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This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

A large car could weigh about 1.5 tons, the largest truck could weigh 25 tons (15-20 times as much as a large car), and could be required to travel much longer distances on a single trip compared to a car.

If car owners think electric vehicles pose challenges in charging times and ranges, surely truck owners should not even bother to think about electric vehicles for the foreseeable future?

The picture is however more nuanced that it seems at first, and as a result, electrification of trucks is happening faster than expected.

Hybrids

Hybrids are one way to transition for these heavy vehicles. Hybrid trucks for instance could use electricity during cruising speed and charge the batteries using liquid fuel. Hybrid electric trucks already exist but of course, the challenge is the cost. Running a dual powertrain and synchronizing between the two increases costs.

  • Kenworth delivered its natural gas-electric hybrid trucks to drayage and warehouse supplier Total Transportation Systems Inc. in Southern California. The prototypes were developed over four years, funded by a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant. They share components that Kenworth, a PACCAR Inc. brand, is using in a fleet of hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks built with Toyota (NYSE: TM). Five of the 10 trucks are being tested in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The hybrid T680 day cab tractors provide emissions-free motoring for 30 miles. Their batteries recharge by a generator powered by a near-zero-emissions natural gas engine that also can run on negative net-zero emissions renewable natural gas (RNG).
  • F-150, the PowerBoost hybrid pairs Ford’s twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 with a 47-hp electric motor, making this the highest-output powertrain in the current F-150 lineup. The motor is sandwiched between the engine and the stand­ard 10-speed automatic, while a 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery tucks under the bed. The battery may seem a bit small for a vehicle of this size, but Ford chose it because it’s easy to package and less costly than larger packs, and its weight won’t considerably impact the all-important towing and payload capacities. The combined output for this powertrain is a stout 430 horses and 570 pound-feet of torque—gains of 30 ponies and 70 pound-feet versus the updated nonhybrid EcoBoost 3.5-liter.

Battery swapping

Another way by which heavy vehicles can get electrified faster is through the battery swapping route. While these vehicles will be sporting large batteries that could take a while to charge, many medium and large truck operators have the facilities to install EV battery charging systems at distributed locations along the route of the trucks, and thus battery swapping for these trucks becomes quite feasible.

  • Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), Ahmedabad introduced new electric buses into the system in August 2019. BRTS was introduced with the promise of being a substitute for private vehicles and ensuring last-mile connectivity for passengers. Last-mile connectivity is still missing and the number of people who shifted from private vehicles to BRTS is not very high. The cycling routes too have not been successful due to various reasons, including encroachments of footpaths. In the initial phase, 18 buses were introduced on RTO circular routes 1 and 2 which cover many of the city’s key residential and business centers like RTO Circle, Ranip, Bhavsar Hostel, Shastrinagar, Gujarat University, Andhjan Mandal (IIM), Nehrunagar, Anjali Cinema area, Vaikunthdham Mandir, Swaminarayan College, and Kankaria Telephone Exchange. While normal electric buses can run up to 200 km per charge, buses with swap facilities can run only up to 40 km. Swapping the 600 kg battery after each trip takes just 3-4 minutes as the number of batteries per bus was reduced to increase the number of passengers each bus can carry to 50. . The buses are tendered from Ashok Leyland under gross cost model, which means Ashok Leyland will own, operate and maintain the buses, while AMC will pay the company a per kilometer rate and bear only the operating expenses.

Fuel cells

Fuel cells are making a commercial impact faster than expected and one of the segments they are kicking off with is the heavy vehicles segment. Here are some prominent examples:

  • Toyota with Hino is jointly developing class 8 fuel cell electric truck for North America – a Oct 2020 update
  • Nikola Motor Company, a pioneer in zero-emission trucks, offers both pure electric and also hydrogen electric powertrains across multiple applications.
  • Hyundai Motor and H2 Energy plan to bring the world’s first fleet of fuel cell electric trucks into commercial operation. The company had also planned to provide 1,000 fuel cell electric trucks to Swiss commercial vehicle market, beginning 2019 through to 2023.

Combination of conventional and electric in fleets

Another way by which trucking companies are trying out electrification is by dipping their toes ever so lightly into electrification. While they operate a large number of their vehicles with conventional drivetrains, some are inducting a small number of electric trucks to pilot and get a feel for the whole thing, without risking much.

Use electric trucks for shorter and conventional ones for longer distances

Companies that operate many different sizes of trucks are also smartly trying electrification of their smaller vans and pickup trucks to begin with, and graduating to larger ones later.

Retrofitting

Replacing old ICE trucks with an electric powertrain could be a viable option for the medium term. Retrofitting is the economical and sustainable alternative to buying new vehicles.

  • e-trio offer a retrofit solution for commercial vehicles (For buses and trucks). The e-troFit® is a series-ready retrofit solution for existing and new commercial vehicles: e-troFit gives used vehicles an environmentally friendly “second life” as an electric vehicle.  The e-troFit solutions adapt individually to one’s requirements: they analyze the route profiles during operation and thus determine the actual battery capacity requirements. Thus save unnecessary costs and weight. At the same time, they also develop a suitable charging concept for you and design the vehicle to meet all requirements of daily operation. After this initial analysis phase, the conversion can take place within a few weeks.

Related resources:

Electrifying freight pathways to accelerating the transition

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification


This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility | EVs versus ICEs | Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation | Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery | Battery Startups versus Giants | Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors | EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies | EV Adoption Paths | Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |

 

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