Future of Electric Trucks

February 28, 2018

The largest advanced transportation technology and clean fleet conference and trade show in North American, the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo is often used by manufacturers and policy makers as venue for introducing new products and making significant announcements. With thousands in attendance, this annual event has become the defacto pinnacle of the advanced clean transportation calendar. Thus, with ACT Expo 2018 two months away, it is a good time to take stock of how far zero emission medium and heavy-duty vehicle technology have advanced in the last year.

Over the last year, policy makers around the world have announced their intent to demand that the vehicles sold in their markets meet a zero-tailpipe emission requirement. China has announced a requirement that 20 percent of the vehicles sold by major auto makers in 2025 be battery-electric or plug-in hybrids, and is said to be contemplating a ban on petroleum-fueled autos. India announced a plan to go all electric by 2030, but retreated from this pledge last month and instead has announced that it will develop an electric vehicle action plan. France has announced that it will prohibit the sale of gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles by 2040, while Norway and the Netherlands are targeting 2025 for their ban on petroleum-based vehicle sales. California has also released a plan to get five million ZEVs on its roads by 2030.

All over the world, battery electric, plug in, and fuel cell automobiles are gobbling up growing segments of light duty vehicle market share. Virtually every major manufacturer now offers either battery electric, hybrid electric or fuel cell car models. As this trend continues, it will yield tremendous environmental and public health benefits.

Yet automobiles are but one, albeit huge, segment of the transportation system. The transformation of both on and off-road heavy-duty vehicles that currently fuel with diesel is critical to address the causes of smog, toxic air contamination, and to reduce the worst of the short-lived climate pollutants, black carbon.

Currently, there are no Class 7 or 8 zero tailpipe emission vehicles being produced commercially. However, there are many prototypes in development, with several companies saying that they will be delivering trucks to customers in the next couple of years.

Over the last year, policy makers around the world have announced their intent to demand that the vehicles sold in their markets meet a zero-tailpipe emission requirement.

Tesla famously announced that they would produce a Class-8 truck that Elon Musk claimed would have 500 miles of range, accelerate from 0 to 60 in twenty seconds with a full load, climb a 5% grade at 65 MPH, and have a selling price point of $150,000 to $200,000. In the weeks that followed the November 17, 2017 unveiling, dozens of major companies placed orders for the Tesla Semi (the commercial production of which is expected in 2019), including Wal Mart, PepsiCo, DHL, UPS, J.B Hunt, Ruan, Ryder, Budweiser, Sysco and many others. Prototypes of the Tesla Semi are regularly spotted around the Tesla facilities in Fremont, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Although there are many doubters who are skeptical about the ability of Tesla to meet the expectations that Musk set during the unveiling, Tesla has surprised the market before. With well over 500 pre-orders, the Tesla Semi could well be a major technological leap forward.

Striving to beat Tesla to market with a Class 8 battery electric tractor is Thor Trucks. They have debuted the ET-One, a heavy-duty electric semi-truck that is projected to have a 300 to 500 mile driving range on a single charge. Thor predicts that they will also have their vehicles in production in 2019, and claims to have reservations from some very large truck owners, including Wal-Mart, DHL and PepsiCo. Unlike Tesla, Thor Trucks plans on partnering with existing auto-manufacturers to build its trucks.

The transformation of both on and off-road heavy-duty vehicles that currently fuel with diesel is critical to address the causes of smog, toxic air contamination.

Daimler, the world’s largest truck manufacturer, has been working on the electric truck space for several years, and has several products that it is readying. In 2016 Mercedes introduced the concept for the eActros, a, 18 – 25 tonne battery electric truck, a heavy-duty, inner city delivery truck with a range of 200 km (124 miles). In October 2017 Mercedes began to deliver prototypes of the eActros to customers all over Europe for testing. Mercedes intends to gather information from these users, refine the technology, put it out for further testing, and begin serial production in 2021. Also in October 2017, Daimler’s Mitsubishi Fuso Truck division unveiled a new battery-electric heavy-duty concept truck called the E-FUSO Vision One. The concept truck will have a GVW of 23 tons and a payload of 11 tons, and be able to carry this load up to 350 km (220 miles) on a single charge.

Toyota is one of several companies looking to hydrogen fuel cells as the answer to providing Class 8 trucks with both diesel-like performance and range. To this end the company has developed “Project Portal”, a heavy-duty truck that is targeted on the drayage market (hauling containers to and from marine ports). Outfitted with two Mirai fuel cells and a 12-kWh battery, the Project Portal truck is designed to carry enough hydrogen to give it a range of 200 miles, more than enough for the average day of a port truck driver. The concept truck has the electrical equivalent of a 675 hp engine with an impressive 1,325 ft-lb of torque. In October 2017 Toyota began to test the cargo-carrying capacity of their fuel cell truck in a study of the feasibility of moving freight from the port to various rail yards and warehouses in the region, similar to the moves a typical drayage truck would perform.

it is clear that zero tailpipe semi-trucks are going to play a major role in goods movement.

Nikola Motor Company has also been making strides recently with the development of its hydrogen fuel cell semi-truck. In early February the company announced that it will be building its zero tailpipe emission heavy duty truck, called the Nikola One™, in a $1 billion, 1 million ft2 facility it will construct in Buckeye, AZ. With claims that it has 8,000 vehicles orders for its fuel cell truck, Nikola plans on hiring 2,000 workers for its production plant in 2019, and begin production of the truck in 2020. Nikola has partnered with Ryder to maintain its vehicles, which it says will have up to 1,000 HP and 2,000 ft-lbs of torque, be fueled in 15 minutes, and drive between 500 and 1,000 miles on a single tank of hydrogen.

Whether through the use of batteries to store grid-generated electricity, or through the generation of power on board through the use of a fuel cell, it is clear that zero tailpipe semi-trucks are going to play a major role in goods movement. It is only a matter of time before these technologies are commercialized and used throughout the goods movement industry.