With the electric car revolution getting a big boost last week with the official introduction of the Tesla Model 3, it may seem as though the world is well on its way to pollution free transportation. But outside the limelight that shines on the latest EV drag race and claims of cars with 1,000 horsepower or more, the real focus of clean transportation advocates is on electric trucks, the work horses that carry freight and cargo.
The International Energy Agency believes keeping global temperature rises below 2º Celsius depends in large part upon the electrification of some 600 million vehicles worldwide — half of them trucks. “In Europe, less than 5% of vehicles are commercial vehicles or heavy duty trucks, but they contribute to almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Ananth Srinivasan, mobility expert with research consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
In Melbourne, Australia, SEA Automotive is busy adding electric powertrains to to trucks manufactured in China by FAW. Tony Fairweather, CEO of SEA Automotive says his firm realized a few years ago that electric commercial vehicles were becoming economically viable much faster than predicted. “The components are cheaper every time we go to buy. There’s not many industries where that happens.”
Electric cars may drive 10 miles one day and 100 miles the next. They may also be used for long distance trips occasionally. But a truck usually follows a predictable daily route where the range needed is known in advance. That means most owners of electric trucks don’t need to worry about recharging their vehicles out on the road. That can be done at the end of the work day with charging equipment installed at the home location.
Cost is the deciding factor for most truck fleets. Fuel and maintenance take a big chunk of the budget for most trucks. Diesel engine repairs and transmission fixes are expensive. So is replacing the brakes on commercial vehicles. The electricity to recharge the batteries of electric trucks costs less than diesel fuel. Engine and transmission repairs are significantly reduced. And brakes last much longer thanks to the regenerative braking systems that help slow the vehicle when the driver lifts off the accelerator.
Where most car buyers are attracted by styling, commercial truck fleet operators are attracted by the bottom line. Because electric trucks cost less over the long haul, they are an especially attractive proposition for professional managers. Frost & Sullivan’s Srinivasan says it it easier for fleet owners to justify investment in electric vehicles because “when they look at the cost for miles traveled over, say, two years with an electric van versus one powered by petrol or diesel”, the financial benefits are obvious.
In Europe, Duetsche Post has begun manufacturing its own electric delivery vans and selling them to other businesses. In the US, Workhorse and XL Hybrids are leading the way. Nissan is marketing an electric version of its NV200 small van in many countries around the world. An electric truck may not be as sexy as a Tesla Model 3, but as more and more of them are placed into service, we will all be able to breathe a little bit easier.