Kodiak Robotics' Peterbilt Model 579EV, on display at ACT Expo in Anaheim, Calif., in May, is equipped with the company's Kodiak Driver self-driving technology. (Kodiak Robotics)
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Progress in 2023 for battery-electric trucks was slower than expected, with demand underwhelming and improvements needed for the underlying infrastructure, executives at original equipment manufacturers say.
“The pace of transformation is slower than what we would expect and hope,” said Rakesh Aneja, Daimler Truck North America head of emobility, noting there is more truck capacity than there is demand, he said.
Aneja, whose company manufactures the Freightliner and Western Star brands, told Transport Topics three things are needed for widespread success for battery-electric trucks: the right technology and products, appropriate refueling infrastructure and a palatable cost of ownership.
It will take longer than anticipated for costs to fall, and more government incentives are needed, an executive at another OEM said.
No legacy truck makers launched Class 8 battery-electric trucks in the U.S. in 2023.
Freightliner, top of the overall Class 8 sales charts, launched its eCascadia model in 2022. But across the Atlantic, DTNA sister company Mercedes-Benz Trucks’ longhaul eActros 600 was unveiled in October with a touted range of 500 kilometers without a charge.
DTNA, citing Polk registrations, says the eCascadia tops 2023 Class 8 battery-electric truck sales charts. Sales grew because by and large the format is familiar, Aneja said, adding: “It is new, yet familiar.”
Green Bay, Wis.-based Schneider said in November it became the first carrier to reach 1 million zero-emission miles carrying customer freight on eCascadias. Schneider, which has 92 BETs, ranks No. 8 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.
We’re ringing for green!
Schneider rang the NYSE closing bell to celebrate a massive milestone:
We've hit 1 million zero-emission miles with our Freightliner eCascadias.
That's like going around the earth 40 times without leaving a carbon footprint! pic.twitter.com/8aG76Wq7Zv
— Schneider (@WeAreSchneider) November 22, 2023
Rivals such as Volvo Trucks North America and Paccar Inc.’s Peterbilt Motors Co. unit also focused on existing battery-electric products.
However, 2023 showed output is scalable into the future, said John Moore, VTNA senior product manager for electric vehicles.
“We’re seeing customers putting miles on their trucks,” he said.
ICYMI – Six #VNRElectric trucks have joined the iconic Red Fleet of Coke Canada Bottling. We couldn't be prouder to play a key role in Coke’s #TowardABetterFutureTogether environmental sustainability action plan. pic.twitter.com/WyTPB2yIhN
— Volvo Trucks North America (@VolvoTrucksNA) December 14, 2023
VTNA offers five options in its VNR Electric product line: a 4x2 straight truck, a 6x4 straight truck, a 4x2 tractor, a 6x2 tractor and a 6x4 tractor. The last of those has a range of up to 275 miles when configured with a six-battery setup. Commercial production of the VNR Electric began in 2021.
Peterbilt was focused on execution and improving the battery-electric truck customer experience in 2023, said Patrick Wallace, Peterbilt marketing manager for zero emissions and connected truck. The battery-electric version of its flagship 579 model saw Peterbilt’s first power takeoff deployment in 2023, he said, although the option already was available. Peterbilt offers battery-electric versions for its 579, 520 and 220 models.
Driving into the future, one electric mile at a time. #PeterbiltEV #Peterbilt #PeterbiltTrucks #PeterbiltPride pic.twitter.com/TSlxZ30MMJ
— Peterbilt Motors Co. (@PeterbiltMotors) October 11, 2023
Kodiak Robotics launched an autonomous retrofitted 579 EV in May at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, an event that saw the biggest batch of battery-electric truck product launches in 2023.
DTNA premiered the Freightliner eM2, the fourth entry in the brand’s lineup of electric trucks. Freightliner is offering the eM2 in two configurations: a Class 6 single-motor version with a typical range of 180 miles on a single charge; and a Class 7 dual-motor option with a typical range of 250 miles per charge.
All-electric. All the power. But both the @freightlinertrucks #eCascadia and #eM2 have none of the emissions. The secret? Never stop innovating. #ThePowerBehindTheSwitch pic.twitter.com/O5yL5LkTFn
— Daimler Truck NA (@DaimlerTruckNA) November 2, 2023
Buyers also met the products from Daimler Truck’s Rizon brand for the first time at ACT. A few days earlier, the company unveiled Rizon’s Classes 4-5 medium-duty electric trucks.
Volvo Group’s Mack Trucks also did not wait until ACT in Anaheim, Calif., launching its first electric truck for the medium-duty market in March. The Mack MD Electric is available in Classes 6-7 options.
Mack MD Electric truck. (Keiron Greenhalgh/Transport Topics)
Medium-duty trucks also were introduced by startup players in 2023. Canada’s Lion Electric Co., a manufacturer of all-electric commercial vehicles, launched its Lion5 medium-duty truck at ACT. The cabover model, production of which started in the third quarter, offers a range of up to 200 miles and maximum payload of 12,500 pounds.
But it was a tough year for newcomer OEMs overall.
