This article presents details of a report on new and future trends in trucking. According to the report, fleet owners may quickly adopt electronic vehicles (EV) for medium-haul routes. In November 2017, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the design for a battery-powered semi that could travel 500 miles on a single charge. According to Musk, the company would begin producing the trucks in 2019. The report highlighted the regional light-duty delivery market in Europe, where fuel costs are higher than in the United States. Designing vehicles and business models around the capabilities of electric powertrains—capabilities that differ from those of diesel trucks—are expected to enable battery-electric trucks to penetrate the market more quickly.
The sounds and smells of the trucking industry are as much a part of American mythology as the jangle of the cowboy's spurs or the belch of coal smoke from a steam locomotive. For decades, diesel-powered semi-trailer tractors have pulled loads at high speed from coast to coast, providing not only the fodder for music and movies, but also the backbone of the just-in-time retail economy.
Trucking may remain economically important for decades to come, but according to a report late last year from McKinsey and Company, the diesel-powered tractor is in line for an overhaul. Much more quickly than most people might expect, the commercial vehicle sector will switch from internal combustion engines to battery-electric vehicles for many use cases.
The report says that, unlike consumers who often decide which passenger car or truck to buy based on emotion and faulty logic, fleet owners “place greater emphasis on economic calculations and reflect a greater sensitivity to regulation." When the total cost of ownership-encompassing not only the initial purchase price but also operating and maintenance costs-becomes lower for electric trucks than for diesels, fleets will switch over relatively quickly.
In some scenarios McKinsey looked at, that tipping point will come within ten years in local and regional cargo markets worldwide and before 2031 for even long-haul trucking.
But in some instances, the total cost of ownership makes electric trucks an economical choice today.
The report highlighted the regional light-duty delivery market in Europe, where fuel costs are higher than in the United States. “While most industry players focus on last-mile and urban-delivery solutions, the regional hub-and-spoke distribution approach is more advantageous," the report stated. “Vehicles in this use case could share passenger-car components and infrastructure to accelerate adoption." Light-duty regional electric delivery trucks would carry such items as groceries or flowers and be more stripped down and less capable than conventional diesel trucks. Even so, a battery range of about 70 miles would enable several deliveries per charge, and partial top-offs per day would keep the truck on the road.
Designing vehicles and business models around the capabilities of electric powertrains-capabilities that differ from those of diesel trucks-will enable battery-electric trucks to penetrate the market more quickly. It may be some time before we get a semi-trailer tractor capable of hauling containers coast to coast, but well before then, the McKinsey report declares, electric trucks will have become common enough to rewrite at least part of the mythology of the highway.