Diesel is finite. Trucks are the bedrock of civilization. So where are the battery electric trucks?

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Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report



Introduction to battery electric trucks

Heavy-duty diesel-engine trucks (agricultural, mining, logging, construction, garbage, cement, 18-wheelers) are the main engines of civilization. Without them, no goods would be delivered, no food planted or harvested, no garbage picked up, no minerals mined, no concrete made, oil and gas drilled, and roads built to keep them all rolling. If trucks stopped running, gas stations, grocery stores, factories, pharmacies, and manufacturers would shut down within a week.

Since oil, coal, and natural gas are finite, biomass doesn’t scale up, and hydrogen is an energy sink, clearly someday trucks will need to run on wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal generated electricity with batteries or overhead catenary wires.  Yet even batteries for autos aren’t cheap, long-lasting, light-weight, or powerful enough for most Americans to replace their current gas-guzzlers with.  And given the distribution of wealth, few Americans may ever be able to afford an electric car, since two-thirds of Americans would have trouble finding even $1,000 for an emergency.

Trucks that matter — that haul 30 tons of goods, pour cement, haul mining ore — can weigh 40 times more than an average car.  So scaling batteries up for heavy-duty trucks (NRC 2014) is impossible now given the state of battery technology. For example, a truck capable of going 621 miles hauling 59,525 pounds, the maximum allowable cargo weight, would need a battery weighing 55,116 pounds, and so could only carry about 4,400 pounds of cargo (den Boer et al. 2013). And because a heavy-duty truck battery is so heavy and large, charging takes too long — typically 12 hours or more.

Or as Ryan Carlyle, oil company engineer puts it: “As far as heavy trucking is concerned, there is no replacement for hydrocarbon fuels. The physics of power/weight ratios, and existence of legal road weight limits, means you simply can’t build an “electric semi” and expect it to haul anything comparable to what diesel trucks haul today. This is not an area where Tesla can build a 30% better battery pack and suddenly it’s feasible. The necessary energy density numbers are more like 50 times less than they need to be. The truck will use over half its payload capacity just carrying its own batteries, which is all but unworkable as a freight haulage system.  There are chemical limits to what batteries can do. We haven’t reached the limits yet, but we will someday. Electrochemical galvanic cells physically cannot store enough energy — ever — to approach today’s large diesel engines (Carlyle 2014).

And car battery development is hitting the brick-walls of the laws of physics and thermodynamics, yet truck batteries need to be even more powerful, durable, and long-lasting.

There are not any commercially available heavy-duty Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) outside the transit bus segment at this time. It is not expected that BEVs can penetrate into the long-haul trucking vocation in the next several decades, where significant high speed steady-state operations dominate the vehicles duty cycle, without significant advances in battery energy density and BEV recharging technologies. (ARB 2015).

There are however, demonstration projects with class 8 electric trucks.  The first, NFI, has two trucks running between Chino and the Ports of Los Angeles/San Pedro 135 miles round-trip using two of the five heavy-duty charging stations in Southern California. Only one round-trip can be made, there isn’t enough juice left in the battery to go again. The second, Penske is averaging 150 miles per shift on dedicated routes to a California quick-service restaurant chain with two battery-powered trucks in a relay system to make the most of the available electric charge.  And other demonstration projects are planned (Adler 2019).

Electric trucks do exist, mostly medium-duty hybrid that stop and start a lot to recharge the battery.  This limits their application to delivery and garbage trucks and buses.  These trucks are heavily subsidized at state and federal levels since on average they cost three times as much as a diesel truck equivalent (Table 1).

Whenever I do an internet search on electric trucks, something new will pop up.  “Electric tractor” recently brought up The 7030 series John Deere battery pack tractor in December 2016.  But if you go to the John Deere website there is absolutely nothing about this tractor.

John Deere is not working on electric tractors because they require mechanical power that is mobile or portable. The electric grid and steam boilers simply aren’t portable to remote locations. Only internal combustion engines can provide efficient mobile and portable heavy-duty power (DTF 2003).

