All Electric Trucks. Probably not going to happen. Ever. Why not?

There are “forms of transport that cannot be electrified — heavy-duty trucks and planes… Even if the electricity problem can be solved, it won’t address the needs of planes, trucks, ships and some industrial heating that cannot be electrified” (Long).

The heavy-duty trucks that do the essential work of civilization, such as agricultural tractors and harvesters, Class 7 and 8 long-distance freight trucks, the trucks used in mining, logging,  and so on are too big and heavy to run on batteries.

The battery packs or fuel cells would take up so much space there would be little, if any, room for cargo. The batteries are so heavy that the truck would barely move, and it might take a day or more to charge the battery. Tractors and other off-road vehicles would be stranded if they ran out of power, and likely to be far from a power outlet.

FedEx is concerned that charging just 10 EVs during “off peak” hours will increase the “off peak” load to “peak” or higher level. That could result in additional infrastructure costs (Sondhi).

Medium-duty class 3-6 All-electric delivery vans

All of these vans run on lithium-ion batteries. That’s okay for the short and medium term, but long-term there isn’t enough lithium even with recycling.

Many companies bought medium-duty delivery trucks starting in 2011, such as Frito Lay and Staples, and the National Renewable Energy Lab has been testing their performance.

But just like electric cars, delivery trucks are being held back by poor performing, high cost batteries.  They need, far more than autos, a very powerful, revolutionary battery.  And I’m not holding my breath, since battery development has been very slow the past 200 years (see Who Killed the Electric Car? for details).

Price of an electric Van

These were the only prices I could find after a lot of searching:

  • Kansas City’s municipal government wanted a bucket truck. A diesel version cost $132,000. The city bought the Smith All-electric truck, which cost $330,000, almost $200,000 more, because a federal grant covered the difference (Lockridge)
  • $800 per kWh (Lyden, Calstart)
  • $175,000 for the e-truck. A diesel equivalent would cost $65,000. A 60 kWh battery is $54,000, an 80 kWh $70,000 (Calstart)
  • The basic electric van is $75,000, and the battery ranges from $25,000 to $75,000 (Motavalli).
  • Smith Electric trucks cost up to $90,000 each. Frito-lay has bought them at a reduced price with subsidies from both the federal government and New York state. A comparable diesel truck costs $60,000 (Vyas)
  • Each truck cost $100,000 to $150,000 with federal subsidies of about $57,000 and also many other additional grants and tax breaks
  • Mike O’Connell, senior director of fleet operations at Frito-Lay, which has a fleet of 280 Smith medium-duty electric trucks, said in an interview: “In the short term, buying electric trucks without subsidies is extremely challenging…” (Motavalli)
  • Calstart estimated that without the $40,000 HVIP incentive it would take 12 to 36 years to payback an electric truck. But the Smith electric battery warranty was a 5-year limited, full replacement within 3 years. With batteries costing $25-$75,000 one or more replacements means the price might never be paid back

The incentives are huge

Common EV incentives include tax credits, rebates, vouchers, grants and unrestricted access to high occupancy commuter lanes on major roadways. Here are some federal level incentives in the US:

  • Tax credit from $2500-$7500 (Qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle tax credit)
  • EPA DERA funds up to 25% of the total cost of the vehicle
  • Clean Cities: up to 50% total cost of the vehicle
  • Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Funds (CMAQ): federal money dispersed to states where these funds are given to localities based on air quality and varies state to state

Each state also offers subsidies.

  • New York has 5 different programs, including one that pays up to $60,000 per vehicle.
  • The Oregon Department of Transportation is launching a $4 million new electric truck buyer incentive program. The Commercial Electric Truck Incentive Program will be offered in the form of $20,000 vouchers per eligible, all-electric vehicle over 10,000 pounds, regardless of manufacturer.

The battery and electric truck makers were heavily subsidized, but are bankrupt or in financial trouble

  • A123 made batteries for Smith Electric, but went bankrupt in March 2012 despite a $263 million dollar grant (Cohan).
  • Smith has never made a profit since despite a federal $32 million dollar grant that paid for 44 to 67% of each trucks’ cost. Smith went bankrupt late 2013. Net losses were $17.5 million 2009, $30.3 million 2010, $52.5 million 2011, and $27.3 million through June 30, 2012 with only 439 of 500 vehicles delivered and $29,150,672 government dollars reimbursed, a $66,402 taxpayer subsidy per vehicle (FS, Chesser)
  • Navistar Inc received $39.4 million for 950 electric delivery trucks but is in financial trouble and discontuned its eStar electric van in March 2013 (based on technology from bankrupt Modec)

Smith was already a failed company based in the United Kingdom within the Tanfield Group. Smith-U.S. established itself in Kansas City in January 2009, following a precipitous drop in Tanfield’s U.K. stock value in mid-2008. Financial analysts became troubled because claims the company made about matters such as vehicle orders could not be verified. The company was accused of exercising poor disclosure standards and weak financial controls, according to the London Telegraph. Tanfield’s cash evaporation led the company to lose 97 percent of its value in 2008, prompted inquiries by the London Stock Exchange and by the U.K. Accountancy and Actuarial Discipline Board.

Charging time

Typical charge duration for the FCCC MT E-Cell was measured between 12 and 14 hours to achieve the bulk of the charge and over 17 hours to achieve a full charge. Total charge duration for the Navistar eStar was estimated between 12 and 13 hours (calstart).


Calstart. 2013. Battery electric parcel delivery truck testing and demonstration. Prepared by California Hybrid for California Energy Commission.

Cassidy, W. B. Apr 16, 2014   Smith Electric Vehicles Halts Truck Production.

