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Will the U.S. hit zero-emissions milestones at this pace?

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There’s good news and there’s bad news when it comes to electric truck and bus adoption, and it basically boils down to this: There may be better model availability and higher driving ranges than ever, but electric vehicles are still far from achieving perfect feasibility for every fleet.

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According to the latest data derived from CALSTART’s Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero program and campaign, total models available for zero-emission trucks (ZETs) and buses (ZEBs) will have grown nearly 26% globally since 2020 by the end of this year, from 433 models to 544 models – in spite of global economic and supply chain challenges brought on by COVID.

This data was obtained from CALSTART’s ZETI tool, which stands for “Zero-Emission Technology Inventory.” The organization says the tool is designed to establish a current and shared knowledge base for zero-emission model availability and specs, and to provide stakeholders with comprehensive information on models.

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Globally, the strongest model availability growth rates are in the zero-emission school buses and medium-duty step vans vehicle types. Zero-emission medium-duty step vans are tracking at 120% growth (10 models to 22) from 2020 to 2022. Over the same time period, zero-emission school buses rose 143% (seven models in 2020 to 17 models by 2022). Heavy-duty trucks have experienced 56% growth from 2020 to 2022 (39 models to 61 models).

CALSTART says the overall model leader and the most established zero-emission application is zero-emission transit buses, which are expected to end 2022 with 262 available models (up from 247 in 2020) – a steady 6% rise between 2020 and 2022, the majority of which are available in the Chinese market.

In addition to model availability, driving ranges for ZETs are improving. Medium-duty ZETs, medium-duty step vans, and cargo vans on the market in 2022 come in with median ranges of 153 miles, 133 miles and 146 miles respectively, CALSTART says, allowing ZETs to meet a growing variety of delivery duty cycles. Heavy-duty ZETs on the market in 2022 now have a median range of 186 miles, CALSTART says, and will soon include a mix of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric options.

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ZEB ranges are also on the rise. According to CALSTART, zero-emission transit buses on the market in 2022 have a median range of 175 miles with some manufacturers reporting ranges greater than 185 miles. Roughly half of zero-emission transit buses available in 2022 have a manufacturer-reported range of 135.5 miles and 241.2 miles.

Breaking down the zero-emission truck and bus segment by vehicle type, the highest number of manufacturers can be found in the zero-emission transit bus, medium-duty truck and heavy-duty truck vehicle types. CALSTART says the concentration of manufacturers around these foundational zero-emission vehicle technologies is encouraging, as Drive to Zero’s Beachhead Strategy outlines the importance of growing the markets for these vehicle types because the components that go into these zero-emission vehicles can be used in other vehicles.

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When comparing zero-emission model availability by region, CALSTART’s data suggests the United States and Canada combined appear to rival global zero-emission vehicle leader China in terms of model availability (however, keep in mind that data regarding the number of manufacturers in China is limited). China, though, represents the vast majority of the ZEB market globally by deployment. China far exceeds North America in adoption with an estimated over-400,000 ZEBs operating in the nation, says CALSTART; the United States records just 3,533 ZEBs and 1,215 ZETs in the nation, with a large portion of those vehicles on the road in California.

Zero-emissions solutions are still a dot on the horizon 

Dear reader, I realize at this point it may be tempting to spring out of your chair to cheer and embrace your nearest neighbor while you visualize me paraphrasing the language of Oprah Winfrey to help best put this newly-gleaned information into context: “You get an electric truck or bus! YOU get an electric truck or bus! YOU get an electric truck or bus!” But, as stated above, EVs are still far from achieving perfect feasibility for every fleet. There simply isn’t an option yet for every vocation out there – nor has the industry found the right price point. And, of course, there’s still that pesky EV infrastructure issue.

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CALSTART’s Drive to Zero program’s vision is that zero-emission technology will be commercially viable by 2025 and dominate by 2040 in specific segments and regions. But CALSTART Project Manager Owen McDonnell admits that despite all forward progress, the U.S. may struggle to hit major zero-emission milestones should its sales pace for these models continue.

“The United States is falling far short of what is needed in terms of sales if we hope to reach ambitious 30% zero-emission truck and bus sales by 2030 and 100% zero-emission sales by 2040, which has been adopted by a number of leading nations,” said MacDonnell. 

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In order to reach the 30% zero-emission truck and bus sales target by 2030, the United States would have to leap from fewer than 5,000 ZETs and ZEBs in the nation to a sales target of 593,303 zero-emission medium-and heavy-duty vehicles by 2030, CALSTART says.

Executive Q&A

Step by step, day by day, the industry inches closer to finding the solutions to the electrification issues plaguing progress. To discuss the latest advancements being made in this sector, CALSTART recently held a vitual program freaturing a Q&A session with three executives who navigate the choppy electric seas daily: Peter Forsberg, head of e-truck solutions at Scania (a Swedish truck and bus manufacturer owned by the Traton Group); Patrick Duan, senior vice president of operations at BYD North America; and Jim Monkmeyer, president of transportation at DHL Supply Chain.

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What has motivated your business to lead the change as (EV) innovators, and how has this required you to shift your business model?

