This Kenworth T680E may look like a conventional diesel truck, but its Meritor edrivetrain cranks out big-bore diesel amounts of horsepower and torque while delivering an almost-unbelievable smooth, quiet ride.  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

This Kenworth T680E may look like a conventional diesel truck, but its Meritor edrivetrain cranks out big-bore diesel amounts of horsepower and torque while delivering an almost-unbelievable smooth, quiet ride.

Photo: Jack Roberts

Are you an “electric skeptic?” Someone who the attention given to electric cars and trucks is just hype or somehow artificial?

It’s understandable if you are. We live in an era of competing ideologies and persistent mistrust. Perhaps you think the cries of alarm over climate change are overblown. Or maybe you think there’s something to it but that EVs are sort of a shell-game solution — a way of moving the source of carbon emissions around without really impacting the problem.

Obviously national divisiveness is an issue, as well. These days, if one political party is in favor of something, it seems like 50% of Americans are automatically against it. And there’s no doubt that the bulk of the policy impetus behind EVs are coming from the Biden administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress federally, and from Democrat-leaning states such as California. For many people, that alone can make the whole governmental push behind EVs feel forced.

"Let me be honest: I’m an ICE kind of guy. I love gasoline engines."

On the other hand, there are clearly serious market forces gaining steam and putting serious pull-through momentum into the North American EV space. Younger drivers I’ve talked to seem to view cars and trucks with internal combustion as “old fashioned.” They’re genuinely excited about the prospect of owning an EV in the near future. And recent sales figures back that up. According to Car and Driver, Tesla delivered just under 1 million new electric cars to customers last year. And as 2021 closed out, Ford reported that it already had more than 160,000 orders in hand for its new F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck — and sold over 40,000 Mustang Mach E electric cars to boot.

Those sales figures aren’t moonshine. They happened because the vehicles in question perform in a manner that is comparable to ICE vehicles. Consumers aren’t going to buy vehicles in those numbers if they don’t perform at least well as conventional, fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks.

I think the same sort of thing is about to happen in the commercial van and truck market when serious commercial EV sales begin later this year or next.

Let me be honest: I’m an ICE kind of guy. I love gasoline engines. I wish climate change wasn’t happening. I wish gas was 25 cents a gallon. I wish I could run down to a Pontiac dealership this afternoon and put in an order for a 2022 GTO Convertible with the modern-day equivalent of a 455-hp, high-output gasoline engine under the hood.

All that said, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the performance of every electric truck I’ve had the opportunity to test drive, from Class 5 up to Class 8.

A much younger Jack Roberts with his 1985 Pontiac Firebird. "I'm an ICE kind of guy."  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

A much younger Jack Roberts with his 1985 Pontiac Firebird. "I'm an ICE kind of guy."

Photo: Jack Roberts

Behind the Wheel of Electric Trucks

I’ve driven pre-production electric trucks from Peterbilt, Volvo, Freightliner and just last week, Kenworth (as well a few makes from smaller OEMs). And in every instance, I’ve come away deeply impressed by how capable the trucks are, how much power and torque their electric drivetrains produce, how quickly they get up and go from a dead stop (even fully loaded), how smoothly they accelerate and drive on the road, and how quiet and vibration-free they are.

The bottom line — as with passenger EV cars and trucks — these vehicles perform as well as ICE commercial vehicles in every metric except overall range capabilities. They just cannot go as far in a single day as a diesel- or gasoline-powered van or truck can. But that’s it. If range is a critical operational factor for your business, then these aren’t the right vehicles for you. But, as I said back in 2019, after driving a Peterbilt Model 220 with a Dana epowertrain at TMC in Atlanta, outside of that, I don’t know why you wouldn’t at least seriously consider one of these electric trucks for appropriate fleet operations today.

Obviously, hurdles to mass EV adoption remain. Charging infrastructure is one of them, which is another reason the best applications of electric trucks at the moment are those where the trucks return to a home base each night where they can recharge.

But perhaps the largest stumbling block to adoption, OEMs consistently tell me, are the still-high acquisition costs of electric trucks. This remains a major pain point for fleets. Government subsidies help, and some OEs and third parties are offering full-service leasing plans to help address the price issue. But higher prices than ICE vehicles will likely remain an issue until volume production brings costs down and/or the price of conventional ICE trucks becomes high enough to offset the other side of the scale.

But, based on what I’ve seen so far, I am convinced that electric commercial vehicles are going to as big a hit with fleets as electric passenger cars and trucks are proving to be with consumers. A whole new way of operating commercial vehicle fleets lies just over the horizon. It’s going to be interesting and exciting to see how this new technology will play out in the marketplace beginning in the very near future.

Listen to "Electric Trucks: The Road to Cost Parity with Diesel" on the HDT Talks Trucking podcast

Author

Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts

Senior Contributing Editor

As HDT's Senior Contributing Editor Jack Roberts has become known for his reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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As HDT's Senior Contributing Editor Jack Roberts has become known for his reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

View Bio
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