How electric trucks could disrupt highway transport and save businesses billions

Jason Mathers

Tesla’s much-anticipated electric semi-truck is garnering attention for its futuristic look and zero-emission promise – and it’s part of an innovation trend that is changing the future of trucking, with implications for entire supply chains.

United Parcel Service, Anheuser-Busch, Walmart, PepsiCo and J.B Hunt are among the companies rushing to secure orders of Tesla’s trucks, which are expected to be in production in 2019.

All-electric trucks can bring tangible benefits not just to truck owners, whose conventional vehicles can consume more than $60,000 worth of fuel a year, but also to their customers.

Fuel has long been a top cost for trucking, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the per-mile cost. Because fuel bills are passed on to companies that hire trucks to get their goods to market, electric trucks can thus promise businesses significantly lower and more stable operating costs.

For the business community as a whole, savings could be in the billions. 

Truck manufacturers hurrying to grab market share

Indeed, Tesla is just one among a number of large auto manufacturers that are now investing in electricity-powered trucks because they see a robust, long-term market for such products and clear bottom-line benefits:

  • Cummins recently announced the electric semi-truck tractor unit Aeos, which is scheduled for production by 2019. It’s designed for buses, delivery vehicles, and drayage duty trucks with a range of 100 miles.
  • Daimler recently launched a fleet of urban delivery trucks in New York City. The trucks, which have a 60-mile range, are set for scaled production in 2019. Daimler is also expected to unveil a larger class 7 electric truck.
  • New Flyer, BYD and Proterra are all taking orders for electric buses. A dozen major cities, including Los Angeles, have committed to buying buses.
  • Nikola, meanwhile, is readying a zero-emission fuel-cell-powered truck for production by 2021.

Along with the economic benefits, medium and heavy-duty trucks provide major health and environmental benefits for neighborhoods and communities nationwide.

Trucks move about 70 percent of freight in the United States today, and while only accounting for 10 percent of highway miles traveled, they are a major source of harmful nitrogen oxide and particulate matter – especially in cities and towns along congested truck routes.

Electric trucks also offer significantly lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions at a time when nations and states are looking for new technology solutions to meet their carbon reduction goals.

Long-haul capability: Key to this market shift

Most electric truck announcements so far have been for urban or regional vehicle use where buses and delivery trucks don’t need to drive very far and follow predictable driving patterns in areas with charging stations.

As the market for electric trucks grows, dense cities and communities will be the first to benefit from the reduction in local air pollution – but as battery technology continues to improve, look for more electric trucks to drive long-distance.

This will be the ticket to the major disruption of the truck industry that many experts believe will come in just a few years, and with benefits multiplying across our economy.

It’s a time of great innovation in the truck industry, and while there is still more we can and must do to make conventional diesel trucks cleaner and more efficient, electric trucks are coming our way. 

As eye-catching as the Tesla Semi launch was, it’s just the beginning.

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How about concentrating on actual truck parking for the millions of drivers currently stranded by arbitrary time clocks now forced on them and then worry about infrastructure for charging trucks. The need for that parking will grow exponentially with the premature introduction of short-range trucks, and any savings realized in the fuel will be eaten by the same exponential growth in pay to the drivers, something long overdue as it is.

January 5, 2018 at 2:57 pm

I believe most of the first electric trucks will be used for shorter routes- not long haul. if that is the case, parking will not be an issue.

January 10, 2018 at 11:30 am

In reply to by Jennifer

Short range will likely mean a necessity to have more trucks. How many miles do you think a local Fed Ex or UPS truck travels in one day?? Too far for a day's worth of deliveries - meaning down time for recharging - or needing to get back to headquarters for a second truck. Just what went thru my brain. Hopefully there is a solution that I am not aware of.

August 29, 2018 at 12:46 pm

In reply to by william

For the same reasons we didn’t save the wooden wagon wheel manufacturing or candle-making industry, self-driving long-haul trucks [are] maybe 5-10 years away. Why invest in saving an industry that will be automated by the end of the decade?

August 13, 2018 at 7:23 pm

In reply to by Jennifer

If that isn't the stone cold truth. Well said and spot on. They cannot bamboozle the people who are actually behind the wheel in this industry. Forever putting the cart before the horse and the carrot in between. Always wondering why they are forever two steps behind and always at the consumers/taxpayers expense. Smh.

Hughes Family
August 31, 2018 at 3:24 pm

In reply to by Jennifer

What powers the electric generators back at the power plants?

Peter Smith
January 12, 2018 at 10:59 am

Do you have a problem with wind, solar, or hydroelectric power generation? Fossil fuels are not the only game in town anymore.

Robert MansbergerD
August 29, 2018 at 11:16 am

In reply to by Peter Smith

How long will the extension cords be for these vehicles?

January 12, 2018 at 9:34 pm

Amazed at the number of soot belching semis still on the road, let's up the requirements for existing operators to rebuild and update power systems.

Tim Birthisel
January 25, 2018 at 7:53 am

I strongly agree that Tesla’s electric trucks is disruptive technology, but I think diesel trucks would still be competing with this new technology. In my opinion, electric trucks will take some of the market shares but diesel already has its foot planted on the ground. More innovation might remove it from there though. 

Jamie @ Autokid
April 10, 2018 at 6:24 am

Since electricity is a secondary enegy source derived from other energy, there are several transfer and production/inefficiency losses which so far are very high including the storage issue, plus the production on demand issue which everyone seems to conveniently ignore. The other issue is universality of this as a fuel...where will all this electricity come from.

August 28, 2018 at 8:32 pm

I use a recreational trail that loops around an industrial park. I would be happy to see hybrid trucks, that would be quiet at the dock and through town. That would be a tremendous improvement.

Laurie Graham
August 29, 2018 at 12:10 pm

It has been almost 20 years since I tried driving on the interstate in a tiny rental car between those giant long-haul trucks. If these new electric trucks are lighter and smaller I applaud them for the safety reason as well. I might try driving on the interstates again if I I knew I didn’t have to compete with something the size of a city block going 20 miles over the speed limit. That was disconcerting.

Lynn Nakkim
August 31, 2018 at 1:26 pm

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