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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Electric Truck Technology Gaining Momentum Despite Hurdles

  • Short-haul electric trucks are being tested and adopted, particularly in California, where financial incentives and regulatory requirements are driving progress.
  • Companies like Uber Freight and automakers such as Tesla and Volvo are making significant strides in developing electric truck technology for longer ranges.
  • Despite current limitations in battery technology and the high costs of electric trucks, there is a growing demand and commitment to transition to electric freight transportation to reduce carbon emissions and support green initiatives.

Despite big promises over the last few years, we still appear to be far off achieving electrified freight transport, capable of carrying heavy loads over long distances using battery power alone. Although lithium-ion batteries are becoming more powerful thanks to greater investment in research and development in recent years, they are still not capable of powering huge trucks to carry cargo across countries. However, while just a few companies were previously aiming to develop the technology, now a broad range of EV firms think they will producing freight transport options within the next decade, and several big companies, such as Uber, are backing the technology. 

At the beginning of 2023, several companies announced plans to test short-haul EV trucks, due to ongoing limitations to EV range. Trucks were expected to be placed in ports and intermodal logistics facilities for testing until longer-range vehicles could be developed. Schneider was one of the first firms to announce a battery-electric truck (BEV) fleet, stating its plan in 2021 and launching a fleet in Southern California last year. Some states have pushed hard to encourage truck manufacturers to invest in EV development in recent years, with the California Air Resources Board requiring truck-makers to start phasing in available heavy-duty EV technology by 2024, to launch zero-emissions fleets by 2035. 

At this time, long-haul freight truck technology seemed a long way off. Schneider CEO Mark Rourke stated, “It’s going to take time. The range right now is about 200 to 240 miles depending upon terrain. So, it’ll be a while until we get battery electric trucks, but there’s other alternate fuels, like hydrogen, that may get us there sooner with still a zero-emission, but it’s going to take a little bit.”  Related: Tankers Advised to Stay Away From Yemen As Tensions Rise

However, California is ambitious in its plans to develop long-haul electric truck technology that is economically viable. At present, the giant batteries required to power long-haul trucks can cost more than $400,000 and trucks must stop for long charging periods during their journey, which further increases costs, due to lost time. But California has found uses for short-haul electric freight, such as carrying cargo from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to inland warehouses, without the need to stop and charge. 

California is using financial incentives to encourage companies to purchase electric trucks, with state agency grants adding up to as much as $288,000 per vehicle. This is expected to boost demand and encourage automakers to produce more electric trucks. The state announced plans to ban diesel trucks from its ports starting in 2035, which is further encouraging companies to make the switch. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington have all announced similar aims. Currently, electric trucks account for just one percent of the trucks used in Californian ports, showing there is a long way to go to convert the entire fleet. 

In addition to the states betting big on electric freight trucks, some companies are also backing the development of the technology. In February last year, Uber Freight announced its first electric truck pilot, partnering with WattEV and CHEP on southern California routes. WattEV already had plans in place to develop a nationwide network of heavy-duty charging facilities, that will support the electric truck fleet. Meanwhile, Uber Freight will provide the platform, with CHEP as its first customer, for users to book, schedule, and complete loads, track status and load KPIs, and manage paperwork. 

Meanwhile, several automakers are investing heavily in electric truck technology to meet the anticipated demand for battery freight transport. Tesla was one of the first companies to announce plans to develop an electric truck fleet, with its Tesla Semi model. The wholly electric Class 8 tractor is expected to travel up to 500 miles on a single charge on its (estimated) 900 kWh battery, and will hopefully recover 70 percent of its range in just 30 minutes. Several fleets of the Class 8 tractor are already being tested by companies across California, supported by funding from the California Air Resources Board. 

The well-known truck maker Volvo is also producing an electric fleet, developing its Volvo FH and Volvo FM models. In September, the company announced a record order for its new trucks, with Swiss building solutions provider Holcim requesting 1,000 electric trucks over the next seven years. AB Volvo stated, “The deal is the largest commercial order to date for Volvo electric trucks.” 

While heavy-duty electric trucks are still mainly in the development and testing phase, there is an increasing demand to get these vehicles on the roads. Several states and companies are willing to invest in battery freight trucks to drive down their carbon emissions and support national green transition aims. However, automakers must continue to invest in research and development to create more powerful, lower-cost batteries that can carry huge freight trucks over a longer range, to allow for long-haul cargo transportation.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com


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