Truck Tech

Electric Trucks Charge Ahead

May 2, 2017

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Ann-Christin Landman drives a Scania P320 in Karlstad, Sweden, powered by a hydrotreated vegetable oil-electric drivetrain. Photo: Värmlands Folkblad
Ann-Christin Landman drives a Scania P320 in Karlstad, Sweden, powered by a hydrotreated vegetable oil-electric drivetrain. Photo: Värmlands Folkblad
Autonomous trucks get all the headlines these days. But it’s starting to look like your first, hands-on exposure to all the new transportation technology emerging today may just be with an electric truck.

Oh, stop it. I can hear you grumbling from here in Alabama – and I’ve got Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers cranked up loud, too.

If you’re yearning for a simpler time in terms of truck tech, I understand. Until very recently, “cutting edge” was a term not usually associated with American truck fleets. Even in the hallowed halls at the ATA's Technology & Maintenance Council, discussions on emerging technology are often sprinkled with a great deal of caution or even outright pessimism. The technology in and of itself is often fascinating, they’ll often tell you. But they get paid to make sure freight gets delivered and trucks keep running. And new technology can get really scary fast then you’re looking at things through that particular prism.

Still, the trend lines are plainly visible. There is a lot happening in the electric commercial vehicle space right now, with Nikola to Tesla here in the States, Mitsubishi Fuso and Hino in Japan, Mercedes-Benz in Germany and now Scania in Sweden. Electric trucks are already here in small numbers. And it seems reasonable to assume that electric trucks will be attempting to break into the American market in an even bigger way soon – quite possibly within the next couple of years.

Scania is the other Swedish truck manufacturer over in Europe: The one that doesn’t sell trucks over here in the States. But its approach to electric trucks is interesting because the company is not limiting itself to one particular technology path. It has embraced a wide range of new EV technologies, including “conventional” battery powered vehicles, buses that recharge wirelessly, tractors that connect to an overhead power line – even a new hybrid system that runs a hydrotreated vegetable oil-electric drivetrain.

The full story is here, but there are several interesting takeaways in the piece that lend support to the view that EVs in the U.S. are a matter of when, and not if:

  • Interest in low-emission commercial vehicles from consumers in Europe is growing daily. As a result, the pressure among OEMs and suppliers in Europe to develop viable systems and vehicles is “intense.”
  • China is the leading market for electric commercial vehicles today and accounts for 95% of the world’s stock of electric buses in service today with more than 100,000 units on the road.
  • The price points on battery technology and associated technologies are falling rapidly.
  • Acquisition costs remain high, but long-term operating costs are lower for fleets.
  • Development of long-haul electric commercial vehicles currently lags behind buses and urban and regional vehicles, but market forces are already starting to ramp up work on these models.

One of those market forces, I would add, is stiff competition from here in the United States.

So, the stage is set for some interesting developments in the coming years. And who’s to say? Maybe it will be the Americans who take the lead in terms of long-haul electric tractors. Which would be ironic considering the current lack of enthusiasm for the technology here in America on the fleet side of things. But hey – stranger things have happened.

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Author Bio

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Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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