The Port of Los Angeles thought about using heavy-duty all-electric drayage trucks to improve air quality. Drayage trucks drive at least 200 miles a day back and forth between the port and inland warehouses. But it remained a thought experiment because electric drayage trucks cost too much, $307,890.  The 350 kWh battery alone is $110,880 dollars.  That’s three times as much as an equivalent diesel truck $104,360, and 100 times more than a used $3,000 drayage truck. And cost wasn’t the only problem (Calstart 2013a):

  • The range is too short because of the battery weight and size.  Drayage trucks need to go at least 200 miles a day, but at best an electric truck could go 100 miles before having to be recharged, which would take too long, and require expensive infrastructure to charge each truck several times a day.
  • The batteries/battery pack cost too much.
  • Overcoming the long time to recharge by using fast-charging may shorten battery life which would result in the unacceptable expense of a new battery pack before the lifetime of the truck ended
  • Although electricity is available almost everywhere, the quantities required for a fleet of Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) drayage trucks are very high and could require significant infrastructure. Multiple costly high-power and/or fast-charging stations would be required
  • Roadway power infrastructure is complicated and expensive, and may be appropriate only in certain areas or applications. The impact on the grid and whether enough power could be supplied is unknown for the roughly 10,000 drayage trucks in the I-710 region
  • Large battery pack life-cycle and maintenance costs are unknown
  • Swapping stations are impractical and would require “industry standardization and ‘ruggedization’ of battery packs, as well as standardized software and communication protocols for batteries and system integration, plus many locations, and the storage space and operating space for multiple large trucks and hundreds of large battery packs.
cost of electric vs diesel trucks 2016Table 1. Electric trucks coust 3 times more than diesel equivalents (ICEV) on average. Source: 2016 New York State Electric Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund Vehicle Eligibility List. https://truck-vip.ny.gov/NYSEV-VIF-vehicle-list.php

Other costs

  • Battery cost is a major component in the overall cost, ranging from $500 to $700 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) range. This is substantially more than the cost for a conventional diesel powerplant. In their 2013 I-710 commercialization study, CALSTART estimated the cost of a 350 kWh battery system at over $200,000 in 2012.
  • A BEV 240 kW fast charger can cost can cost $1,500,000 (with $300,000 in additional costs). It can charge 5 heavy duty trucks (ICF 2016) per charger: $350,000 EVSE 450kW+ $150,000 to $200,000 installation costs per EVSE (Calstart 2015), or $350,000 for a specialized Proterra fast charger able to accommodate up to eight Proterra transit buses (ARB 2015)
  • Additional costs to upgrade the distribution system if the rated capacity of the installed electric equipment is exceeded. A fleet with 20 E-Trucks in Southern California had to upgrade a transformer on the customer side of the meter. The transformer cost $470,000. 100 medium-duty E-Trucks charging at the same time would demand 1.5 MW of power on the grid and 50 E-Buses would demand 3.0 MW. This is in the same order of magnitude as the peak power demand of the Transamerica Pyramid building, the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco, CA (Calstart 2015)
  • Unlike electric cars, which can charge at night when rates are lowest (11 pm to 8 am for $0.05), e-trucks and buses need to run during the day at the highest peak hours (12 noon to 6 p.m. $0.20) and mid-peak charges (8 a.m. to noon and 6 pm to 11 pm ($0.10), doubling to quadrupling the price paid for electricity (Calstart 2015).
  • Earning money from V2G is not likely to be adopted by commercial fleets because they have rigid operating schedules while the grid varies constantly and unpredictably. If the grid tapped into e-truck batteries, it might reduce their range or delay availability (Calstart 2015)

Electric trucks are also not commercial yet because they have too many performance issues, such as poor performance in cold weather, swift acceleration, driving up steep hills, too short a range and battery life, they take too long to recharge, declining miles per day as the battery degrades, all of which make planning routes difficult and inefficient.

It is also much harder to develop batteries for trucks than cars because trucks are expected to last 15 years (versus 10 for cars) or go for 1 million miles.  Trucks also have to endure more extreme conditions of temperature, vibrations, and corrosive agents than autos (NRC 2015), and it is hard to make battery packs durable enough for this rougher ride, longer miles, and longevity.

Calstart interviewed many businesses about their reluctance to buy hybrid or all electric trucks, and found their greatest concerns were the purchase cost, lack of confidence in the technology, lack of industry and truck manufacturer support, lack of infrastructure, and the heavy weight (Calstart 2012).

