Exploring the Future of Electric Trucks

Dec 9, 2019 By:

More and more truck manufacturers and new start-up companies are entering the electric truck arena. And why not? Electric heavy-duty trucks have the potential to reduce environmental concerns due to zero emissions, provide an improved experience for professional drivers, cut maintenance requirements, and eventually offer cost savings to carriers.

Telsa was among the first manufacturers to announce an all-electric truck, but Volvo, Daimler, and others have followed. Ruan has reserved five Tesla electric trucks, slated for mid-2020 delivery, and we have received grants to help offset the initial cost. The price per Tesla will be approximately $180,000. Most diesel-powered tractors cost around $125,000, but Tesla predicts that the electric vehicle will pay for itself within two years due to savings in aerodynamics, reliability, and lower energy costs. According to Tesla, a 400-mile range will be attainable with just a 30-minute charge from one of Tesla’s planned Megacharger stations. Some specifics, such as the total operating cost, are still unavailable.

“We believe that electric trucks make sense and are the future of truck transportation,” said James Cade, Ruan’s vice president of fleet services, who has consulted with Tesla and sits on Freightliner’s Electric Vehicle Council. “We are excited to test the Teslas, evaluate their performance, and determine how we can introduce more electric trucks into our fleet. We are willing to purchase electric trucks from any vendor at this point based on their performance capabilities.”

The application of electric vehicles extends beyond the all-electric regional trucks, like the ones Ruan reserved with Telsa. Manufacturers are also developing long-haul hybrid electric trucks, electric yard trucks, electric standby refrigeration trailers, and even solar-powered electric refrigeration units. Electric yard trucks have been deployed for years, and they are the truck of choice for yard hostlers for being cooler, smoother, quieter, and cleaner. In addition, since they have no diesel engine, transmission, or emission control, there’s less to maintain and repair. The brushless induction motors and other components are mostly sealed, and they use a single battery pack. Electric yard trucks just need to be plugged in each day—and most sites already have the electrical capacity needed to add charging ability.

A few barriers to entry still exist for widespread, long-haul electric truck use across the country— primarily the lack of charging infrastructure, potential strain on the electric grid to support growth, and the variable cost of the electrical energy itself. But for regional, dedicated routes with a consistent charging hub, electric trucks could be both practical and applicable. Daimler will begin large scale production of its all-electric Freightliner eCascadia in 2021, and it is expected to have a 250-mile range and charge within approximately 90 minutes. (It’s worth noting the Daimler’s head of trucks Martin Daum is on record with Bloomberg saying that if Tesla’s promise of a full charge within 30 minutes is true, the manufacturer has passed Daimler by and defied laws of physics.) A truck like this would make sense for two-to-three round trips within the 250-mile charge limit. It remains to be seen, however, if and when electric trucks will be able to travel regionally and find enough charging stations along the route. Carriers would also need to determine if the charging time requirements would cause a loss of driving hours in a driver’s day.

Another unknown with electric trucks is maintenance. While technicians will not need to maintain diesel engines or emissions systems, they will need to develop a new set of skills to maintain the electrical systems of these new trucks. Shops would need to create new procedures and safety protocol, especially related to lockout/tagout and dealing with damaged batteries, then complete in-depth and ongoing training. Even new and specific tools and personal protective equipment would be necessary to maintain electric truck technology. Yards and shops would need to undergo proper planning for site configuration with careful consideration for the best non-disruptive charging areas.

Ultimately, as carriers are faced with the decision to use electric-powered trucks, they’ll need to determine that the savings on fuel won’t be negated by sacrificed payload or performance, or the costs associated with energy and maintenance. Selecting the correct routes and applications will be critical—but Ruan is fully engaged in and supportive of the electric truck future.