Features

Stephen Chacko – Hino Trucks

Hino Trucks GC helps put EV trucks in

Stephen Chacko’s role as general counsel at Hino Trucks can be summarized by saying he’s helping the company roll into new growth. 

Of course, that can be said of in-house attorneys at any organization because of the advice and counsel they provide on initiatives, decisions and corporate governance. 

In Chacko’s case, it can be taken literally as he’s helping Hino Trucks, which has made commercial trucks for more than 80 years, change lanes by making them electric battery powered. Faced with state and federal mandates to reduce carbon emissions, Hino Trucks expects to begin selling medium and heavy-duty EV trucks in 2024. 

Stephen Chacko | General Counsel | Hino Trucks

Stephen Chacko | General Counsel | Hino Trucks

Chacko has contributed his legal insight and expertise to drafting the vendor and supply agreements to make the trucks and is now helping structure agreements with franchised dealers to sell them to comply with state mandates such as California’s. 

It’s not as simple as putting a truck in gear and rolling down the road, but Chacko says his work is a culmination of the career road he’s traveled. 

“I started off in private practice before coming in-house,” he says. “I came to Hino Trucks because I could use my legal and business skills while assessing and mitigating risk. I can bring in and discern the pieces of the puzzle that are needed to complete the transactions.”  

Going electric 

Now part of the Toyota Motor Group, Hino Trucks was founded in 1942. It established its U.S. sales division in 1981 and its manufacturing operations in 1994. The sales and manufacturing divisions are headquartered in Novi, Michigan, and the company has more than 200 dealers in the United States. 

As Chacko spoke with Vanguard, Hino had just announced a new agreement with SEA Electric to provide its SEA-Drive power systems for Hino’s medium-duty EV trucks. The agreement expands a partnership established as SEA Electric provided power drive systems for Hino’s EV truck line in Australia. 

In March, Hino and Hexagon Purus reached a distribution agreement where Norway-based Hexagon Purus will produce complete battery EV heavy duty trucks for the U.S. market.  

The trucks will be built on Hino’s chassis—as many as 10,000 by 2030, according to a press release. The Hexagon Purus battery systems, power and auxiliary modules, and vehicle-level software will all comply with California’s new Advanced Clean Fleet regulations which require incremental increases in the percentage of zero-emission truck sales over the next decade. 

Chacko worked with Hino’s business teams on drafting and negotiating terms within the agreements. He also reviewed and confirmed how regulatory requirements would affect the roles and responsibilities between the parties and identified the risks and how to mitigate them in the contracts and agreements. 

Managing the fine print 

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted the California Air Resources Board two waivers to enact the Advanced Clean Fleets rule. The EPA has jurisdiction over emissions guidelines but has frequently allowed the state to set its own pollution control standards. 

In this instance, CARB can now require truck manufacturers to increase the sales of new EV trucks to 55 percent for trucks weighing 8,501 to 14,000 pounds by 2035. For trucks weighing 14,001 pounds to 33,000 pounds, the percentage is 75 percent, and 40 percent of tractor trailers sold must be EVs.  

Stephen Chacko | General Counsel | Hino Trucks

The new rules were created as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to remove all heavy to medium trucks powered by combustion engines from California roads by 2045, and at least eight more states are expected to adopt ACT-type rules. 

“CARB and EPA are the primary emissions regulatory bodies, but because other states can adopt CARB’s regulations, I need to be vigilant,” Chacko says. 

He also needs to work with the Hino Trucks service and warranty group before getting EV trucks on the road to restructure vehicle warranties because of the change from combustion engines to zero emissions. 

To do so, Chacko relies on outside counsel from Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg, primarily attorneys Jim Vogler, Karyn L. Doerfler and Sarah Bernstein. 

“I have great confidence in their advice and counsel,” Chacko says. “Barack Ferrazzano has experience with dealerships and a deep understanding of state franchise laws and their application to our agreements.”  

The firm also helps with questions about privacy and security related to the telematic technology that transmits data and diagnostic codes in trucks and Vogler says Chacko’s skills make the collaborations successful. 

“Stephen has an uncanny ability to absorb complex business issues that have arisen with Hino’s entry into the emerging EV market,” he says.  “Our attorneys have a high degree of confidence in his ability to fully understand those issues and to apply practical and appropriate business solutions to address legal risk.” 

Rolling ahead 

A native of the Chicago area, Chacko came to Detroit after earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing from St. Xavier University in 2008. 

He came to attend Wayne State University’s joint J.D. and MBA graduate program, though he said he’d been more interested in the MBA than a law degree when he took the LSAT. 

However, the combined degrees, which he earned in 2013, have enabled him to bring business acumen to his legal work, which he says is crucial now as Hino expands. 

While pursuing the degrees, Chacko managed accounts payables and receivables and provided financial analysis for companies including CRH and Johnson Controls. He also served a six-month externship with the city of Highland Park, Michigan, where he assisted the city’s legal team on transactional law and litigation. 

Stephen Chacko | General Counsel | Hino Trucks

Chacko also volunteered with Bombay Teen Challenge from 2010 to 2012. The nonprofit rescues women and children in India who have been trafficked as sex workers in Mumbai, as Bombay is now called, and provides education services to help victims create new lives. 

His work included visiting Mumbai where he met with exploited women and children. Chacko says helping show them the possibilities of new lives was immensely rewarding. 

Chacko joined the Perkins Law Group as a senior law clerk in January 2013 and became senior associate attorney in May 2014. His practice areas included general civil, corporate and business litigation, as well as real estate, M&A and corporate governance. 

He left private practice to join Hino Trucks in October 2021 because he saw the opportunity to apply his legal and business skillset and experience in an environment where the business teams are working toward the same goal—getting EV trucks on the road. 

“This is a company with its focus on the future,” Chacko says. “It’s all coming back to this core concept of what we’re doing to help our customers achieve their goals and ultimately move the industry forward in this modern era.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2023 Edition here.

Published on: July 20, 2023

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