Elon Musk recently tweeted that Tesla will build a semi-truck with absolutely no details, promising to tweet again half a year from now with more information. Why should I believe an Elon Musk tweet any more than a Trump tweet?  Especially since nearly all of the electric truck companies I studied for “When Trucks Stop Running” are out of business now, despite huge federal and state subsidies. Given that Tesla is nearly $5 billion in debt, he’s clearly angling to get drayage truck subsidies from the Ports of Los Angeles and San Pedro and more money from investors.  None of the electric trucks I studied or that are on the market now were long-haul or off-road tractors, harvesters, construction, logging, or other class 8 heavy-duty trucks (except garbage trucks).  They were all much smaller class 4-6 delivery trucks or buses, because they stop and start enough to use hybrid batteries, a far more commercially likely possibility than long-haul trucks, that can go for hundreds of miles before stopping, and be up to 80,000 pounds (and even more weight off-road).  This wired.com article points out other issues as well with electric trucks as well.

But if the devil is in the details, then read more below in my summary and excerpts of a paper about electric trucks.  Catenary trucks, which use overhead wires, will be covered in another post.  Both electric and catenary trucks are covered at greater length in When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer


  • BEV Battery Electric Vehicle
  • PEV Plug-in Battery Electric Vehicle
  • HEV Hybrid Electric Vehicle
  • ICEV Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (usually diesel, also gasoline engines)

What follows is a summary and then deytails of the following paper:

Pelletier, S., et al. September 2014. Battery Electric Vehicles for Goods Distribution: A Survey of Vehicle Technology, Market Penetration, Incentives and Practices. CIRRELT. 51 pages.



While commercial BEVs’ energy costs can be nearly four times cheaper than ICEV equivalents, the downside is that their purchase costs are around three times higher.

A study of drayage trucks on the I-710 corridor found that $3,000 old used trucks were used to take containers from Los Angeles ports to inland facilities that paid $100 per container delivered.   “Costs for a full BEV truck are not expected to go below $250,000 even past the 2025 time frame of this report. … The same is true for fuel cells” (Calstart 2013b).

Furthermore, the cost of the equipment necessary for charging the battery can be several thousand dollars. The high cost of level 3 Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) is still a significant barrier to a wider adoption of fast charging. Level 2 charging equipment costs approximately $1,000 per station and installation costs approximately $2,500 to $6,000 for one unit or $18,520 for 10 units. Level 3 fast charging is not used much yet because more research needs to be done on whether this shortens battery life.

PEV and HEV vehicles typically have significant autonomy and payload limitations and involve much larger initial investments in comparison to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV). The battery pack is the most expensive component in PEVs and significantly augments their purchase cost compared to similar ICEV trucks.

Competing with compressed natural gas (CNG) and existing diesel (ICEV) trucks will be hard — significant improvements in ICEV efficiencies are likely in the future from the 21st Century truck partnership and other efforts to improve diesel engines.  BEVs will also have to compete with other fuel alternatives such as CNG, in which case their business case can be even harder to make.

Battery Issues

Can’t carry enough cargo: Battery size and weight reduce maximum payloads for electric vans and trucks compared to equivalent diesel trucks.  Even HEVs suffer from the extra weight of two power-trains reducing payload capacity.

Short range. Technical disadvantages include a relatively low achievable range. Typical ranges for freight BEVs vary from 100 to 150 kilometers (62-93 miles) on a single charge.

The miles a truck can travel declines over time.  In Germany and the Netherlands, the limited operating range of electric trucks caused less flexibility in planning trips and restricted ad-hoc tour planning, resulting in less efficient operations. Also, the range declined over time through battery aging, when carrying heavy loads, and in winter from heating, lights and ventilation. Furthermore, the range listed by EV manufacturers is based on measurements according to the New European Drive Cycle which, compared to real life energy consumption in urban last mile delivery, do not give a reliable indication of the expected range. The reliability of the EVs was dependent on the model; certain prototypes and conversions were judged as reliable, while others were reported as insufficient (Taefi 2014).

Short battery life. At the moment, lithium ion batteries last for four years; however, practical experience has shown that the average period of use is only two years.

