Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are an emerging alternative to traditional diesel, alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles.
Electric trucks – a specific type of BEV – are fast becoming a daily staple of media coverage, research papers and hype. Opinions vary considerably about whether this technology is a viable alternative to traditional diesel vehicles.
There are common arguments both for and against – falling into broad categories including: weight issues, cost issues, charging and electric grid issues. When referring to electric trucks specifically, I’ve found 10 common arguments continually emerge – I’ve shared these below, along with a brief description of each.
1. The weight of an empty vehicle is too high to support my freight needs vs. weight is not an issue in BEVs. Competitive vehicle weights are possible in all truck classes. Diesel vehicles include fluids, emissions systems, exhaust systems, cooling systems, mountings, etc. that in total represent a significant weight reduction when removed. In many applications typical loads are well below the maximum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The combination of both of these factors allows for BEV solutions in many applications (but not all).
2. The technology is not ready vs. battery electric vehicles technology is proven and here now. Multiple new companies are entering the US market with models ranging from Class 3 to Class 8. Established manufacturers have been developing prototypes for field testing in specific markets. Automotive and bus BEVs have been in production for years and advancing on their learning curves in real world use. Battery capacities are expected to increase with time – cost and weight to decrease.
3. Charging infrastructure is not ready vs. trust the market to provide battery electric vehicles charging solutions. Off-shift charging of vehicles is possible today with existing systems. The challenge is high speed charging. BEVs needing sub-30 minute charging speeds require high capacity production charging systems that today are only in the conceptual phase. Fleets with well-defined one-driver shift routes are well positioned for base depot charging. Fleets with variable routes and no guaranteed return trips, will need growth in remote charging capacity before considering replacing diesels with BEVs.
4. Charging infrastructure is not fast enough vs. trust the market to provide BEV charging solutions. The speed needed for charging depends on each fleet’s duty cycles and daily and weekly route scheduling. Fleets that require sub-30 minute charging will need practical commercial vehicle capable charging technology to catch up their needs.
5. The electric grid cannot support growth in electric vehicles vs. the grid and market will evolve with BEVs. The market penetration rate of battery electric commercial vehicles will be on a decade’s time scale. The US has energy production capacity for significant volumes of electric cars and trucks.
6. Maintenance will be more costly vs. maintenance may be less costly. Experience suggests that BEV maintenance should be on par or better than equivalent internal combustion engine vehicles. Prototypes and pre-production models generally see high infant failure rates and are managed more intensely, so the experience there is not representative of production units in normal field use.
7. Vehicle purchase price is too high for a positive ROI vs. BEVs will be competitively priced. Investment in BEVs may require quantifying the true total cost of ownership of both diesels and battery electric vehicles by including so-called intangible “soft costs” – liability costs, indirect costs and opportunity costs buried in overhead or ignored in traditional ROI calculations. Industry pricing of BEVs is still largely ill defined. Diesel performance, in contrast, is unlikely to yield large gains in performance with reduced costs.
8. Vehicle operating costs are too great for positive ROI vs. BEVs will be less expensive to operate. Operating costs can be less for BEVs. The electric drives are more energy efficient than diesels. The reduction in diesel based friction sensitive mechanical systems such as pumps, valves, transmissions, and belts should reduce maintenance and servicing.
9. Vehicle residual value is questionable vs. BEVs will command a premium at resale. The used electric vehicle is in its infancy. Residual value is a question. The value of electric motors and batteries in salvage may prove an advantage as they can be repurposed for non-vehicle uses and may have significant life left. Mechanical systems at the end of vehicle life require reconditioning which can reduce their net value in salvage.
10. Vehicle life is too short vs. BEVs will last beyond 10 years. It is expected that Class 3 through 8 vehicles will have e a life of seven to 10 years before major refurbishing or salvage. The manufacturers expect the battery packs to be replaced when they reach 80 per cent of their initial capacity.
To conclude, BEVs will not be a solution for every application or market, but commercial BEVs will have an increasing role in freight transportation. The rapid pace of battery improvement will spur increases in BEV efficiency that likely cannot be matched by evolutionary changes to the internal combustion engines. Mixed fleets (including diesel, natural gas, hybrid, and BEV products) optimised for specific routes and duty cycles will likely be the norm through 2050.
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