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Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors.

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Is This The End Of Diesel Trucks?

Truck fleet operators who not long ago rejected the idea of bringing in electrified commercial vehicles are starting to open up — but doubts still need to be resolved, according to a new study.

There’s also the question over which alternative technology will take the lead in commercial trucks — battery powered or hydrogen fuel cell. That’s been playing out as a growing battle between Tesla and its Semi Truck and Nikola’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered Nikola One.

“Electric Trucks — Where They Make Sense,” was released this week by The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) during the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, Calif. It was of much interest to fleet operators and industry suppliers as government mandates are pushing for adoption of low-emission vehicles.

The new study shows how it’s been a polarizing issue among truckers, and it also shows signs of where electric trucks are making gains. Commercial battery electric vehicles are gaining interest as an alternative to traditional diesel, alternative fuels, and hybrid powertrains. But the subject matter has been confusing for fleet operators and manufacturers attempting to bring the technology over to commercial truck operations. This dilemma inspired NACFE to compile the report.

The report identifies 10 common arguments for and against electric Class 3 through 8 commercial vehicles, and delves into vehicle weight, technology, cost, and charging. 

Related: The Bullish And Bearish Case For Oil

Tesla, Daimler, and other manufacturers are taking the electric truck space very seriously, and the study shows how that may play out in the market. One of the manufacturers, Peterbilt, launched its all-electric Model 579 during ACT Expo. It was built by the truck maker in collaboration with Transpower, the California Air Resources Board, and the Port of Long Beach.

The heavy-duty Model 579 truck has been designed as a drayage application tractor that will go into service soon at the Port of Long Beach. It’s got 490 horsepower with a 200-mile range through its battery pack with the options of 350-to-440 kWh of power. The recharge takes up to five hours.

The NACFE report forecasts that a rapid pace in battery energy density improvements will increase range and efficiency in commercial battery electric vehicles that most likely won’t be matched by trucks powered with internal combustion engines. The transition over to electric trucks will probably take several decades.

Mixed fleets using trucks powered by diesel, natural gas, battery electric, hybrid, and hydrogen optimized for specific routes and duty cycles may be the norm through 2050, according to the study.

The earliest adopters of commercial electric trucks are likely to be providing urban delivery in Class 3 through 6 trucks, the study says. These trucks travel over consistent routes and payloads, and vehicles that run on shift and return to the same base location.

Daimler may see earlier gains than Tesla with its medium-duty Fuso eCanter all-electric trucks. Tesla so far only has plans, on the truck side of the business, to roll out the heavy-duty Tesla Semi.

In December, Daimler Trucks announced it will be delivering the first units of its all-electric Fuso eCanter to European customers. Logistics companies DHL, DB Schenker, Rhenus, and Dachser will use the all-electric truck in their fleets.

The German automaker is also preparing to enter the heavy-duty electric truck market with its eActros model.

On the hydrogen side, Nikola Motor Co. is showing how important clean trucking technology is nowadays by landing an order this week for 800 of its Nikola One fuel cell semi-trucks to be delivered to beer giant Anheuser-Busch.

The fuel cell truck startup had already landed an order for 1,000 of its trucks from freight hauler, Tennessee-based US Xpress.

Anheuser-Busch had previously ordered 40 Tesla Semi electric trucks. Tesla had also secured electric truck purchases from FedEx, UPS, Walmart, and DHL.

Related: Oil Prices Up As Iran Deal Hangs In The Balance

Tensions between the two vehicle manufacturers have flared even more this week with Nikola filing a lawsuit in Arizona claiming that Tesla has been infringing on its patents. The suit alleges Tesla copied the patents through similarities between the Nikola One and Tesla Semi in front fenders, windshield, mid-entry doors, and aerodynamic fuselage that have similar drag coefficients.


Nikola is seeking $2 billion in damages, but Tesla is downplaying the validity of the suit.

“It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit,” a spokesperson for Tesla said.

Nikola also claims that spy shots shown on the internet weeks before Tesla’s November 2017 reveal of the Semi could be another sign of infringement. The startup company said that it sent a cease and desist letter to Tesla in early November asking that the electric carmaker delay the Semi announcement until the issue was resolved.

Tesla had not responded to the letter, which had been included as an exhibit in Nikola’s lawsuit.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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  • Not in my lifetime on May 06 2018 said:
    Battery powered trucks? Local use only and light loads, as bridges have load limits. In mountainous terrain, the operator will spend more time charging batteries than delivering. A feel good vehicle for those who don't have a bean counting background.
  • Helen Bontheit on May 10 2018 said:
    Electric long haul trucks is a nail in the coffin for the oil industry. These will wipe out global oil demand and crush the oil business. It’s been a long time coming.
  • Charles Spencer on May 10 2018 said:
    220 years ago the age of steam engines was born and locomotives were powered by wood. Before long they transitioned to coal but In the ninteen fifties coal and steam were obsoleted as trains switched to oil for fuel to save on maintenance costs. Lots of trains now use electricity from direct connection to power grids. Automobiles are following in the path that trains took. Coal to oil to electric. Not just to save on maintenance costs but to increase efficiency and control pollution. Regardless of the romance of the past, no technology can forever hide from accounting.

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