Range is also shortened by: extreme temperatures, high driving speeds, rapid acceleration, carrying heavy loads and driving up slopes.   The efficiency and driving range varies substantially based on driving conditions and driving habits. Extreme outside temperatures tend to reduce range because more energy must be used to heat or cool the cabin. Cold batteries do not provide as much power as warm batteries do. The use of electrical equipment, such as windshield wipers and seat heaters, can reduce range. High driving speeds reduce range because more energy is required to overcome increased air resistance. Rapid acceleration reduces range compared with smooth acceleration. Hauling heavy loads or driving up significant inclines also reduces range (U.S. Department of Energy 2012b).

Long time to charge battery: It takes a long time to charge the batteries because of their low energy density.  Recharging time may take up to 4 to 8 hours, and even with quick-charging equipment, recharging a battery to 80% takes up to 30 minutes.

Charging issues:  The most common way of charging was to slow charge the vehicles over night at company premises. The in-house charging infrastructure had to be fixed several times when it was overloaded by the high capacity need of the e-trucks in Germany. Other charging related issues found were that the implementation of a smart grid and load management for large electrical fleets is not yet clarified; solutions to ensure charging in case of power outage are necessary; and charging plugs were too damageable, so only specially trained staff could handle the plug, which caused problems with replacement drivers and training issues.  The limited number of charging spots outside the cities and lack of battery swapping for larger vehicles was also an issue (Taefi 2014).

Batteries have low energy density — too low. Batteries are a critical factor in the widespread adoption of electric vehicles but have a much lower energy density than gasoline, partly caused by the large amount of metals used in their production.

Battery life too short: Lithium-ion batteries in current freight BEVs typically provide 1,000 to 2,000 deep cycle life, which should last around six years.

Some manufacturers are working on a 4,000 to 5,000 deep cycle life within 5 years, but there are often tradeoffs to be made between different lithium based battery chemistries. For example, lithium-titanate batteries already reach 5,000 full discharge cycles, but have lower energy densities than other lithium-ion technologies. Calendar life, on the other hand, is a measure of natural degradation with time and was in the 7-10 years range as of 2010 with a projected range of 13-15 years by 2020. Typical battery warranty lengths for electric trucks have been reported as being in the three to five year range.

Battery degradation. Battery health can be influenced by the way they are charged and discharged. For example, frequent overcharging (i.e., charging the battery close to maximum capacity) can affect the battery’s lifespan, just as can keeping the battery at high states of charge for lengthy periods. As expressed through deep cycle life, battery deterioration can also occur if it is frequently discharged to very deep levels . This generally implies that only 80% of the marketed battery capacity is actually usable. Using high power levels to quickly charge batteries could also have negative impacts on battery life, especially if used in the beginning and end of the charging cycle. The uncertainty regarding the effect of extreme operational temperatures on lithium batteries is another issue that should be further considered. All these potential deteriorating factors can speed up the reduction of maximum available battery capacity and shorten vehicle range and battery life.

Lithium-ion batteries.  At the moment, lithium ion batteries last for four years; however, practical experience has shown that the average period of use is only two years (AustriaTech 2014).

The Demands on the Electric Grid

Power Requirements to recharge batteries are high.  A battery electric truck with a 120 kWh battery would require a charging power level of 15 kW to be able to charge in 8 hours, and the same vehicle with a battery pack of 200 kWh would require a power level of 400 kW to be able to be charged in 15-30 minutes.

The impact of the high power demand from the electricity grid. This could limit the amount of vehicles in a depot which could simultaneously be charged with high power levels, potentially requiring further investments for transformer upgrades.

The stations would also need to recharge a very large amount of batteries at the same time, which could impact the electric grid.

Out of Business

Better Place was considered a fron-trunner in the battery swapping industry but it recently filed for bankruptcy (Fiske (2013)).

Some models have recently been discontinued due to manufacturers’ financial difficulties or restructuring plans; these include Azure Dynamics’ Transit Connect Electric in 2012, Navistar’s eStar in 2013, and Modec’s Box Van in 2011.

Commercial Vehicles are dependent on government subsidies

To see the New York State All-Electric NYSEV-VIF incentives, click here.

To see the California Hybrid Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) incentives, click here.

