Report: Bus and truck EV models to grow 78% this year

Source: By David Ferris, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Two prototype Tesla semitrucks in Rocklin, Calif. Korbitr/Wikipedia

Big electric vehicles — the buses and trucks that until recently were relegated to some distant future — are expected to undergo an explosion of species diversity this year.

Last year, vehicle makers worldwide produced 95 models. This year, they are expected to manufacture 169 models, a leap of 78%, said Calstart, a clean transportation nonprofit that compiled the figures.

The expansion is driven by stronger regulations in big markets like California and an appetite for midsize zero-emission delivery vehicles among big-name fleet operators like Amazon.com Inc. and UPS Inc. The trend appears to be on track amid a pandemic and recession that both help and harm the business case.

Trucks and buses have been laggards to electrify as Teslas and other electric cars have started to move off sales lots in significant numbers (Energywire, June 2).

These bigger vehicles are traditionally powered by diesel engines whose exhaust is a prime pollutant in urban areas. Switching to electric hasn’t been easy.

With their heavy loads and high daily mileage, the engineering challenge is entirely different, in part because the batteries themselves are expensive and heavy.

Some big companies have made tremendous bets on these vehicles.

Amazon, the e-commerce giant, has put in an order for 100,000 delivery vehicles with Rivian, a Michigan-based electric truck maker that has yet to fire up its production lines. UPS wants 10,000 delivery trucks from Arrival Ltd., a rival EV van maker based in the United Kingdom.

Delivery companies have been as buffeted as any business by the sudden coronavirus recession, but they also see a rosy future for deliveries in a world where people are still afraid to venture far from home.

“We’re pleased to hear that those who are committed to these platforms aren’t dropping them at this time,” Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of Calstart, said on a call with reporters yesterday.

Some states have moved aggressively to require zero-emission heavy vehicles, especially California. In 2018, the state’s Air Resources Board made plans to phase out diesel-powered buses by 2040, and it has a proposal to do the same with trucks (Energywire, Dec. 9, 2019).

Electric medium-duty trucks are now road-tested and affordable enough to attract Ikea, the furniture behemoth, which will roll them out for local home deliveries in major cities, starting with Los Angeles and New York this year, with a goal of all-electric deliveries by 2025.

That’s according to Steven Moelk, the company’s project implementation manager for zero-emissions delivery, who spoke on Calstart’s call.

The barriers that remain, he said, are how to finance them for use by independent contractors and how to knit them into the company’s complex logistics. Moelk added that those issues will likely “melt away” as more fleet operators jump in.

The vehicles’ primary role is as delivery trucks in urban areas.

In the city, travel distances are short, offering less of a challenge to the battery’s range, while dwell times at stops can be long, offering opportunities to recharge the battery — while also highlighting environmental credibility to the urban customers who care most about emissions.

These delivery trucks are a second wave of big-vehicle electrification. The first, still unfolding, is for buses, including school buses and shuttle buses but especially transit buses.

“The [bus] market is already pretty well-constituted,” said Ben Mandel, the Northeast regional director for Calstart.

Some transit agencies and school districts have been enthusiastic early adopters of electric buses. But the finances of both have been hammered by the coronavirus crisis, and it is unclear whether their EV bus adoption plans will be altered.

The last vehicle segment to mature, Calstart projects, will be heavy-duty trucks, whose weighty loads and faraway destinations are beyond the capabilities of today’s batteries.

Truck and bus models arriving this year have relatively short ranges of between 50 and 150 miles. That’s less than the latest-model passenger cars, which now regularly top 200 miles.

More big, lumbering vehicles with ranges of 200 miles will start to roll off production lines in 2021, and by 2022 or 2023, ranges of up to 600 miles are possible, the report said. Some of these extreme-range models will be powered by fuel cells rather than batteries, including models by Hyundai Motor Co. and Nikola Motor Co., a young truck maker based in Phoenix.

Calstart estimates that the number of EV models will continue to grow through 2023, but not at this year’s steep rate. Between 2020 and 2023, the number of models could grow from 169 to 195, an increase of 15%.