Would you buy an electric truck? Or would you buy an electric truck if you could be sure you could charge it and have at least a projected total cost of ownership for it?
That question was like electricity in the air on March 3 throughout many of the sessions on alternative-power solutions at this year’s Green Truck Summit in Indianapolis, held alongside the 2020 Work Truck Show.
That’s not to say Herculean efforts and massive investments are not being made. Companies ranging from automotive behemoths in business for over 100 years to disruptive startups just a few years in existence, as well as by government agencies across the world, are attempting to harness the power of electricity to drive commercial vehicles to zero emissions at the tailpipe as soon as possible.
The electric road is coming. That’s for sure. What isn’t certain is how quickly, simply, and cost-effectively it will become the smooth highway that truck fleets would like to see themselves gliding over to reach a sustainable future.
And many of them are also taking pains to talk up how critical it will be to educate fleets on every aspect of operating battery-electric and fuel-cell trucks, including, most critically, how charging infrastructure must be further developed, standardized, and implemented on a massive scale.
The Main Motivator
Keynoter Sean Waters, Daimler Trucks North America’s vice president of product compliance and regulatory affairs, said at the Green Truck Summit that “diesel will be here for a long while, and [knowing] total cost of ownership remains the main motivator of acceptance for battery-electric and fuel-cell trucks.”
He also pointed out that while CO2 reduction has been a focus for decades, much progress on electric vehicles has been made in the past two years, noting that Daimer has developed such vehicles as electric school buses, the Freghtliner M2e and the eCascadia trucks in North America, and the Fuso eCanter truck globally.
“We can build an electric truck for any segment,” Waters said. But the three factors crucial to acceptance and eventual widespread adoption are the products themselves, the ability “to enable the e-mobility ecosystem,” i.e. the charging infrastructure, and seeing governmental policies and regulations put in place to support electric vehicle use.
“Where are we on commercial vehicle infrastructure?” Waters asked. “We aren’t there yet. He said truck fleets also want to be sold on the total cost of ownership for electric trucks and want to learn about how they will determine routes, maintenance requirements, and ultimately, what will happen when trucks finish their useful life.
Yet, Waters added, “I think [charging] infrastructure is the biggest concern” for fleets. He pointed out that DTNA has been focusing first on vehicles that can be centrally charged, such as P&D, regional hauling, drayage, food and beverage, and last-mile applications.
“Central charging is a game-changer,” he said, “allowing a [cleaner] solution for delivery right into your neighborhoods.”
But Waters said how quickly electric trucks expand from that centralized-charging model will depend on how quickly rapid-charging stations built to industry-standardized specs can be developed and installed where needed to increase truck range.
The Biggest Question
“That,” he said, “is the [biggest] question on the minds of buyers.” He noted that public utilities will play a big role in building out charging. “But they won’t build infrastructure for no money. The only way they are going to build it is if they can pass along the cost in rate increases.” But of course, those rate hikes have to be approved by utility commissions, and there’s no guarantees on that happening.
As for government’s part, Waters said actions here at home such as reducing the FET on electric trucks and providing incentives or rebates for early adopters “could help balance TCO” for fleets.
On a much broader scale, he expressed the hope that national governments across the globe will work faster to develop standards for electric vehicles and charging. “We have to think of [moving to zero emissions] in terms of the global family.
“We need to get better economies of scale [to accelerate electric power developments] and we can get better economies of scale if we can easily transfer technology” from one country or region to another.
Waters also said that the type of “co-creation” that comes from working closely with customers on truck design that Daimler is pursuing as it develops electric trucks is “a key to success” to bringing these vehicles to market successfully and expanding demand for them.
To that end, he noted that DTNA has launched a “customer experience fleet” to place some pre-production Freightliner eCascadia and eM2 all-electric trucks into customer hands ahead of the planned launch of these models in 2021.