The unknowns of electric truck payback aren't stopping early adopters like UPS from investing in them to find out for themselves.
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The unknowns of electric truck payback aren't stopping early adopters like UPS from investing in them to find out for themselves.

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency's latest Guidance Report, Medium-Duty Electric Trucks: Cost of Ownership, finds there are still a lot of unknowns. NACFE Executive Director Mike Roeth said in an Oct. 11 conference call that the new report, which took six months to research and write, focuses exclusively on Class 3 through 6 models engaged in P&D and other urban freight applications.

Our first report on electric trucks concluded that medium-duty will be one of the first places we’ll see significant electric truck use,” Roeth said on a conference call with trucking journalists. “In this follow-up report, our team forced itself to understand the benefits, challenges of electric truck adoption over gasoline and diesel trucks. And that effort fell apart almost at once, because there are so many fleet operational variables in play when you switch to electric trucks. It’s a really big change. And we discovered that there are still a lot of generally unknown factors when it comes to electric truck adoption – some of which could have higher costs compared to diesel trucks. But there are also attractive opportunities, as well.”

One such example, he said, are maintenance costs for electric trucks, which have been painted as being as much as 75% less when on diesel or gasoline trucks. “Those figures haven’t been validated,” he cautioned. “And it’s a prime example of what we don’t know, because the field history of electric truck operation is minimal, total-cost-of-ownership modeling for electric battery vehicles involves a number of projections, estimates and guesses that this report seeks to clarify.”

According to Roeth, the report identifies 20 generally unknown factors concerning modern fleet operations with electric trucks. The report breaks them down into four broad categories: Market issues, battery issues, regulatory issues, and power/charging issues. However, he noted, even these significant unknowns are not stopping first-adopter fleets from buying battery electric trucks and putting them to work in order to gain first-hand operational data.

More specifically, Roeth said the report concluded that daily, return-to-base urban truck operations with routes under 100 miles were best suited for battery electric drivetrains, and that the primary justification to use battery electric trucks is to meet zero-emissions regulations and objectives.

The report, which can be found here, contains a great deal of free content, including a new, Total Cost of Ownership Cost Calculator that allows fleet managers to plug in specific operational details to determine electric truck costs compared to conventional vehicles. The entire, 174-page study purchased for $1,500.

Roeth said emphatically that battery electric trucks are not a fad and noted that their adoption profile is likely to follow a similar path to the one diesel-powered locomotives did in the 1940s and 1950s when they gradually replaced steam-powered engines. “Electric trucks are not a fad,” Roeth said. “We are not sure what the actual adoption rate will be. But it is clear that this technology is here and will increasingly deployed in real-world fleet operations in the near future. And we at NACFE are interested in continuing the dialog about them as their acceptance grows.”

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