Many U.S. companies which operate battery electric trucks also have received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  

Plug-in electric trucks and vans (class 2 to 8 vehicles) have generally only penetrated niche applications, while remaining dependent on government incentives. They attribute this to key industry players going out of business, the conservative nature of fleet operators when it comes to new technologies, renewed interest in natural gas, and the important cost premium of these vehicles.

Sales of HEV & BEV trucks are very low

The global stock of class 2 to 8 HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs was around 20,000 at the end of 2013, versus 15 million diesel and gasoline (ICEV) trucks sold in 2013.

The vast majority of expected sales are not fully electric plug-ins, but are Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) which do not require plug-in recharging (but which are only suitable for applications that require a great deal of stopping and starting, i.e. garbage trucks, delivery vans).

One of project FREVUE’s reports identifies other factors explaining the limited use of electric freight vehicles in city logistics, namely doubts regarding technology readiness, high purchase costs, limited amount of models on the market, and rapid technology improvements themselves can be a market barrier since fleet operators fear that an electric freight vehicle purchased today could quickly lose all residual value. The uncertainties surrounding the vehicles’ residual value also limit leasing companies’ interest in electric freight vehicles.

The bottom line is that a wider adoption of Battery Electric Vehicles can only be achieved if these prove to be cost-effective.


[ Here are more details. ]

The worst possible use of an e-truck is daily mileage less than 40 km, never needs to return to the base, has little chance of charging while on operations, needs to be charged in 20 minutes or less, carry a full load equal to a diesel truck, carries the full load all day, goes the same speed much of the day, travels on freeways, hilly terrain, and charges at peak load. The best possible use of EV is 60+ km/day, returns to the base to recharge 3 to 6 times a day for 30 minutes a day, carries half a load, has very high variations in speeds traveled in flat urban areas and only charges off-peak (AustriaTech 2014b).

Cost Competitiveness of Battery Electric Vans and Trucks

While commercial BEVs’ energy costs can be nearly four times cheaper than diesel equivalents, the downside is that their purchase costs are approximately three times higher (Feng and Figliozzi 2013).

Furthermore, the cost of the equipment necessary for charging the vehicle’s battery, which can reach several thousands of dollars, should be considered. Maintenance costs should also be significantly less than for ICEVs (Taefi et al. (2014)) and this advantage should increase as the vehicles get older (Electrification Coalition (2010)). Because of these different cost structures between ICEVs and BEVs, the only way to appropriately compare the cost competitiveness of battery electric vans and trucks for goods distribution is to study their whole life costs (McMorrin et al. 2012), according to which all costs incurred over the vehicle’s life are actualized to a net present value. Whole life costs are also referred to as the vehicle’s total cost of ownership (TCO). The following are brief descriptions of the cost structure and TCO of battery electric freight vehicles compared to their conventional counterparts.

Cost Structure: High Fixed Costs and Low Variable Costs Purchase costs for medium duty battery electric trucks offered by AMP Trucks, Inc., Boulder Electric Vehicles, Electric Vehicle International, and Smith Electric Vehicles range from $130,000 to $185,000 US, while equivalent ICE trucks go within the $55,000 to $70,000 range (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2014)). One way to decrease the cost premium of these larger BEVs is to be able to right-size the costly battery according to the application (Electrification Coalition 2013). However, while this measure could significantly improve the vehicles’ business case and allow for additional payload capacity, the smaller battery would require more frequent deep discharges, which could cause accelerated battery deterioration (Pitkanen and Van Amburg 2012). Another option for reducing upfront costs while also addressing fleet operators’ concerns about battery life is to lease the battery for a monthly fee based on energy consumed or distance traveled (McMorrin et al. 2012).

However, uncertainties regarding battery residual value limit many fleets’ interest in battery leasing (Pitkanen and Van Amburg (2012)), most likely because these uncertainties will be integrated into the leasing fee. Furthermore, battery leasing currently only seems available for a few battery electric vans but not for trucks, for whom it could significantly help the business case based on whole life costs (Valenta (2013)). Purchase costs for battery electric vans vary largely depending on GVWs and the availability of battery leasing. Large manufacturer products with battery leasing go for about $25,000 for GVWs close to 2,100 kg. Examples of these include Renault for its Kangoo Z.E. vans and Nissan for its e-NV200 van, with monthly battery leasing fees starting at approximately $100 per month and varying according to monthly mileage and contract lengths (Renault (2014c), Nissan (2014d)). Typical purchase costs with battery ownership range from approximately $25,000 for lighter battery electric vans (GVW starting at 1100 kg) with limited battery capacities, to about $100,000 for larger battery electric vans (GVW up to 3,500 kg) with higher battery capacities. Conventional cargo vans with GVWs close to 4,500 kg cost between $30,000 and $40,000, GVWs close to 3,500 kg are within the $25,000-$30,000 price range, and GVWs around 2,500 kg are closer to $20,000 (Nissan (2014a)).