In November, Lion laid off 150 employees, or 10% of its workforce. Lion said the job cuts will speed its path to profitability, citing increased manufacturing and inventory costs related to the ramp up of production as well as higher commodity costs.
Lion remains in the battery-electric truck sector, though, unlike some of its peers.
Austin, Texas-based Hyliion Holdings Corp. plans to leave the Class 8 electric powertrain business. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Hyliion Holdings Corp. in November said it plans to exit the Class 8 electric powertrain business, less than a month after beginning a strategic review of its options.
The Austin, Texas-based company’s Class 8 product suite comprised an electric powertrain installed in a Peterbilt 579 sleeper cab and a retrofitted electric hybrid powertrain.
Plans to build a hybrid electric and hydrogen-powered Class 8 truck in Arizona floundered, too, as startup merger partners Tevva Motors Ltd. and ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. parted ways.
Burnaby, British Columbia-based ElectraMeccanica owns a facility in Mesa, Ariz., where CEO Susan Docherty in September told TT that serial production of a 41,888-pound truck would commence in 2027.
ERoad's Craig Marris gives advice on carving out a practical, effective road map to a greener and more efficient fleet. Tune in above or by going to RoadSigns.ttnews.com.
Battery-electric trucks, and even fuel cell electric vehicles, rely on dependable batteries and reliable supplies of the cells, variables that came into focus more than ever before in 2023.
Both established industry players and disruptors experienced difficulties.
Volvo Group in August recalled nearly all the battery-electric trucks its VTNA and Mack Trucks units made in the U.S. over the previous four years because of an issue that could cause a battery fire.
Some 172 Volvo vehicles and nine Mack Trucks units built between 2019 and 2023 were recalled. The Swedish parent group said it would replace the batteries after a fire involving a battery shipped to its Dublin, Va., assembly plant.
All the trucks had battery packs from Akasol. Mack Trucks still is working with Akasol but also partnered with Sea Electric on the MD Electric.
“With any new technology there’s problems, so we’re proud of the way we worked through our battery problems,” said Scott Barraclough, Mack Trucks senior product manager of e-mobility.
"We're proud of the way we worked through our batter problems," says Mack's Scott Barraclough. (Connor D. Wolf/Transport Topics)
The MD Electric has lots of potential and a broader appeal, Barraclough told TT in December, adding that Mack Trucks was excited about production ramping up, with full production starting in the first quarter of 2024, he said.
“Being first to the market with the VNR Electric with select pioneering customers, we experienced some of the early issues in the learning, growing and scaling process,” VTNA’s Moore told TT when asked about the battery recall.
Also in August, all 209 of the Class 8 Tre battery-electric trucks Nikola Corp. sold or sent to potential customers for testing were recalled.
A hold on sales was put in place because of a probe of a June 23 fire at Nikola’s Phoenix headquarters. The cause of the fire, which spread from one truck to four others, was a coolant leak. Trucks also caught fire in September.
However, Nikola is receiving orders for its battery-electric truck, even though production will not restart until next year, CEO Steve Girsky told TT.
As a result of the battery problems, Nikola learned the value of responding quickly, of having a Plan B, of communicating with customers clearly and of being able to pivot sharply, Girsky said.
The company is keeping its cards close to its chest on which supplier it chose for the Tre battery electric semi. Batteries for the company’s hydrogen fuel cell electric semi are supplied by bankrupt bus and powertrain manufacturer Proterra.
Volvo Group in November paid $210 million at an auction for the battery business of Proterra.
The truck maker said the acquisition would complement its battery-electric business and accelerate the unit’s future. The Gothenburg-based company wants 35% of the vehicles coming off its global production lines to be electric by 2030.
Burlingame, Calif.-headquartered Proterra filed for court protection Aug. 7.
California remained the epicenter of growth in the deployment of battery-electric trucks, though.
While acknowledging implementation may be tricky, the California Air Resources Board in April unanimously approved its Advanced Clean Fleets regulation. CARB’s goal is to have fleets operating in the state be 100% electric by 2035, 2040 or 2045, depending on size and type of truck.
However, concerns grew as 2023 progressed that the state is falling behind in its ability to provide enough charging options. Under the rule, 157,000 chargers capable of powering medium- and heavy-duty trucks would be installed.
To meet the target, about 300 chargers a week would need to be built, California Trucking Association CEO Eric Sauer told TT in September, which he said is not happening, with a pace that is “just too soon, too fast.”
Part of the problem is the time needed for infrastructure build-out. CTA members said they are hearing of 18-month construction times as best-case scenarios for building larger charging stations, with some forecasts stretching out to seven years, Sauer said.
Advocates, however, believe the charging challenges are overstated.
“We didn’t need a national network for cars, so we don’t need one to be built for trucks in advance of a build-out of fleets,” North American Council for Freight Efficiency Executive Director Mike Roeth told TT in December.
“We went through the same thing with cars,” Roeth said. Between 90% and 95% of charging for electric cars is done at home, not unlike what can work for a daycab tractor, he noted.
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