Peter Forsberg (Scania): Well, for one thing, our sales guys have learned that they don’t have to visit customers any longer to sell vehicles. We have achieved record sales during the pandemic, and we clearly don’t understand exactly why the demand is so high. We are really having challenges now keeping up with the demand and working down the order book that we have currently. That’s a really good side of the pandemic, I think.

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When it comes to your first question there, well, we’re a heavy truck manufacturer operational in Europe, South America, and Asia, not active in the U.S., except with our industrial marine engines. We have realized that we’re part of the problem when it comes to CO2 emissions, and therefore we also need to be part of the solution. That is why we also are the first heavy truck manufacturer that has signed up for the science-based target, where we commit to reduce our emissions by 20% by 2025 if you compare to 2015. 

But we also see, given the current trends, when it comes to pricing the cost development for the electric drivetrain we see at retail, it makes business sense for our customers now and in the near future. Our strategy to meet this is to really introduce new electric vehicles every year now, targeting increasingly more and more difficult applications.

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Patrick Duan (BYD): Charging infrastructure is becoming a bottleneck and is becoming a challenge. So, what we’ve been trying to do is to deliver or develop a business model that could include more of a turn-key solution, where we take more of the headaches and challenges from the end-users and from the customers. That’s what we have been doing with all this momentum from the market. The turnkey offering includes charging-as-a-service where we work with our partners to provide a turnkey solution. So, basically, the customer was to just deal with one party to get the charging, the charging infrastructure, the vehicles, the whole project under one contract. But we also have solutions and partners to extend that offering where we have fleet or transportation as a service.

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I agree with Peter, the pandemic is definitely impacting everyone. We see supply chain challenges, we see the infrastructure schedule being postponed by multiple reasons. But I think at the same time, the pandemic gives us more time to think about how to strategize the implementation and also the deployment of the project with the customers.

DHL is a big distributor of goods, traveling through communities. It’s really important that we’re looking at opportunities to reduce impact or transportation emissions, and you guys are really moving forward with a variety of technologies to support your business needs. Perhaps you can tell me a little bit about how DHL has approached decarbonization. Was it all at once? Are you kind of rolling out different elements at different times?

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Jim Monkmeyer (DHL): Yeah, I think it’s really been a journey for us. It started really almost 20 years ago when we started down the path on sustainability. I would say what motivated us probably starts with: It’s the right thing to do. If you speak to our chairman and our executive team, they’re doing this because they really think it’s what we all should be doing. It was over five years ago when we ordered our first class 8 EV trucks in North America. We have participated in the carbon-neutral pledges. We built our own electric delivery vehicles many years ago because we couldn’t find anybody to mass produce them.

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Last year, we made a pledge to invest $7.5 billion into sustainability by 2030. And that gives us the ability to do some things, maybe that some others can’t. Last year, we ordered electric aircraft, not sure exactly when those will be delivered, but it’s pretty exciting some of these smaller regional aircraft that are in the design stages right now. And, we started running daily routes on autonomous trucks for a few of our customers as well. So, we try to stay on the leading edge in these areas. I think the pandemic is just speeding things up. In some ways, I think it’s pushing sustainability because we can’t get enough diesel vehicles and CNG vehicles and electric vehicles.

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The data from the ZETI tool has shown us that there are available vehicles that have the operational capability to meet real-world needs for specific vehicle segments, like urban delivery and transit. What’s holding us back in terms of really seeing additional growth in different vehicle segments?

Peter Forsberg (Scania): I’m talking about trucks now – we also produce buses, but I’m working with trucks only. I would argue that most of our initial customers are quite early on this journey, and most of our initial customers are so-called early adopters. But looking at the more pragmatic customer, we see similar challenges. That’s when we introduced our gas vehicles. Customers face risk venting into this new technology, they see risk related to product quality and performance, the unclear total cost of ownership, procedural value, and also in using electricity as fuel. So, that is definitely the challenges we see ahead of us.

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Patrick Duan (BYD): I think there are two areas. One is vehicle selections. What we’ve been trying to do is to introduce more vehicle types and selections to the market so the customers will have more options to select from. The second area is definitely how to deal with a broader range of duty cycles. This means a longer driving range, bad, better battery technologies, safer battery technologies and faster charging technologies, all the way to the availability of charging infrastructure. I think that, if we talk about what is holding us back, one of the areas that everyone wants to mention is probably charging infrastructure. How fast we can build that infrastructure and availability for the electric fleet to continue to quickly grow?

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Jim, as it relates to this question, what has that meant to DHL in terms of looking at the different segments that you’re looking to transition to zero? What are the next steps for you all as you’re evaluating what vehicles are available today?

