Electric trucks ‘the work of our lifetime’

There is a definite feeling in the air at the Advanced Clean Transportation Exhibition (ACT Expo). It’s not electricity, exactly. More like the feeling that electricity — or battery power, to be precise — has finally arrived in trucking.

To be sure, OEMs and tech start-ups have been touting battery powered trucks as a reliable alternative to gasoline- and diesel-powered trucks. But until now, it seemed those discussions were mostly theoretical and focused on a time that was always hovering just over the horizon.

Now, the sense in Long Beach is that time has arrived.

Erik Neandross of Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, talks electric vehicles with Volvo’s Peter Voorhoeve. (Photo: Jack Roberts)

Erik Neandross, CEO of Gladstein, Neandross and Associates — the company that owns and operates ACT Expo — opened the show Tuesday morning by speaking to attendees about the accelerating technology timeline for electric trucks.

He concluded his session with a one-on-one discussion with Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, who said that the OEM was now aggressively speeding up its electric truck initiatives. Citing a new “sense of urgency,” Voorhoeve said Volvo was committing to having a 100% zero-emissions product line of commercial vehicles by 2040.

Neandross noted that North American regulations for electric trucks were ramping up quickly, citing a new internal engine combustion ban in Canada, which would also take effect in 2040.

“The second piece,” Neandross added, “is the incredible commitments we’re seeing from by major corporations like Pepsi-Cola, Amazon and Walmart, all of which are making huge commitments to move toward zero emissions supply chains by 2050.”

Additionally, Neadross said, massive investments — now amounting to billions of dollars — can’t be ignored, and that results can be seen in the technology and products on display at the exhibition.

“We’re seeing electric trucks starting to become a reality. This, to me, feels like the beginning of the end of the petroleum-based transportation era.”

‘The work of our lifetime’

Gideon Kracov, a board member of the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD), spoke about California’s currently regulatory drive, which will have massive repercussions across North America.

“We know that mobile sources — emissions from cars, trucks, vans, ships and aircraft — make up 80% of the air quality problems we experience in Southern California,” Kracov said. “And it’s the job of the California Air Resource Board (CARB) to create climate-oriented regulations that will drive us toward cleaner and more efficient internal combustion engines.”

Last year, for example, CARB introduced its Advanced Clean Trucks regulation, which Kracov said would see 300,000 new electric trucks deployed in the state by 2035.

“This dramatic shift away from fossil fuels is not going to be easy,” Kracov said. “The transition to a green economy will not be easy, either. At the Southern California AQDM we know that. But we would not want to be working on anything else today. This really is the work of our lifetime.”

Growing transportation within boundaries

Voorhoeve noted the post-pandemic economy is rebounding faster than many experts predicted, and pointing out that changing consumer buying patterns — spurred on by Covid-19 — has increased transportation demand.

“The good news is there is now more demand for the services and products OEMs like Volvo offer,” he said. “At the same time, however, the resources on our planet are limited. The question now is, how do we grow more transportation for our industry and economies within the resource boundaries of our planet?”

Voorhoeve said Volvo was already stepping up with real-world products and corporate commitments. “By the year 2030, 25% of all new Volvo trucks built will be batterye-lectric vehicles,” he said. “And, since we all have a responsibility to take care of this planet and hand it over to our children, Volvo is also committing to building 100% zero-emissions vehicles by 2040.”

Voorhoeve also noted a theme that will dominate ACT Expo 2021 — the infrastructure issue that electric fleets now face. 

“We have electric trucks today,” Voorhoeve said. “But electric charging infrastructure remains a significant challenge. As we shift away from diesel to zero emissions, Volvo is working with electric infrastructure providers to understand what the right kinds of charging equipment are, how much it costs to install those systems, route optimization for fleets, and suitable locations to place charging stations.”

Noting that longer-haul routes would likely require hydrogen fuel cell technology to move to zero emissions, Voorhoeve said Volvo and Daimler and both have partnered on cellcentric to produce hydrogen fuel cells for heavy trucks. Both OEMs will have access to the new technologies once they are ready, with Voorhoeve adding that he expects to see the first prototype vehicles on the road before the close of this decade.

A larger question, Voorhoeve noted, is how the new electric vehicles on the road in Southern California can make the jump to having a national and international presence across North America.

“We are ready to go national with our electric truck products now,” he said. “And we are working with our dealers — who play a very important role in all of this — to ready other U.S. states to prepare for zero-emissions vehicles. But now all states are ready to take these next steps. The issue is largely linked to the government incentives needed to help early customers move to electric trucks. And the fact is that incentives currently are very much based on the willingness of individual states to provide them.”

Voorhoeve said he agrees with scientists and other climate experts who note that climate change is not only real, but accelerating rapidly as more weather crises occur all over the planet.

“There is an awareness now that private companies have to step up to do something about this,” he said. “And Volvo is answering that call. It is very clear now that things are happening, and there is a sense of urgency now about the need to move to zero emission trucks, buses and vans.”

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