Two of this year’s HDT Truck Fleet Innovators are just starting to deploy electric trucks in their California facilities. In both cases, they are running the new BEVs in parallel with their existing trucks — at least until they get a better feel for the best ways to make EVs work in their operations.
How can they get the most efficiency and range out of the electric trucks so that eventually they can actually replace the internal-combustion-engine trucks with the zero-emissions models? Will they need more trucks to serve the same routes?
These are industry leaders who are excited about these trucks and dedicated to reducing emissions. They’ve used data and modeling to get the best predictions they can about how the trucks are going to perform in the real world. But they still won’t really know until they are able to run the trucks in their fleets for a while and get the feedback and data they need.
They also both told me that they’re hearing a lot of utilities telling fleets that the power they’ll need for charging infrastructure just isn’t there, at least not right now.
Delivering a Dose of Fleet-Electrification Reality
A U.S. Senate committee recently heard a similar message from Andrew Boyle, co-president of Massachusetts-based Boyle Transportation. He testified before a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on the future of clean vehicles.
“While we share the passion for EVs in cars and light duty vehicles, projecting an automotive construct onto trucking industry dynamics is a massive mistake,” Boyle said. “Let me be clear: if battery-electric trucks had adequate range, there was adequate charging infrastructure, and utilities brought online necessary electricity, we truckers would be delighted. But let me explain our reality.”
Boyle, who’s also first vice chair of the American Trucking Associations, talked about friends and peers in the industry who were exploring adding electric trucks and were shot down by the utilities.
“One friend tried to put in 30 trucks in Illinois. The city said, ‘Is this some kind of joke? You’re asking for more draw than the entire city requires.’”
A California company tried to electrify 12 forklifts. Not trucks, but forklifts. Local power utilities told them that’s not possible.
“When a utility tells you, you’re three years out from converting 10 forklifts in a warehouse, I think that should alert us to the fact that we’re just not there,” Boyle said.
Will BEVs Mean More Trucks on the Road?
The EPA recently decided to allow California to go ahead with new stricter emissions rules. Some projections estimate that its new Advanced Clean Truck rules will mean that more than half of all heavy-duty trucks to be sold in the state — everything from highway tractors to refuse trucks — must be powered by all-electric drive by 2035.
California will require truck manufacturers to accelerate their sales of zero-emission vehicles, setting increasing ZEV manufacturing standards — starting in 2024.
Boyle told the Senate committee that “no OEM is going to be compliant with the California CARB standard starting in January. They’ll have it due to credits and so forth, but none is going to be technically compliant.”
And it’s not just the charging that will be a challenge. Boyle, when asked by a committee member how it would affect his own fleet, said he would need more trucks to transport the same amount of freight. One of our Innovators believes the same thing will be true for his fleet.
When innovators and leaders like these are challenged this much, how’s the rest of the industry doing to cope?
As Boyle said, “It’s not that we can’t overcome challenges — but we don't overcome them by pretending they don't exist.”