Jim Monkmeyer (DHL): Most of our vehicles are Class 8. We’ve got about 1,500 on the road within DHL Supply Chain in North America. But, we get a lot of yard-switching equipment and we’re in the process of converting all of that to electric as quickly as we can. On the heavy-duty trucks it’s really a challenge, and this is where the incentives come in. I think they’re critical because you have a number of issues. You have the range – we’re being told the range is 250 miles perhaps with the next generation coming out. That’s not enough. I mean over-the-road trucks are doing 500. We’re fortunate that with our dedicated fleets, they tend to run regional routes where they end up in the same place every night, 250 miles will get us coverage on certain routes. But, the part of the challenge is the resale value is unclear. If there are, next year or the year after, 350- or 400-mile range trucks, those 250-mile trucks that we buy today are going to be worth very low in resale.

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And, then, there are still questions about the batteries. How long will these batteries last? We haven’t been running these large batteries in heavy trucks for any length of time. And so that’s part of what we hope the pilots – we’re going to be piloting trucks this year hopefully – will determine, and we’re optimistic, but we’re kind of having to thread the needle because we have to be competitive. We’re competing against other companies that may or may not be investing and therefore may be able to run their diesel trucks at a lower price. And we’re trying to bring our customers along to educate them.

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Peter and Patrick, do you want to respond to some of the concerns that were brought up around range, resale value and battery life?

Peter Forsberg (Scania): At Scania, when we started in 1891 we were a railway wagon manufacturer. And then we moved into buses and then slowly we started to experiment with the combustion engine and the shift from railway wagon manufacturer to buses and trucks. It’s the same technology shift to that we’re standing in front of right now. I think many customers are seeing all the risks involved in this and how fast the technology develops. If I buy a truck today, we like be able to buy a new truck next year that has twice the capacity that’s current at half the price. And that is challenging, to get customers to really take the step, to start purchasing and using these vehicles.

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And I think one easy answer is that we need the government incentives or maybe taxation on CO2 emission, etc. But I think we, as manufacturers, also can do our homework. We can be more creative and innovative and try to reduce the risk for our customers and find innovative ways to set up financial solutions and maybe a different business model as well because we know better how the technology will work. So, we need to take a larger share of that risk. And also, I think large transport buyers need to take part in this very often they are the ones pushing the system sustainability agenda, and they can also take some of the risk by accepting to pay a little bit more for the transport and also signing longer contracts with the actors like Jim and his colleagues.

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Patrick Duan (BYD): Yeah, I definitely agree. I think from a technological standpoint, we need to focus on charging technologies, how fast we can charge and all those opportunity charging technologies, where we can definitely prolong the duty cycle to Jim’s concern.

Battery technologies improve over time for sure, so that’s another area that we’ve been focusing on to bring better and longer life, as well as better technologies to the market. Also, going back to charging infrastructure, I think that’s another thing. I think more incentives to support all kinds of charging technologies, including overhead, wireless plug-in, opportunity charging… those concepts will improve the duty-cycle situation in a big way.

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And residual value is a big thing, that’s why I think we talked about the turn-key solution. Basically, we definitely see big residual value after the life of the electric vehicle. There will be residual value from the vehicle battery on all kinds of repurposing applications. That’s another area that I think we can have more incentive to support to be commercialized.

We’re receiving this tremendous growth in zero-emission commercial vehicles, but we know we need that infrastructure in place to support successful deployment. We need to look at a number of different innovative solutions to support building out that infrastructure. Talk about what those innovative infrastructure solutions are for you.

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Jim Monkmeyer (DHL): As the largest third-party logistics company in North America, arguably – we have warehousing space on the order of Amazon in North America – oftentimes our trucks are running in and out of our own facilities, which gives us the ability to set up charging stations right on-site or at a customer site that we may manage. So we’re a bit unique from that perspective. A lot of our routes have a period of time when they can stop at our facility and recharge.

Because we’re not doing a lot of the over-the-road transportation, as some of the larger carriers out there, we have a little bit of a simpler problem to solve, which is very helpful in terms of trying to be the leader here and get out in front of this. That said, we do have routes that go fArther. And, with the current ranges we discussed or with routes that we might want to run that go cross-country, we’re going to need that infrastructure, as well. So, we’ve got a few different things that we’re doing there. We’ve got a policy group that works in D.C., but also with some of the state governments to promote what we need to be successful.

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Peter Forsberg (Scania): We have no clear picture yet how Europe looks when it comes to grid constraints and stuff like that. We hear customers having challenges, not being able to invest in the amount of vehicles that they would like to do. We’re not a battery manufacturer, but we purchase a lot of batteries and we’ll increase that dramatically. And, we will have batteries that might not be built to serve in a vehicle, but can be used for other applications. Energy storage solutions are something that we see as one way of handling great constraints for some of our customers, which we will be able to offer ourselves as well. And, then, now when we see that electric production going more toward renewable, we also see vendors of new services, software for frequency balancing and stabilizing the grid, and so on. So, there are more interesting innovations coming in that could handle some of the strains until we have expanded the grid and reinforced it.

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Patrick Duan (BYD): I think one point I want to add is it’s extremely important that the cooperation and collaboration among multiple parties work together to get the charter infrastructure. I think we definitely need incentives to support that. But, again, I think it’s a huge collaboration. It’s a huge undertaking between the end-user and OEMs, technology providers like us, and also the utilities. This is a big undertaking that requires very in-depth collaboration between all these parties.

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