As the U.S. puts increasing pressure on energy firms and car manufacturers to decrease their reliance on fossil fuels, the two industries are working together on the future of cleaner transportation. While electric vehicles (EVs) have become much more commonplace in recent years, progress on the electrification of bigger vehicles has been much slower. As automakers turn their attention to electric trucks, we can expect to see several new models released this year, with big plans for the coming years.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), registrations of electric buses and heavy-duty trucks increased in 2021 in China, Europe, and the United States. The sale of electric buses rose by around 40 percent globally, while electric medium- and heavy-duty truck (HDV) sales increased by twofold. However, the IEA also identified the need to demonstrate the economic and societal benefits – such as reduced noise and air pollution, to help expand the electric HDV market. Further, governments should adopt policies to incentivize electric HDV production and uptake, as well as expand the charging network across the country to support this uptake.
Significant strides have been made in the production of electric trucks in recent years, driving manufacturing costs down through battery and technology innovations. In fact, a 2022 study predicted that all new electric freight trucks in Europe will be cheaper to run, drive as far and carry as much as diesel trucks by 2035. And globally, the electric truck market is expected to achieve a value of over $3.8 billion by 2030, from $392 million in 2020, at a CAGR of 26.4 percent between 2021 and 2030.
In the U.S., the freight industry is looking to introduce more electric trucks to its fleet, although the main challenge continues to be the limited range of EV batteries and access to charging infrastructure. This means that most electrics HDVs being adopted in the initial phase will be for short-haul services.
Electric car companies have been racing to develop the technology needed to provide companies with long-haul electric HDV options in recent years, with some models already available. Tesla’s Semi combines three independent motors to give the vehicle the power needed to reach 0-60 mph in 20 seconds. In addition, Tesla states that the Semi uses only 2 kWh per mile of energy consumption, meaning it can travel up to 500 miles on a single charge, and recover up to 70 percent of range in 30 minutes using Tesla’s Semi Chargers.
PepsiCo appears to be one of the companies betting on the Tesla Semi, having submitted permits to install the Tesla Megacharger in Fresno, California. The company has already made a purchase of Semis to be used on-site, but now it looks like it wants to expand its network through the installation of the necessary charging infrastructure in the region.
Meanwhile, the logistics service Schneider adopted an electric HDV fleet in 2021, with the first of the trucks arriving at a California port this year. The CEO Mark Rourke stated ″We’re going to be operating those in and out of railheads for intermodal customers, and so we’ll start with five taking this month and will be up to about that hundred number by the time we get through the calendar year.” Schneider chose the eCascadia battery-electric semi truck from Freightliner for its electric debut. But Rourke made it clear that “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.”
And other companies have also announced plans to make the switch. In December 2022, President Biden announced that the U.S. Postal Service would be buying 66,000 vehicles to build one of the largest electric fleets in the U.S. It plans to purchase 45,000 “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” from defense contractor Oshkosh and a further 21,000 electric trucks from mainstream automakers.
And in some areas, the rate of electric HDV uptake is expected to accelerate, as certain states introduce policies restricting the purchase of new diesel vehicles and incentivizing EV uptake. In California, the Air Resources Board will require truck manufacturers to begin phasing in available heavy-duty EV technology by 2024, with aims for zero-emissions short-haul drayage fleets by 2035. This is expected to significantly reduce air pollution in the region. This is supported by California’s announcement of a ban on the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2035, with plans to ban medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2040.
State efforts will be supported by federal action, with the Department of Transportation having approved EV-charging station plans for all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, covering about 75,000 miles of highways. Over $1.5 billion has now been made available to help construct the extensive charging network.
As the U.S. government continues to push for a green transition, automakers are listening. Several automakers are releasing electric truck models that could change the face of freight in the U.S. over the coming decades, and several companies across the country have already put in their orders. To make the electrification of freight possible, the U.S. must accelerate the expansion of its charging network, which is supported by funding from the Department of Transportation. Clear strides have been made in electric truck production in recent years, although there is still a long way to go to provide the long-haul capabilities that are currently available in diesel freight.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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