Backers of electrifying commercial vehicles in California see Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of 1.5 million zero-emission passenger cars in the state by 2025 as a step forward.
Although the “Road Ahead” report released Tuesday by nonprofit economics and environment organization Next 10 doesn’t address trucking, logistics experts say it hold important lessons for hauling freight in California.
The report’s authors and clean trucking specialists were unanimous in declaring that advances in electric vehicle technology, market acceptance and the government policies identified in the report will foster zero-emissions commercial vehicles in California. Ultimately the technology will spread to other states, they told Trucks.com.
The technology advances, improvements to the electric grid and increased charging infrastructure deployed for electric passenger vehicles are directly transferable to commercial vehicles, said F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10, and Adam Fowler, an economist with Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics. Next 10 commissioned the study and Beacon researchers prepared the report, “The Road Ahead for Zero-Emission Vehicles in California.”
The report projects that “the state will easily meet its 1.5-million ZEV goal by 2025, if not before.”
Brown set a new goal of 5 million ZEVs by 2030. That would be a big jump, Perry said.
Barriers such as insufficient charging infrastructure “could slow progress, but our report shows that by 2040, ZEVs could be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today,” he said.
That prediction is based on an analysis of the state’s pro-EV policies. Those include generous cash rebates, open access to carpool lanes on California’s crowded freeways and a state-sponsored push for publicly accessible charging stations. Additionally, public electric utility enthusiasm for EVs, improved battery technology and lower battery costs also support electric commercial vehicles.
All of that, along with demonstrated cost savings in fuel, maintenance and repairs — electric motors and transmissions have far fewer parts than internal combustion powertrains — has led to increasing market penetration of zero-emission vehicles, the report found.
California’s ZEV passenger car goal could be speeded by a bill in the state Legislature to outlaw sales of internal combustion passenger vehicles by 2040. The measure, which faces stiff opposition from the powerful auto dealer and auto industry lobbies, would have little direct impact on commercial vehicles, which are exempted.
As the number of zero-emission passenger vehicles grows, so does public awareness and acceptance, and that should also improve electric vehicles’ image in the eyes of the commercial trucking establishment, Fowler said.
Increased focus on ZEV passenger vehicles “will absolutely carry over” to the commercial sector, said Erik Neandross, chief executive of GNA, a clean energy and transportation consulting firm and producer of the annual Advanced Clean Transportation Expo.
Adding more electric cars to the roads also pushes the electric utilities to improve the power grid to handle increasing demand for power for home and public charging stations. Those improvements will benefit and promote electrification of commercial trucking as well, Neandross said.
The heaviest trucks – Class 7 and 8 drayage, port, refuse and delivery vehicles – probably won’t use the same public charging stations as passenger vehicles, but smaller commercial vehicles can and will benefit from more public infrastructure, said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president and head of trucking programs for Pasadena-based clean transportation technologies booster Calstart.
The power delivery rates — charging speed — of commercial fast-charging stations continues to climb. Many are “now at levels to be of value for medium-duty commercial trucks,” Van Amburg said. “With the right planning and coordination, we can make dual use of our public infrastructure in key locations to benefit both long-range [passenger] EVs and regional electric trucks that can charge along their routes,” he said.
“There is a far stronger transferability of electric drive technology from cars to trucks than had been anticipated,” Van Amburg said.
He pointed to Tesla Inc.’s use of electric motors from its Model 3 passenger car for its upcoming Class 8 Tesla Semi. Additionally, Toyota uses a pair of electricity-producing fuel cell systems from its Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell passenger car to provide on-board power for a Class 8 fuel-cell electric drayage truck that it is testing at the Port of Los Angeles.
Components such as those typically get less expensive as growing demand — from the passenger car segment initially — increases production volumes, Van Amburg said.
Already there are a number of production electric trucks available or in development, and industry analysts say that almost every major truck and truck engine developer has an electric powertrain in the works.
Among the battery-electric trucks already in the market are the Fuso eCanter medium delivery vehicle from Daimler Trucks’ E-Fuso division; a variety of Class 5-7 electric vans and Class 8 electric drayage and refuse trucks from BYD; a Class 5 delivery van from Chanje; and port and terminal drayage tractors from Orange EV. Wrightspeed has been installing its range-extended electric powertrain in Class 8 refuse trucks since late 2016, and Motiv Power Systems builds scalable electric powertrains for numerous commercial applications, including refuse and delivery trucks. Volvo also says it plans to introduce an electric truck.
The Next 10 report doesn’t address hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and their supporting infrastructure, but with several fuel cell trucks under development, Trucks.com asked whether that technology would benefit from increasing the numbers of passenger EVs.
Much of the technology used for fuel cell car powertrains is the same as that used for battery-electric cars and trucks. All use electric motors, transmissions and batteries, although the battery packs in fuel –cell vehicles typically are much smaller than those in battery-electric vehicles.
The same economies of scale that would benefit battery-electric trucks would help improve and lower the cost of fuel cell electric trucks, Neandross said.
“One area that differs slightly is the permitting and safety codes needed to support hydrogen fueling stations since hydrogen fuel has unique characteristics that differ from gasoline, diesel and electricity,” he said.
Neandross also identified an area in which increased use of fuel– cell electric trucks in the commercial segment could benefit fuel– cell electric passenger vehicles.
“Deployment of heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles, with their high fuel demands, could be the key to growing the market for renewably– produced hydrogen that then can be leveraged by the light-duty sector,” he said.
At present, three automakers are producing fuel cell electric passenger vehicles: Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, and all limit sales to urban part of California, where most of the nation’s hydrogen fuel stations are concentrated.
In the commercial sector, Toyota is experimenting with a fuel cell powertrain for heavy -duty commercial trucks, Utah-based Nikola Motor Co. is developing a long-haul Nikola Class 8 fuel -cell truck that has garnered considerable industry attention and more than 8,000 advance reservations, and propulsion systems developer US Hybrid and truck maker Kenworth have said they will be developing fuel– cell systems for Class 8 trucks as well.
Package delivery giant UPS has ordered eight custom-built medium-duty fuel cell electric delivery vans for use by its fleet in California. The UPS fuel cell test is part of a federal-private program sponsored by the Department of Energy.
With all of that going on, and with California pushing hard to put more passenger EVs on the road, “the trucking segment will benefit absolutely from technology advances that are driven by public demand for more passenger EVs, by the economics of scale for electric powertrain components as more and more EVs are built, and by battery improvements and decreases in price,” Perry said.