Insights on Electric Trucks for Retailers and Trucking Companies

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) has partnered with the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), Atlas Public Policy, and David Gardiner and Associates (DGA) to explore the landscape and outlook for electric trucks for freight movement.

This joint initiative assesses the market landscape, challenges, and opportunities for electric truck adoption among retailer shippers and their transportation partners. The initiative developed an independent total cost of ownership analysis, Assessing Financial Barriers to Adoption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicles, along with a publicly available total cost of ownership analysis tool, to help retailer-shippers better understand options available to them and their transportation providers.

As part of this collaboration, the project team interviewed an electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer and retail and trucking companies that have piloted electric vehicle trucks within their businesses to assess their perspective on the state of the industry. This brief summarizes issues that those companies see as important as they strategize about electrifying their fleets.

In general, companies are positive about the direction that electric trucks are taking. They recognize the environmental benefits of switching from diesel to electric, and some mention that employees enjoy test driving electric trucks. In the future, they envision their companies transitioning their fleets entirely, once national charging infrastructure is built out more, and the costs of electric trucks are reduced through technology maturity and deployment or expanded public policy. Specifically, the expansion of charging infrastructure and vehicle incentives were cited during several interviews as important elements needed before companies pursue deployment in earnest.

The retail and trucking companies interviewed for this brief recognized the environmental benefits of electric trucking and demonstrated a willingness to learn more. They also offered a few insights and strategies that other companies might consider as they plan to add electric trucks to their fleet. For example, start with adoption of electric yard trucks because they are not dependent on a nationwide network of charging infrastructure like shipping trucks are and only require an onsite 100-kilowatt charger.

Key Takeaways

  • The upfront costs for electric trucks remain a primary barrier to investment in electric trucks. However, financial incentives can reduce these upfront capital costs and models indicate that the total cost of ownership for an average electric truck can be lower than a diesel or natural gas equivalent with adequate incentives. In California, for example, several programs support EVs including the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) and the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) program.
    • One resource for finding incentives is the Alternative Fuels Data Center: https:// afdc.energy.gov/laws.
    • Several retail and trucking companies interviewed suggested that operators of California fleets should strongly consider electrifying at least a portion of their fleets to take advantage of the financial incentives available.
    • Electric heavy-duty vehicles have many tangible benefits, including several inherent health advantages. These include a much quieter ride than diesel trucks, making EVs less impactful on a driver’s hearing, and no tailpipe emissions.
  • As retail companies electrify their fleets, increased collaboration between a company’s energy team and fleet management team will be required to maximize organization-wide efficiencies such as procurement and energy management. Without collaboration, costs could be much higher.
  • Vehicle maintenance is still a concern. Companies need technicians who are trained for electric trucks and savvy on new electronic software systems. One retail company highlighted how they were using EV manufacturers to provide maintenance and support but suggested there was also a need build out a third-party EV maintenance network nationwide.
  • Communication between electric truck users and EV manufacturers is an important part of the process. One retail company who had conversations with EV manufacturers noted they were very receptive to feedback on usability and ergonomic design from companies who piloted EVs. This is a key aspect of the electric truck development process and can help with technology improvements and potentially accelerate the speed of deployment as manufacturers better understand what potential users want.