Medium-duty box trucks are a good fit for battery-electric vehicles, but some applications will be harder to electrify than others.
That’s among the findings in the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s new report, Electric Trucks Have Arrived: The Use Case For Medium-Duty Box Trucks. It’s the fourth and final market segment report based on findings from last year’s Run on Less – Electric (RoL-E) freight efficiency demonstration.
When the simpler box truck portion of this market segment, about 380,000 trucks in the U.S. and Canada, electrifies, it will result in the avoidance of nearly 7.7 million metric tonnes (MT) of CO2e annually.
“Electrification should happen fast for the simple trucks, and the industry should prioritize the other applications with regard to benefits and difficulty to bring to production given the smaller unit volumes,” says Mike Roeth, NACFE’s executive director.
Three fleet-OEM pairs in RoL-E operated medium-duty box trucks:
- Day & Ross with a Class 6 Lion6.
- Frito-Lay with a Class 6 Peterbilt-Cummins 220EV.
- Roush Fenway Racing with a Class 6 Roush CleanTech Ford F-650.
The report found that medium-duty box trucks are a great application for electric trucks given their short distances and return-to-base operations. The vast majority of medium-duty box trucks are not driven long distances and are home very night. They are an ideal portion of the overall medium-duty truck market for electrification.
However, more complex Class 6 and 7 trucks such as snowplows, refuse trucks, and fire trucks will require significant efforts which will delay the timing of electrification.
The report includes some basic information about medium-duty box trucks and the size and scope of the market. It looks at duty cycle and charging considerations and presents the benefits and challenges of battery-electric vehicles. It includes information on the manufacturers and fleets that had medium-duty box trucks in the Run and provides details on what metrics were measured. There also is a discussion of total cost of operation.
Lessons Learned on Medium-Duty Box Truck BEVs
- Battery integration can take many forms.
- In order to be valuable for medium-duty box trucks, public charging stations need to be bigger.
- Training, training, and even more training will be needed.
- Expanded production capacity is needed for body builders and dealers.
- Body integration will be new and challenging.
- The public will like medium-duty BEVs in their neighborhoods.
- Drivers will love electric medium-duty box trucks.
- New BEV OEMs are emerging frequently; consolidation is expected.
- Predicting battery life is difficult with significant body loads.
Application expansion will happen.
- Charging ports on trucks need to be standardized.
The road to electrification for medium-duty box trucks can take several different paths. There’s the traditional production line vehicle that is built from the ground up. Another option is upfitting, which allows a fleet to electrify a new vehicle that would otherwise be powered by a gasoline or diesel engine. The third option is remanufacturing or repowering an existing vehicle that is already in operation.
“We are very proud of the fact that the trucks look sharp, and they work great. They are extremely reliable and allow us to deliver on time all the time,” said — Ryan Klaus, senior director of operations, Frito-Lay.
Challenges in Medium-Duty Truck Electrification
Battery-electric trucks are not the solution for all medium-duty box truck applications, the report cautions. Challenges include:
Cost of the vehicle and charging: In all commercial vehicle classes, CBEVs are chasing cost parity with their incumbent counterparts. Incentives and grants continue to play a major role in the TCO equation for the vehicles, the charging and the infrastructure.
Demand is significantly outpacing supply: According to a recent Calstart report, approximately 1,200 medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles had been deployed in the U.S. as of December 2021, with more 140,000 on order. The pressure to get these vehicles into the market sooner rather than later, can be intense. There have been numerous start-up companies in this market segment with promising ideas that never fully materialized. Other new entrants have experienced some public growing pains including recalls, extended production timelines and pivots to different vehicle segments.
Transitioning depots: Transitioning a location to a commercial EV hub can be very difficult, according to the report, with timelines encompassing design, permitting, construction and installation. Added expense can be incurred if additional transformers are needed to support the new power requirements or if conduit must be run to more optimal locations at the site. Furthermore, for those sites that are leased, all the design, upgrades and installation work also must be approved and likely paid for by the landlord, which may entail additional cost for the fleet. Lead time for these large projects can easily last more than a year or even two, especially if infrastructure upgrades are required by the utility.