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NACFE’s second guidance report on electric trucks finds many unknowns — and opportunities for EVs in the freight world.

Medium-duty electric-powered trucks are a solution to help improve freight industry — particularly in the delivery world — and early-adopting fleets will have an advantage over their competition. Those points were among the bigger findings of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), which just released its second guidance report on electric trucks.

The report which focuses as much on the unknowns of electric medium-duty vehicles as much as the knowns. But there’s a lot of opportunity in those unknowns, Mike Roeth, NACFE executive director, told reporters on Thursday.

The Guidance Report: Medium-Duty Electric Trucks: Cost of Ownership, which over 117 pages details the many factors to consider in selecting medium-duty commercial battery electric vehicles (CBEVs), with attention to considering all of the cost/benefit factors in estimating the return on investment. (The report is available for purchase through NACFE.)

“We’ve concluded that medium-duty commercial battery electric vehicles  — these are not hybrids — are not a fad,” Roeth said. “They are here as a real solution for specific applications. We were told by a number of companies that the upfront truck cost is nearing parity between a diesel medium-duty truck and an electric one.”

“We looked at the duty cycles that exist in moving freight with medium trucks,” Roeth said of the study, noting the study does not specifically include service or vocational usage. “We focused on package delivery, other kinds of deliveries that can be done with medium duty trucks. We felt it was smart to go there because in our first report we concluded that medium-duty was going to be one of the first places for significant EVs.”

Roeth said there are countless variables to understand the cost differences between electric and diesel vehicles. “It’s not like going from wide-based tires to dual or something of that nature,” he noted.

Because field history is minimal, total-cost-of-ownership modeling for battery electric vehicles involves a number of projections, estimates, and guesses. NACFE has identified 20 generally unknown factors concerning modern fleets. Those known unknowns fall into four broad categories: market issues, battery issues, regulatory issues and power issues. The unknowns are not stopping fleets from buying CBEVs and getting first-hand operational data.

“There are more miles needed to validate not only the knowns but the unknowns,” Roeth said. “Starting with things like reliability and range. We just don’t know yet. There are just not enough of these trucks out there.”

In an attempt to avoid “what could be,” Roeth said, the study focused on electric trucks available today and EVs expected to be out within the next year. NACFE interviewed dozens of OEMs, fleets and utilites.

“Commercial electric-powered trucks are real as evident with the FUSO eCanter trucks in operation today,” said Larry Smith, director fleet operations for Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America. “Our trucks are deployed with customers in highly urban areas where that environment makes it possible to predict daily ranges and coordinate the most efficient vehicle charging opportunity.”

The report concluded that medium-duty electric trucks represent just one more option available to fleets to wrest the best economics for their specific freight operations and that they will succeed or fail under the intense spotlight of the marketplace.

More specifically, the report found that daily, return-to-base urban cycles less than 100 miles are well suited for battery electric drivetrains and that the primary justification of CBEVs is to meet zero-emissions objectives.

A Chevrolet Low-Cab Forward 6500XD with Lightning Systems’ new all-electric powertrain.

“Medium-duty vehicles with one-shift-per-day operations offer the most straightforward application for battery electric vehicles; as trucks sit idle for long enough periods of time, they can be charged at cost-effective rates and with fewer infrastructure demands,” said Keshav Sondhi, director of fleet engineering and sustainability for PepsiCo.

Early-adopters to electric-powered freight delivery will have an advantage, the NACFE report concluded. “This will be critical not only to the fleet being prepared — as this emerges and becomes a solution — but for the manufacturers,” Roeth said. “The manufacturers are all working on this but they need the real world data, they need to know what’s going on to react and improve their products and plan for changes as they continue their development.”

The electrification of freight trucks is just starting, but it has the potential to revolutionize the industry just as the dieselization of locomotive engines revolutionized freight transport in the 1940s and 1950s, according to Roeth. “Electric trucks present a new world of potential business opportunities and are no longer speculation,” he said. “Fleets choosing electric trucks today will get on the learning curve ahead of those that wait.”

NACFE developed a free, downloadable Total Cost of Ownership Calculator to compare diesel and gasoline truck investments against comparable battery electric trucks. The use of this calculator will support expressing the many factors that exist when operating an electric truck versus a gasoline or diesel one in dollars and cents.

On display at the 2018 Work Truck Show, Isuzu’s all-electric NPR-HD cab-over truck will be tested and evaluated under a range of conditions.

“We tried to create a calculator that could be a useful tool for fleets and manufacturers to look at when they’re developing products or thinking about buying them,” Roeth said.

NACFE hopes that, due to fleet managers, manufacturers and others using its Guidance Reports in the months and years leading to launch, the first generation of production technologies will perform much better and offer a higher return on investments.

This Guidance Report on medium-duty electric trucks represents the second in a series that will be released in 2018 and 2019 by NACFE. The first, Electric Trucks — Where They Make Sense, was released in May 2018. Subsequent reports will focus on charging infrastructure and the cost of ownership of heavy-duty regional-haul tractors and heavy duty long-haul electric-based tractors, resulting in five Guidance Reports in the series.