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.
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.
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. trucking.info
Lockridge, D.June 28, 2012. What’s up with electric trucks? Truckinginfo.com
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. zerotruck.com
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.