The stars seem to be aligning for a significant rollout of battery-electric vehicles in the 2021 model year, the first year of the truck/tractor portion of Phase 2 of the greenhouse gas emissions regulations. And that spells an opportunity for truck makers.
Several truck makers have suggested that meeting GHG Phase 2 requirements for medium-duty and vocational vehicles will be more challenging than for on-highway vehicles. And that makes BEVs ideal candidates to replace diesel engines in any number of segments where the technology suits the application.
The regulations that will apply to vocational and heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans call for reductions in CO2 and fuel consumption of 24% and 16%, respectively, by 2027. Through the magic of credits earned on more-efficient vehicles, they can turn to less-drastic measures at first to meet requirements for the more difficult cases.
“For every electric vehicle an OEM puts into the medium-duty domain, there is a multiplier that can offset, I believe, up to five diesel trucks [the rule says 4.5],” says Darren Gosbee, vice president of engineering at Navistar. “It will be advantageous to an OEM to have electric vehicles in their portfolio. It’s a very good route to corporate averaging.”
Being smart about BEVs
The National Renewable Energy Laboratories did a comparison study in 2016 of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North Americas diesel and electric vehicles operating in the Seattle area. NREL found that average daily driving time for both electric and diesel units was just 1.5 hours, with most of the electric vehicles running less than 45 miles per day and consuming significantly less (55 kWh) than the battery’s 80 kWh capacity.
Details of this study were described in the recently released guidance report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, Electric Trucks: Where They Make Sense. NREL said that fleets using such vehicles could gain additional efficiency by matching routes to the vehicle’s capabilities. “The new technology may permit rethinking operations to better tune them to the capabilities of the BEVs, rather than forcing the BEVs to duplicate the diesel duty cycles,” NACFE noted.
It’s easy to see where BEVs can make sense for highly sophisticated fleets like PepsiCo or UPS. But a large chunk of the heavy-duty pickup truck and van market are not truckers at all, but bakers, plumbers, and sales people who use their trucks as tools. They will have a much higher degree of range anxiety, and therefore a greater reluctance to embrace BEVs. To that end, Isuzu is planning an evaluation project in the next year that will see five trucks placed into customers’ hands in five different parts of the country to see how they measure up to real-world situations.
“We want to see if our testing translates to the real-world experience, where people drive their trucks like they stole them,” says Brian Tabel, executive director of marketing for Isuzu Commercial Truck of America. “Assuming the trucks meet that challenge, the next hurdle to wide adoption will be infrastructure, and today’s grid isn’t ready for that demand.”