What Can the Evolution of NGVs Teach Us about the Future of Electric Trucks?

August 6, 2020

In partnership with:  Trillium

There has been much buzz among Trillium’s medium- and heavy-duty fleet customers about the push, particularly in California, toward electric trucks. On June 27, the California Air Resources Board approved the Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) rule, which will require manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs) to sell zero emission trucks in the state in steadily increasing percentages beginning in 2024. The buzz only intensified when, earlier this month, 14 states and the District of Columbia declared they would collaborate to expand and accelerate the market for zero emission MHDVs by setting a 30% target for all trucks sold in those states be ZEVs by 2030, and all trucks on the road be ZEVs by 2050. Many fleet owners are now wondering not only how will these policies impact them, but when will the necessary electric vehicles realistically be available?

Many fleet owners are now wondering when will these electric vehicles realistically be available?

Lessons from an Earlier Transition

Many medium- and heavy-duty fleets operating today have already made one major transition, from gasoline and diesel to cleaner-burning natural gas. Although this shift didn’t happen overnight, NGV fleet operators now see a multitude of benefits from NGVs, including significant fuel cost savings, improved driver experience, reduced maintenance, cleaner operations and unbeatable emission reductions — especially when fueling with carbon-negative RNG.

Talking with the fleets that made this transition, moving from diesel and gasoline to natural gas vehicles required significantly more investment, driver and mechanic education, trial-and-error and more collaboration alongside vehicle engineers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) than anyone could have anticipated. Establishing today’s robust NGV marketplace, where essentially any vehicle in any configuration a fleet might require is available, was a long road.

Decades of NGV Co-Creation

Fleets spent decades getting new vehicle technology to work, putting in countless hours to tailor natural gas technology to their individual needs. While some fleet operators use just one type of vehicle — even though they may have several hundred of them in their fleet — other fleet managers must coordinate the operations of dozens of different kinds of MHDVs which perform numerous, specific jobs. The fleets operated by cities and counties, airports and marine terminals, educational institutions and utilities have multiple kinds of vehicles with required specifications performing a diverse and critical variety of tasks.

The industry is now delivering diverse natural gas vehicles to fit the needs of any fleet.

Over many years, fleets and vehicle manufacturers worked together to build the different natural gas vehicle platforms capable of getting the job done. From yard goats to overnight sleepers, from step vans to dump trucks, from street sweepers to bucket trucks, the industry is now delivering diverse natural gas vehicles to fit the needs of any fleet. It wasn’t until just six to nine years ago that the industry really began to deliver a consistent, technologically and environmentally superior natural gas product.

Engineering Battery Electric Vehicles to Meet Every Fleet Need

To meet the operational demands of today’s diverse fleets, electric vehicles will have to undergo a similar evolution. Although the exact timeline is unknown, it will take years (possibly a decade or more) to get this next generation of advanced vehicle technology just right for every fleet’s needs. It has been 30 years since California first mandated sales of zero emission automobiles for the passenger vehicle market, and light-duty EVs are still struggling to secure widespread commercial acceptance. Zero emission MHDV manufactures will inevitably experience similar growing pains on the path to commercialization and broad fleet adoption.

Getting Past the Batteries First

Just as it has taken light-duty manufacturers decades to produce battery electric vehicles customers want, so too will the medium and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers need time to adapt and mature to their customers’ demands. Key to the development of market-ready electric trucks is, of course, the battery.

Although the exact timeline is unknown, it will take years to get this next generation of advanced vehicle technology just right for every fleet’s needs.

Finding the right balance between energy density (range), energy discharge (power), weight (which impacts range, power and payload) and cost has proven to be a major hurdle in the development of commercially competitive medium and heavy-duty BEVs.

Consider a city fleet manager operating a street sweeper. What seems like an easy EV-swap gets complicated quickly. The vehicle, continuously running brushes and cruising along at a low but constant speed, has an enormous need for power. This specific vehicle also has very few opportunities for regenerative braking which would otherwise recharge an onboard battery. Adding the hundreds of pounds of batteries this vehicle would need to operate affects range, power, and payload. Considering the vehicle must operate a fixed route multiple times a week, cannot return to base mid-route and would likely not have access to high powered fast chargers while in operation, or would need to charge via on-route smart chargers, one can start to see the types of challenges that begin to emerge.

Trillium works alongside customers to identify solutions that work best for their operations.

Listening to Our Fleet Customers

These questions and concerns from our fleet customers about this exciting — and challenging — transition in on-road transportation are not new to the Trillium team. Fortunately, experience and expertise across all clean fuels enables Trillium to rise to the occasion. We are constantly evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of our diverse fleet customers, whether that be renewable natural gas today or charging infrastructure tomorrow. No matter what fuel a fleet may need, Trillium works alongside customers to identify solutions that work best for their operations — balancing cost, reliability, deployment timelines, sustainability goals, location, and scale. Working together, we will find the answers that work best for your fleet.

To learn more about Trillium’s portfolio of fueling solutions visit www.loves.com/trillium or contact Dani Temou at Dani.Teumou@trilliumcng.com