The last week of January 2020 was pretty crazy as far as truck news went.
The week began with the final Entry-Level Driver Training Rule getting bumped back a couple of years by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, saw Mack return to the North American medium-duty truck market in the middle of the week, and went out on a bang at the end of the week with Volkswagen’s Traton global truck and bus group making a long-anticipated bid to acquire Navistar.
And on top of all that, there were five lower-key news items that I think, in hindsight, may serve as kind of a watershed moment in the push to bring electric trucks and vans to market here in the United States and Canada.
The first story that caught my eye was a report that General Motors will be investing $3 billion in electric vehicle technology beginning next year. Moreover, it seems that the once-controversial Hummer marque will get a significant makeover with plans on the drawing board for a 1,000-hp battery-electric truck that may make Hummer the face of GM's electrification efforts.
Mack showed earlier in the month it was just warming up to its MD Series launch by showing off a new electric LR model that will soon begin both refuse and snowplow evaluation trials in New York City.
Just as I was wrapping my head around those two news stories, UPS popped into the headlines, announcing that it is buying 10,000 electric delivery vans from a British EV OEM called Arrival for P&D routes in both Europe and Asia. As part of the deal, UPS will invest $110 million in Arrival, and – if all goes well – has an option to purchase another 10,000 electric vans in the future.
No sooner did I start digesting that bit of news when BorgWarner announced it was acquiring Delphi for $3.3 billion. Both companies are major players in vehicle electrification technologies and systems. The move will create a tech juggernaut in the automotive sector with the goal, in BorgWarner’s words, of “a leader in electrified propulsion systems that is well-positioned to take advantage of future propulsion migration.”
And, on top of all that, we saw not one, but two panels discussing electric trucks at the Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week show outside Dallas, Texas.
All that, in just one week in the first month of a year.
It seems apparent that electric vehicles in general, and electric trucks and commercial vans in particular, are about to go mainstream in big way. Just the raw numbers alone in these news stories are staggering: Over $6.4 billion in capital, and – at a bare minimum, at least 10,000 – and possibly as many as 20,000 – brand new electric vans hitting the road in the next four to five years.
These are investment and deployment numbers any new industry would kill to have building momentum for it. And, bear in mind, we’re only talking about a tiny fragment of the overall research and development ongoing for electric cars, trucks and vans globally.
Predictions are always risky. But it seems possible that this past week was when the momentum in the electric truck market moved from experimental and theoretical to eventual mainstream acceptance.
None of these things are happening in a vacuum. The OEMs and technology developers are doing their due diligence and carefully looking at these future markets from every conceivable angle. And they must like what they see. Because you don’t throw $6 billion at a “maybe,” no matter how good the idea looks on paper.
To my mind, the verdict is in. Electric trucks are coming. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good fit for every fleet out there. Nor does it mean that every fleet that could spec electric trucks will choose to do so.
What I can say with certainty is that big changes are coming to the trucking industry in some very fundamental ways. And, as with any new technology trend, it is impossible to tell how disruptive those changes will be.