Envirotech's Phillip Oldridge Ready to Galvanize Osceola

Envirotech's Phillip Oldridge Ready to Galvanize Osceola
Phillip Oldridge • CEO and Chairman of Envirotech Vehicles Inc. of Osceola (Terrance Armstard)

Phillip Oldridge has served as Envirotech’s CEO since September 2020 and as chairman of its board since March 2021. Previously, he founded GreenPower Motor Co. Inc., a publicly traded designer and manufacturer of passenger transit and shuttle buses, alongside his brother, David. He was CEO there from 2011 until 2019. Oldridge also served as CEO of Bus & Coach International from 2006-2010 and as CEO of Nevada Charter Inc. from 1994-2001.

Oldridge holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree from Richmond, The American University in London.

Oldridge said his father asking him whether he was buying or selling his future inspired him to build and sell electric vehicles.

Some remain skeptical about the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. What do you say to the skeptics?

EVs are here to stay and they’re only going to gain momentum.

As of December 2020, there were 1.7 million EVs on U.S. roads. Not only that, EVs are a key part of the proposed solution to reduce the impact commercial vehicles have on the environment. While the initial focus on EVs has been with private passenger vehicles, there is enormous potential impact of EVs in the commercial and government sectors. That’s because EVs are uniquely suited to commercial and government applications with predictable routes and schedules. They provide a unique, cost-effective solution that addresses the challenges of fluctuating fuel prices and local, state and federal government compliance.

As part of the agenda to ramp up U.S. EV manufacturing and sales, the federal government recently issued a mandate that half of all new U.S. vehicles sold in the country be zero-emission by 2030. The government owns more than 650,000 vehicles and purchases about 50,000 annually. In addition to private EV vehicles, the plan calls for light-duty vehicles acquired by the government to be emission-free by 2027.

For the skeptics, I’d say there’s no doubt that you’re going to see more EVs on the roadway, especially in the commercial sector. While the industry is inevitably going to continue to grow, it’s also important that local and state governments work together to build a sustainable infrastructure to support EV growth.

Why Arkansas? Why Osceola?

Envirotech Vehicles chose Arkansas because of the wealth of locally resourced materials, such as lithium and steel, the ease of doing business and the spirit of the community. Our goal is to use as many locally resourced materials as possible.

Not only does Osceola provide us with a robust business climate and highly capable workforce, but the plant’s proximity to the Mississippi River, railroad and access to the port of Osceola make it well-suited for the efficient transport of our electric trucks and vans.

Before choosing Osceola, we considered several other states and almost chose Utah for our first U.S.-based facility, but the people of Arkansas won us over. The natural resources here are perfectly suited for our needs, but the truth is we fell in love with the people of Arkansas.

What challenges are there in remaking that building to accommodate a vehicle manufacturing operation?

In order to accommodate our first U.S.-based manufacturing facility, we’re transforming the 580,000-SF former Fruit of the Loom plant. Although the facility was vacant for many years, the city of Osceola has taken great care of the property. The city and Mayor Sally Wilson have been incredible partners in helping us get the facility up and running.

One challenge has been the ever-changing weather that is spring in Arkansas. From tornadoes to grapefruit-sized hail, the unpredictable weather has impacted our renovation timeline. We’re currently updating the office with new paint and new carpet and are moving forward with the next phase in construction. We are in the process of interviewing local contractors and architects and will be making local vendor announcements soon.

What kind of jobs are you looking to fill? What made Arkansas' workforce a good prospect to fill them?

We are hiring more than 800 people over the next few years in a range of positions from groundskeeping and front office staff, to engineers and line assembly. When first visiting Arkansas, we met with local community colleges to better understand the workforce pipeline. Since coming to Osceola, we’ve forged relationships with local schools like Arkansas Northeastern College, Arkansas State University, as well as the Delta School.

Anyone who is interested in applying for one of our many positions should visit evtarkansas.com.

How do you envision Envirotech continuing to grow in the long term? What are your plans for its future?

Our vehicles are currently undergoing final assembly in Osceola, but full manufacturing won’t be ready until factory renovation is complete. As the only licensed auto manufacturer in the state, our goal is to build the vehicle from start to finish with 100% Arkansas-made products, from lithium to steel. We’ve been blessed to see growth through the launch of new products being shipped all over the world, like our recently launched first-of-its-kind right-side drive commercial EV. We are working on other new products and partnerships that will be rolling out in the near future.

On the horizon, we plan to make Osceola a host city, which means electrifying Osceola with an electric infrastructure. From city vehicles to public transportation, our goal is to help lead the charge to make Osceola a fully EV-friendly community.

Have you and the state come to an agreement on incentives yet?

We are still working out the details of the agreement, but we estimate that will be completed in the coming weeks and expect it will be consistent with other packages in our sector. There is a great deal of timing and considerations involved when you begin an agreement like this. We are just beginning the process of a full renovation plan for the offices, employee areas, and the factory floor plan. We are confident the state of Arkansas will place a priority on helping us address those needs.

How did you come to have a career in this emerging industry?

I’m an entrepreneur by nature and hold an MBA. More than 30 years ago, I started my career in the industry by owning a fleet transportation company. After turning a profit on the sale of my first company, my father asked me, “Son, are you buying or selling your future?” That conversation left a lasting effect on me and I knew immediately that my passion was building. Shortly later, I joined forces with my brother to launch a very successful electric bus company, and I haven't slowed down since. I’m still building EVs and building new businesses, but this time I’m building last-mile commercial EVs that are transforming the commercial sector.

What is your most important mistake that has helped shape your career?

I learned a very valuable lesson in my career, and that’s to slow down and listen. Don’t assume you know what people want. Early on, I assumed customers wanted cutting-edge technology with flashy screens and automation. That might be true in the consumer space, but that doesn’t always work in the commercial space. Commercial drivers’ top concern is getting from point A to point B as fast and efficiently as possible. Because, at the end of the day, they’re being paid by the number of deliveries they can make or the number of customers they can serve. Commercial drivers need a mode of transportation that’s reliable and gets the job done.

Our first commercial vans were equipped with iPads and the latest technology. We were excited about our first product and knew that it was the best commercial EV on the road. After two short weeks, a customer called and wanted me to pick up the vehicle because it wasn’t working properly. They couldn’t get it to start. In actuality, the vehicle worked perfectly; they just didn’t understand how to work it.

That moment was a valuable life lesson: It’s important to know your market and don’t assume you know what they want. My customers didn’t want fancy iPads. They wanted a reliable and easy-to-operate vehicle that was going to make their job easy and be better for the environment. Because of that key learning, we went back to the drawing board and created a fleet of EVs that have a familiar look and operate like any standard commercial vehicle.