions a future where zero-emission trucks dominate the roads, contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable environment. The focus remains on scaling operations, reducing charge times, and collaborating with manufacturers to create Megawatt-capable electric trucks.
Salim Youssefzadeh’s journey from an outdoor enthusiast to the founder of WattEV exemplifies the power of perseverance, innovation, and a commitment to sustainability. WattEV’s mission to revolutionize transportation through zero-emission solutions showcases the potential for positive change in an industry that is crucial for a greener future.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- The journey from outdoor enthusiast to WattEV founder showcases a passion for problem-solving and a commitment to constant learning.
- The birth of WattEV emerged from extensive research during the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting focus from hydrogen to battery electric technology for sustainable transportation.
- WattEV doesn’t just provide depots but also operates a transportation division and Truck as a Service offering, creating a holistic ecosystem for efficient zero-emission freight movement.
- WattEV tackles industry challenges with micro-grids, future-proof charging equipment, and close collaboration with truck manufacturers, aiming for Megawatt charging levels.
- Securing $60 million in grants and successfully closing seed and series A rounds with major infrastructure developers like Apollo and Vitol propels WattEV’s vision forward.
- The shift towards zero-emission trucks aligns with a growing global awareness of climate change, with WattEV starting conversations with shippers to create a sustainable freight ecosystem.
- Apollo and Vitol’s involvement accelerates WattEV’s growth, enabling faster site deployments and scaling up their fleet of electric trucks to meet sustainability goals.