Electrification of medium- and heavy-duty (MHD) vehicles is an important component of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigating climate change. For example, although heavy-duty vehicles make up only about 10% of vehicles on the road in the U.S., they created about 28% of the automotive sector’s GHG emissions in 2020.
What do we mean by MHDs? They weigh more than 10,000 pounds and include tractor-trailers and other freight trucks, school and public transit buses, delivery trucks, utility vehicles (including waste disposal), construction vehicles, and shuttles. MHDs are typically managed at fleets, although fleet sizes can range from 10 to 1,000 to 10,000 to 100,000 vehicles. Delivery vans, commercial-use vans, and pickup trucks are considered light-duty vehicles.
The current state of fleet electrification: progress and opportunities
Buses are on the move
The move to electrify the U.S. fleet of 480,000 school buses is accelerating thanks to $5 billion in federal funding from the Infrastructure and Jobs Act as well as state-level programs. As of December 2022, more than 5,600 electric school buses are in operation, on order or funded. Although this equals just over 1% of the total fleet, it is a significant milestone.
In addition to providing clean transportation for children, school bus electrification programs will add $6 billion to the economy and create 46,000 job years. Electric school buses equipped with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology also have tremendous potential as “batteries on wheels” that can store electricity and provide it to the grid or to buildings when needed.
Public transit buses are also steadily electrifying, led by California, New York City and the Washington, DC area as well as cities like Pittsburgh and Phoenix. In Europe, the electric bus is flourishing, with a 48% increase in registrations in 2021 compared to 2020. Forecasts say that a third of the 200,000 public buses in Europe will be zero emission by 2030.
MD trucks are accelerating, HD trucks are getting started on the road to electrification
Between corporate decarbonization goals “pulling” and government regulations “pushing” fleet electrification, momentum towards electrification of heavy duty vehicles is starting to take hold. This is particularly true for cargo vans and similar medium-duty vehicles, driven by purchase commitments from large fleet operators, with heavy-duty fleet operators committing as well.
An indicative survey by the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance of its 24 members, who operate more than 1.3 million fleet vehicles in the U.S. alone, finds that its members plan to acquire more than 58,000 battery electric MHD trucks over the next five years. That includes around 42,000 cargo vans, 5,000 step vans, 5,000 box trucks, and 6,000 tractor trailers. Growth in the MHD manufacturing sector is helping accelerate adoption as well. According to the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero program, there 180 models of battery electric MHD trucks and cargo vans available now in the U.S. and Europe.
Timelines for electrification of heavy duty vehicles tend to range from 2030 outwards and cover only percentages of new trucks purchased. However, that is likely to change. With approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California now requires half of all heavy-duty trucks sold by 2035 to be electric. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont are adopting the same rules.
This all translates into significant opportunity across the industry as manufacturers invest billions of dollars in scaling technology and production to meet demand, leading to new jobs in designing, manufacturing and servicing MHD EVs.
MHD EV truck adoption challenges — and more opportunities
Although MHD EVs offer long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) advantages over diesel vehicles due to lower maintenance and fuel costs, purchase prices today are higher for EVs than their diesel counterparts. Electric tractor trailers are selling for $300,000 to $500,000, depending on the manufacturer, compared to $130,000 to $160,000 for a diesel version. On the plus side, the federal Inflation Reduction Act includes a tax credit of 30% of a commercial electric vehicle’s purchase price up to $40,000, and a few states offer incentives as well. And if MHD EVs follow the pattern seen with passenger EVs, prices will come down as production scales up and battery technologies improve.
Range, batteries, and weight
Range for MHDs varies widely, from 75 to 300 or more miles per charge, based on the battery type and configuration, with most falling somewhere in the middle. Medium-duty trucks and many heavy-duty trucks are used primarily for in-town deliveries, moving goods onsite at yards or ports, or out-and-back day trips, which current range offerings can readily handle. Long-haul trucking and other longer-range applications like dump trucks will require robust public charging networks and long-range battery solutions. Battery weight also comes into play. MHD EV batteries are heavy, weighing up to 10,000 pounds (depending on range provided). Battery technology is attracting significant investment and attention, however, so over time we can expect improvements that deliver more range for less weight,
Public charging infrastructure
Reaching emission reduction goals will require investments in public charging infrastructure accessible by MHD EVs. That won’t come from current National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program funding, which is geared toward light-duty EVs. However, private enterprises are investing in public charging for trucks. Volvo and Pilot Company are partnering, as are Daimler Truck North America, NextEra Energy Resources and Blackrock Renewable Power.
To succeed, public charging networks will require standardization to ensure interoperability. The industry association CharIN introduced the Megawatt-level Charging Standard (MCS) in 2022, which is expected to be finalized and adopted in 2024. And they will require smart EV charging management to achieve the reliability and availability required for commercial operations as well as billing management for financial operations and eRoaming capabilities.
Private depot charging
Many MHD EV fleets that operate in-town, on-site, and out-and-back day trips will rely on private “behind the fence” charging at their fleet depots. These fleet owners will be challenged by the cost of building charging infrastructure and long — even multi-year — lead times for grid connections. They do have alternatives to help control costs and ensure power availability for charging, including smart energy management and use of onsite generation and energy storage micro-grids. Depending on usage patterns, truck fleets can also participate in utility V2G programs to support the grid during peak demand times.
Will there be enough clean electricity available when and where it is needed to meet transportation and other electrification goals, including charging for MHD EVs? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, national electric grid capacity needs to grow by 60% by 2030 and 300% by 2050 to meet these needs, at the same time as the industry is making the transition to clean, renewable energy generation. In addition to modernizing the national transmission grid, investment is needed for local-level distribution and grid capacity improvements to enable timely service provision to public and private charging facilities.
Federal funding for these improvements includes $20 billion under the Building a Better Grid Initiative and an additional $13 billion in financing opportunities and programs. Electric companies have pledged more than $4 billion in customer programs to support transportation electrification, and government programs are in place to promote public/private partnerships.
What is the road to successful fleet electrification?
The drive toward fleet electrification is no longer just a futuristic vision. The medium-duty EV market is at the tipping point, the heavy-duty EV market is emerging, and all major stakeholders are on board.
An EV fleet management solution is key to successful fleet electrification. It enables integration of charging into a seamless vehicle journey, provides complete control and a stable charging environment, optimizes energy management and maximizes fleet utilization.
EV fleets that are always charged on time and ready to roll bring confidence and peace of mind to fleet managers and drivers. As EV fleets and charging networks for commercial MHD EVs continue to grow rapidly, fleet managers can optimize their charging operations and energy management and contribute to an emissions-free transportation future.