At the end of the day, electric trucks aren't all that exotic, says Senior Editor Jack Roberts. Which is why he predicts they're going to be popular in urban delivery applications. 
 - Photo: Jack Roberts

At the end of the day, electric trucks aren't all that exotic, says Senior Editor Jack Roberts. Which is why he predicts they're going to be popular in urban delivery applications. 

Photo: Jack Roberts

On a brisk March morning in Atlanta, I climbed out of the cab of a medium-duty truck outfitted with Dana’s latest electric drivetrain technology. And as I turned around and took in the vehicle I’d just taken on a Quick Spin through one of the nation’s biggest and most congested cities, I had an epiphany: If you were brand new to trucking, and held no preconceived, historically driven conceptions of diesel or gasoline power, there’s no reason in the world you wouldn’t buy an electric truck to put to work in your urban delivery fleet.

Yes. I know. Electric trucks are new. (They’re not, really. But let’s just go with that thought for now.) And they’re going to require a slightly different operational mentality. But in terms of differences with diesel or gasoline-powered trucks? It's not as much as you might think.

For starters, Dana chose a Peterbilt Model 220 as its test vehicle. People see these trucks every single day and hardly give them a second glance. In fact, the only reason someone might take note of the electric version of the truck rolling down a city street is because it’s not emitting the usual diesel engine noises we’ve come to take for granted over the past century.

In terms of handling, comfort, visibility and performance, the electric Model 220 is either exactly the same – or better – than its diesel counterparts. The electric truck is immensely quieter inside the cab, to the point where a driver can hear outside noises – include people calling out warnings – much more clearly. In terms of low-end acceleration, the electric truck has more pep and gets up and going quicker than most gasoline or diesel trucks, which can help in easing traffic congestion.

Now, as we all know, there is a finite daily battery charge on an all-electric truck. And that does, indeed, limit its operational range until it completes a currently lengthy recharge period to top off its batteries. But as I noted in my HDT Quick Spin detailing this drive, I’m not so sure the range anxiety argument is going to carry much weight very much longer, at least in applications like this one's designed for. An electric truck is what it is. It’s designed to do a certain job in a certain place for a certain amount of time/distance. Again, if you’re willing to accept those operational conditions, and your application matches an electric truck’s capabilities, there’s no reason to not consider using them to get your work done.

A viewscreen in the cab of Dana's all-electric Peterbilt Model 220 shows drivers the state of the powertrain, battery levels in real time and demonstrates that vehicle range rises and falls constantly throughout the day as a vehicle drives through a city like Atlanta. 
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A viewscreen in the cab of Dana's all-electric Peterbilt Model 220 shows drivers the state of the powertrain, battery levels in real time and demonstrates that vehicle range rises and falls constantly throughout the day as a vehicle drives through a city like Atlanta. 

Ah, you say! What about acquisition costs? Those are much higher than a diesel or gasoline powered truck!

And that’s true. Right now. On the other hand, depending on where you're located, there are numerous state and federal incentive plans available to help mitigate those costs. And every economic model we’ve seen to date shows price points for batteries and electric drivetrain components are falling rapidly as production ramps up. Soon, it’s likely electric trucks will be on par with conventional trucks in terms of acquisition costs. But even if they eventually wind up being, say, 25% more than a diesel or gasoline truck when it comes to purchase price, you’re never going to buy a single drop of gasoline or diesel fuel for that vehicle – EVER.

What that means is your operating costs are going to plummet. True, your electric bill is going to go up. But your daily, monthly and yearly energy costs to operate that vehicle are going to stabilize and become constant almost immediately. And you will largely be immune to any wild fuel price swings because of what someone in the Middle East decides to do.

And yes – there are some upfront costs associated with switching your facilities over to handling recharging a fleet of electric trucks. But, as Rocco “Rocky” DiRico, deputy commissioner for the Department of Sanitation, New York, told me last year, those costs are minor compared with revamping a facility to handle CNG-powered trucks.

And don’t forget about maintenance costs. Depending on who you’re talking to, most experts say there are anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 fewer moving parts on an electric truck than one with an internal combustion engine. So it stands to reason that maintenance costs will reflect that factor in a significant way. My own impressions during my Atlanta test drive support that lower maintenance cost prediction, too. The regenerative braking system on the Dana-Peterbilt is so aggressive, I hardly applied the service brakes on the vehicle at all during my drive, which would mean far less brake maintenance.

The point is this: Like anything new, there are both positives and negatives to operating electric trucks compared to conventionally powered vehicles. Most of the negatives don’t impact fleet operations in an extreme way. Most of the positives do the exact opposite.

What my Dana test drive in Atlanta this past week taught me is that at the end of the day, an electric truck is really just another truck. True, it has a slightly different propulsion system powering it. But that’s it. We’re not talking about wildly exotic technology here. We’re not talking anything difficult to deal with in terms of how your fleet operates or your drivers behave. And my sense is that as more fleet managers climb behind the wheel of electric trucks and judge both those positives and negatives for themselves, more of them will start to feel the same way I do about this “new” technology.

 

Originally posted on Trucking Info

Author

Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

View Bio
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