Heavy-duty electric truck sales continue to lag behind fleet deployments in the U.S., a Calstart study has found. - Photo: Jack Roberts

Heavy-duty electric truck sales continue to lag behind fleet deployments in the U.S., a Calstart study has found.

Photo: Jack Roberts

The deployment of zero-emission trucks grew by 163% in 2023, adding another 3,510 units to fleets in the U.S. That’s according to a new report issued by Calstart, “Zeroing in on ZETs: May 2023 Market Update.”

Calstart is a nonprofit organization that works nationally and internationally with businesses and governments to develop clean, efficient transportation solutions. In the new report, Calstart tracks the continued increase in medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission truck deployments in the United States.

Zero-emission cargo vans and yard tractors are achieving a significant share of total medium- and heavy-duty ZET sales. Cargo vans account for 47% and yard tractors account for 17% of all new medium- and heavy-duty ZET registrations.

This is followed by: zero-emission pickup trucks (which have been available for purchase since 2022) at 15%; zero-emission, medium-duty step vans at 11%; medium-duty ZETs at 6%, HD ZETs at 5%, and zero-emission refuse trucks at 1%.

Other key findings include:

  • Since January 2017, annual medium- and heavy-duty ZET deployments increased year-over-year by 104% in 2018, 23% in 2019, 60% in 2020, 397% in 2021, and 163% in 2022.
  • Cumulative U.S. medium- and heavy-duty ZET deployments (from January 2017 through December 2022) have grown to 5,483 vehicles. Of medium- and heavy-duty ZETs with known locations, 59% were deployed in states that have adopted California's Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule as of December 2022.
  • In 2022 alone, 3,510 medium- and heavy-duty ZETs were deployed across the country, surpassing deployments of the previous five years (2017–2021) combined.
  • Seven states deployed their first zero-emission trucks since Calstart’s "Zeroing in on ZETs: June 2022 Market Update:" Arkansas, Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia.

Class 8 ZET Deployment Jumped by 7,167% in 2023

Calstart analysts noted that the growth in the zero-emission cargo van segment experienced a 315-fold increase in deployments from 2017 to 2022. That makes zero-emission vans far and away the most popular application for ZEV fleets. Calstart expects this market segment to continue to grow quickly, thanks in part to the new Commercial Clean Vehicle Credit, which provides up to $7,500 in tax credits to mitigate the incremental cost.

Yard tractors have proven to be a excellent entry point for fleets exploring ZETs. - Graph: Calstart

Yard tractors have proven to be a excellent entry point for fleets exploring ZETs.

Graph: Calstart

Electric yard tractors are also proving to be popular ZETs for fleet operations. Calstart reports 1,541% growth in deployments from January 2017 to December 2022, while adding that the deployment of Class 8 ZETs experienced 7,167% growth from January 2020 to December 2022.

These figures, Calstart analysts argue, reflect the increasing ability of zero-emission technologies to meet and exceed fleets’ demanding operational requirements that have historically been served by internal combustion engine vehicles.

9 Keys to Drawing a Road to Zero Fleet Emissions

The report also notes that vouchers and other forms of government incentives designed to boost ZEV and ZET purchases appear to be driving ZET sales, as well.

From 2011 through 2022, redeemed and unredeemed vouchers from California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) for medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles totaled $315 million, helping with the purchase of more than 3,149 ZEVs. That's an average of $100,000 per medium- and heavy-duty ZET or 41% of the average original retail price for a deployed medium- and heavy-duty ZET.

The report notes that California’s “strong” ZET policy ecosystem is a major factor that has enabled the state to lead in ZEV/ZET deployments, representing 47% of total U.S. market. The report goes on to quantify this finding by noting that each dollar invested in medium- and heavy-duty ZETs through California’s HVIP program has unlocked $1.42 in private industry investment thus far. This goes a long way toward explaining why currently, about half of all the ZETs deployed in the U.S. (46%) are in California, according to the report.

Slow Growth Likely for the Foreseeable Future

The Calstart report shows an industry that is still very much feeling its way into the ZET market. Not surprisingly, given the applications, the main thrust of activity currently is focused on light- and medium-duty vehicles.

An interesting aside are sales to individual owners, as opposed to businesses. It stands to reason that as these owners learn to understand the differences between ZEVs and vehicles powered by internal combustion engines they will increasingly recommend and purchase ZEVs and ZETs for business applications as time passes.

When it comes to heavy-duty ZETs, yard tractors are clearly the out-of-the-gate favorite for fleets. This, too, stands to reason. Yard tractors obviously don’t have the longer-range requirements that Class 7 and Class 8 ZETs must contend with in regional-haul applications.

Moreover, yard tractors are also able to take advantage of what the North American Council for Freight Efficiency has dubbed “opportunity charging” – placing the truck on a charger during driver lunch or rest breaks during the day.

Taken as a whole, approximately 5,500 medium- and heavy-duty ZEVs is a mere drop in the ocean, compared to the millions of ICE-powered trucks and vans working in the U.S. today. But, until something dynamic happens to reshape the current marketplace for BEVs, and challenges with charging infrastructure are addressed, this current slow-growth trend will likely remain in play for the foreseeable future.

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for 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