Once upon a time, the technology side of this industry was pretty quiet. Breakthroughs were few and far between on the hardware front, and of course there wasn’t a software front at all back in the 1970s and early ’80s. People spec’d their diesel of choice, stuck an Eaton Fuller transmission behind it, chose a hind-end ratio and that was pretty much that, a combination that demanded relatively little thought. You wanted 300 hp? Maybe 400? A 9-speed box? A 13-speed? Easy peasy.
And while spec’ing an “ordinary” diesel-powered truck today is in some ways even easier because of vertical integration, there’s now an astonishing array of safety and connectivity options to make things immensely complicated.
But is there an electric option in your future? Yes, for sure, if you’re talking about solar power to run a reefer and/or hotel loads. I think solar is on the march, and in fact I’m surprised it isn’t already a bigger player in the broad effort to trim fuel costs and reduce emissions. I think we’ll soon hear some big announcements about solar, and I know one guy who swears he can double the range of a Nikola fuel-cell truck by plastering the roof of its trailer with solar panels.
Will you be buying a plug-in electric truck? Not any time soon – unless you’re talking short local hauls, in which case you already have options in BYD tractors and the nifty little Fuso eCanter truck.
“While electrification has tremendous promise, it’s not the answer for everyone right now,” said Cummins in a recent statement. It introduced its own all-electric drivetrain in a demo truck called AEOS a few months back. “We believe electric vehicles make the most sense in urban areas where the drive ranges are shorter and the vehicles can more easily be recharged.
“AEOS will help us learn about electrification’s potential with larger vehicles traveling greater distances.
“Charging AEOS isn’t as easy as plugging it into the nearest outlet,” Cummins went on. “It takes an hour to charge when plugged into a 140 kW charging station, although by 2020 advances in batteries are expected to shrink charging time to about 20 minutes. There also isn’t the service infrastructure that exists for diesel or even natural gas. You could increase the size of the battery, but it would take about 19,000 lbs of battery to go 600 miles on a single charge. That would take a pretty big chunk out of your payload.”
If you’re an ordinary practitioner of the trucking art – not Walmart or Pepsico or the like – you likely won’t be buying a Tesla Semi next year or even in 10 years. Sexy, yes, but don’t get caught up in the hype. It’s expensive, unproven, and the charging infrastructure is almost completely undeveloped – like 2,150 or so Tesla Supercharger stations compared to well over 160,000 diesel outlets in the U.S. Imagine the lines.
Honestly, for my money, if we’re talking about non-conventional long-haul trucks of the nearish future, the Nikola wins this one. Similar issues, yes, but a fuel cell running on natural gas – especially if that gas is renewable – just makes more sense to me.
Regardless, the vast majority of you will be pumping diesel into your trucks for a long time to come.