Established over 20 years ago, First Priority Group is a diversified manufacturer, dealer, upfitter and service provider of emergency and specialty vehicles.
Their range of expertise encompasses design, manufacturing, service, fleet management and infrastructure installation to provide end-users with comprehensive one- stop solutions across their specialty vehicle needs. With over 150 employees in 4 locations across the U.S.
First Priority has developed the depth to serve clients from both the public and private sectors. Since 2017, First Priority has been developing infrastructure and support for Electric Vehicle fleets, playing a major role in the conversion of administrative, agency, and emergency vehicles to innovative models that are more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.
We spoke with Ken Rudnicky, site coordinator responsible for the installation of EV charging station infrastructure at First Priority, about the approach the company takes to electric vehicles and the impact this growing market has on the automotive industry.
What kind of services does FPG provide?
First Priority Group is a diversified manufacturer, dealer, upfitter and service provider of emergency and specialty vehicles, and we are a market leader in four Divisions – EMS, Fire, Conversions and Clean Transportation Solutions. Established 20 years ago and with locations in 3 states, our range of expertise encompasses design, manufacturing, service, fleet management and infrastructure installation. We consider ourselves ‘the liaison between the assembly line of General Motors and the emergency response agency’ because we are able to provide custom vehicles with the exact specifications that agencies require as well as providing support and expertise to the automotive industry at large.
When did it become clear that there was a demand for fleet electric vehicle charging stations?
About 2 years ago, in 2017, it became clear that electric vehicle charging was becoming an important part of the emergency vehicle industry. We do a high volume of business with New York City agencies, and many of them have large fleets of electric vehicles. These agencies and municipalities have been taking advantage of New York electric vehicle charge station incentives and rebates for years. As we are located 50 miles outside of the city, we noticed that a lot of these people were driving out to us and were in need of charging stations, so we started to take notice of the growing demand. Now, we have a lot of those same representatives that will make the trip out to see us quite happily, because they know that they can charge their vehicles with us, and they’ve helped to spread awareness of the direction in which we’re moving and the efficiency of our operations.
Electric vehicles are a great fit for municipal agencies and administrations, and in particular with large cities, it’s fantastic to have a fleet that gets much better mileage in traffic and can also increase visibility for EVs by their constant presence on the streets. It’s only now that we’re starting to see a much greater push for emergency vehicles to become electric, and that’s going to be an enormous change in the way cities are run and managed.
Interested in learning more? Schedule a free consultation here to hear more about electric vehicle charging rebates available in your area.
What are the challenges of developing an EV charging station infrastructure for emergency vehicles and how do you overcome them?
The first big challenge is not knowing, both on the consumer side and the company side. Having been in this industry since 1998, we can see the way it’s moving and we know that EVs are the future, but it was difficult to convince consumers of that trend at first. A lot of our clients would say, “that’s interesting, but it’s not for me.”
Of course, we understand their reluctance, because emergency and agency vehicles need to be reliable above all things, and new technology is a hard sell when they can’t be sure that it will work as well or better than the previous system. This was one of the main drivers behind setting up charging stations, because we knew that we needed to provide not only the vehicles, but a comprehensive infrastructure to support them.
As anyone with an electric vehicle knows, you’re only as good as your next charge, and we couldn’t allow our clients to be left with any doubt that their vehicles could be reliably supported and charged.
The second challenge was internal, and it involved getting all of our staff educated and familiar with electric vehicles, charging stations, and the technology that may seem completely new to someone who isn’t familiar with it.
I still consider myself a novice, and I am constantly learning from all of the incredible people who are involved in the EV charging station business. My introduction to the sector was through a fleet of electric school buses that our green fleet division sold on the West Coast, but which were assembled in New York.
We brought a portable charger with us, and quickly realized that we needed a larger and more powerful charging solution. That was the first indication I had that this was a real opportunity to change the way our industry operates, and it was a really exciting prospect.
Check out our free guide of New York electric vehicle charging station incentives and rebates.
Where do you see the specialty vehicle sector moving and how are you preparing to meet these needs?
One of the most important developments in the industry is the conversion of school buses to electric fleets, and this is a transition that will have a major impact on specialized vehicle production. In California, the scheduled deployment of zero-emission buses is expected to accelerate rapidly in the coming years – from 153 buses in 2018 to 1,000 by 2020; by 2040 the state is projecting a zero-emission bus fleet.
To facilitate that transition, the state pledged over $900 million in funding for heavy-duty vehicle infrastructure investment. For First Priority Group, this is a clear indication that the way forward is EV, and that being on the forefront of the industry could have a huge economic impact on the future of our business.
The school bus project was the driving force behind the development of an EV charging solution. Because of our collective efforts, we are now able to do site tours and point out the charging capabilities of our infrastructure, and that’s ben what sets us apart from our competitors.
We’re now able to impress upon our clients that the capabilities to support an EV fleet are here, and that we can provide them with the necessary infrastructure to meet their needs, no matter how diverse. This is where the risk that we took is starting to really pay off, because we are ahead of other companies in the amount and quality of services that we can provide.
Being fully capable of charging gives us the chance to show other emergency and specialty vehicle fleets that they too can make the transition, and that’s something that has a huge impact on the industry, and on our own future.
How has the emergence of the EV charging station sector shaped the goals of First Priority Group?
What we have seen through the emergence of the EV sector is that thought leadership is a huge part of our company, and that innovation is one of the key markers to success not only for us, but for the automotive industry as a whole. Of course, there are clear economic benefits to being able to provide a specialized service to our clients, but more than that we are able to become an example for other companies that must meet the challenges of a changing world.
Now more than ever, it’s vitally important to stay on the forefront. Our CEO really looked at the green energy market, saw its potential and wanted to be a part of that. That interest led to charging stations and the expansion of our infrastructure to support electric vehicles. Moving forward, we will continue looking for the most efficient solutions that not only meet our bottom line and that of our clients, but those which have a positive impact on the planet. We have a responsibility to set the standard in our industry, and we intend to do so for the good of all of us.
Ultimately, at First Priority we pride ourselves as being problem solvers for our clients. We want our staff to be the first phone call when an agency has a vehicle challenge, and we want to respond to that call with innovative solutions that are always ahead of the curve.
Electric Vehicles are a big part of the future, and we are proud to be prepared to meet those challenges.