Chesser, P. July 8, 2013. Bottomless Subsidies Needed to Keep DOE Electric Truck Project Alive. National Legal and Policy Center.

Chesser, P. April 15, 2014. Energy Dept. Revives Stimulus Loans as Another Electric Vehicle Comany Stalls. Bankruptcy Law Review.

Cohan, P. June 12, 2012. Is A123 electric battery a waste of $263 million in government funds. Forbes.

FS. May 16, 2013. Fuel Smarts. Fuel Smarts Navistar Sells RV Business, Drops eStar Van as Part of Its Turnaround Plan.

Lockridge, D.June 28, 2012. What’s up with electric trucks?

Long, J. October 26, 2011. Piecemeal cuts won’t add up to radical reductions. Nature 478.

Lyden, S. 2014. The State of All-electric trucks in the U.S. medium-duty market.

Motavalli, J. November 16, 2011. Smith Electric to build trucks in the Bronx. New York Times.

Sondhi, K.. Feb 20, 2013. Talking Freight Webinar. FedEx

Vyas, A. D., et al. February 2013. Potential for Energy Efficiency Improvement Beyond the Light-Duty-Vehicle Sector. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy by Argonne National Laboratory.

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5 Responses to All Electric Trucks. Probably not going to happen. Ever. Why not?

  1. In Chicago, an electric garbage truck is already in use

    And according to this article there has been a breakthrough in battery technology: a battery without lithium, made of widely available aluminium, 20% of the weight much longer driving range

    • energyskeptic says:

      Yes, there is one truck that cost $1.2 million dollars versus currently $200,000 cost for diesel garbage trucks. Motiv will get $13.4 million dollars, about $670,000 each. In order to operate in cold Chicago temperatures they have to be kept at 518 F AROUND THE CLOCK to keep their electrolyte molten and ready to use since the electrolyte is solid and inactive at normal temperatures, which takes a lot of energy. If you let them cool down, it takes 24 hours to heat them up again to 518 F. Their energy density is lower than li-ion so their range is less too. There is only one maker of commercial sodium-nickel batteries for trucks.

  2. Mark says:

    Saw an interesting concept truck on you tube this morning-

    The video doesn’t cover a lot, actually it didn’t really cover any, of the details. It was nice to see that some effort is occurring to reduce the weight and improve the aerodynamics of commercial vehicles.

    It sounds like Wall Mart is envisioning someone coming up with a cost effective way to get biogas developed and the commercial infrastructure built to get the gas to a place it could be compressed for use along the transportation corridors.

    The back of my pickup truck (diesel powered) is almost all the way full with give or take a ton of biomass from our little farm/ranch that we have collected up over the last couple of weeks. I wonder how much biogas might be available from my mixed load of biomass……………….. It is getting to be a bit expensive for me to travel the 6 miles to the county transfer station to pay- about $18.00 currently up from $14 to unload the material before it gets loaded onto a semi truck for transport down to the Keiffer Road dump in Sacramento for either making compost or to be buried to let nature take it’s course to convert the mass into some gas for injection into the pipelines spread throughout the dump. If my county keeps raising the price for me to give the mass up for free……. I will have to reconsider what I do with the material…


    PS I just learned that our local CASIO has installed a bunch of EV charging stations- via a grant that covered the cost of the hardware and they donated the labor to put the stations in place. Amazingly it appears that the stations weren’t installed with a way to charge folks who use it something for the kWh that they will be pulling from Red Hawk’s garage electrical infrastructure. I can’t imagine that PG&E is providing the power for free- I guess the CASIO must be providing the power for free- assuming that you will lose enough money at the facility…….

    • energyskeptic says:

      There are millions of dollars of grants, subsidies, and tax breaks for electric demonstration and clean air vehicles and EV charging stations from the federal and state governments (especially California and New York).

      Biogas: Realistically since there isn’t enough biomass even for biofuels, the amount of biogas from cattle, compost/landfill sites is even less, and the energy to get the waste products to a landfill, then trap, purify, compress, and deliver the biogas produced to a truck is surely more energy than what the trucks are burning.

      When the oil crisis strikes, we’ll be stuck with whatever vehicles we have for the most part, so what you want is a drop-in fuel that existing diesel engines can burn, because the energy to make brand-new trucks won’t be there, and if money is a rough way of determining EROI, the all-electric trucks take 3 times more energy to make but get 2 to 6 times less miles over their lifetime compared to diesel engines (2,000 cycles per lithium-ion battery x 80 miles per day BEV truck vs 320,000 to 1,000,000 miles per diesel engine class 3-6 truck).

      Truck engine warranties are mostly for B20 or less, there aren’t a lot of B100 engines out there.

  3. Beamspot says:

    2000 cycles for Li-Pol batteries is way too optimistic. Power Li-pol (the ones used in BEV) barely reach 1500 cycles… if temperature is not too high.

    Here, in Spain, batteries last less than 5 years, depending on their use, but the main reason is high temperature average when compared to northern countries (Ahrrenius law, IIRC). One of the reasons why Seat (spanish car manufacturer, even if it in fact is VW) dropped the launch of their BEV’s.

    European car manufacturers gave up to develop ‘popular’ BEV’s mainly because it is quite clear for them that they will never be as cheap as required.

    Compare the Fluence versions with ICE vs BEV. Higher weight of the latter, and mainly by expensive materials (copper, cobalt, spheroidal graphite, lithium vs aluminum and steel).

    And the issues with temperatures are quite a worry, excluding directly all south countries from the market. Exactly those that are sunny (high average temperatures are caused by high solar irradiance).