Valuable sources for vehicle prices include Source London (2013) and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2014), referred to as SL (2013) and NYSEV-VIF (2014) in the tables. Some models’ prices are simply not available, most likely because, as Lee et al. (2013, p.8025) point out, “commercial vehicle prices can vary depending upon negotiation between fleet operators and truck manufacturers, and truck volumes to be purchased”. This could also imply that the prices listed here could vary depending on specific purchasing contexts. Ranges for these class 3 to 6 trucks are from 115 to 200 km (71-124 miles) depending on battery size, vehicle weight

  • $133,000 AMP vehicles 100 kWh battery, 6350-8845 kg GVW
  • $130-150,000 Boulder 500-series 72 kWh battery, 4765-5215 kg GVW, payload 1405 kg,
  • $150,000 Navistar eStar 80 kWh battery 5490 kg GVW, payload 1860 kg
  • $185,000 EVI walk-in van 99 kWh battery, 7255-10435 GVW
  • $150,000 Smith Electric “Newton” 80 kWh, $181,000 with a 120 kWh battery

Den Boer et al. (2013) state that approximately 1,000 battery electric distribution trucks were operated around the world as of July 2013. CALSTART’s report on the demand assessment of electric truck fleets (Parish and Pitkanen 2012) claims that industry experts have estimated there were less than 500 battery electric trucks in use in North America as of 2012, with most sales made in US states like California and New York, which offered incentives for these vehicles. Also, approximately 4,500 hybrid electric trucks were sold in North America as of 2012. The large majority of hybrid and battery electric trucks sold were in medium duty and vocational applications rather than long-haul class 8 applications. Stocks of freight electric vehicles (vans and trucks) as of January 1st 2012 in Europe included 70 in Belgium, 106 in Denmark, 338 in Germany, 1,566 in France, 217 in the Netherlands, 103 in Norway, 38 in Austria, 13 in Portugal, 459 in Spain, and over 2000 in London (TU Delft et al. 2013). However, most of the electric vans in the UK are old low performance vans with lead-acid batteries, with only a few hundred modern electric vans with lithium-ion batteries sold in 2012 (Cluzel et al. 2013).

As previously noted, the advantage in the cost structure of BEVs comes from their lower variable costs (i.e., energy and maintenance costs) (McMorrin et al. 2012).

However, electricity rates incurred depend on geographical location, average consumption levels, and time of use (Hydro-Quebec (2014)). Charging during off-peak hours can allow for reduced electricity rates and seasonal price variations may also occur. It is therefore necessary to evaluate the potential of lower energy costs of commercial BEVs according to one’s specific context.

Gallo and Tomi´ c (2013) provide an overview of the performance of delivery BEVs (class 4-5) operated by a large parcel delivery fleet in Los Angeles. The findings showed that in comparison to similar diesel vehicles, the electric trucks were up to four times more energy efficient, offering up to 80% lower annual fuel costs. The report estimated maintenance savings ranging from $0.02 to $0.10 per mile, finding these savings “will vary widely depending on driving conditions, vehicle usage, driver behavior, vehicle model and regenerative braking usage”(p.53). Other findings included the need for drivers to be trained to adapt their techniques to electric trucks, that a minimum utilization of 50 miles per day is necessary to recuperate purchase costs in a reasonable time span, and that incentives are still necessary at this stage to make the vehicles a viable alternative. Additionally, some repairs needed to be provided by the vehicle manufacturers because of the limited experience of fleet mechanics with electric trucks. TU Delft et al. (2013) also reported several companies having experienced a lack of available resources for quickly solving technical issues with freight BEVs. This is important to consider because in order to profit from lower variable costs, companies must have access to reliable maintenance services and spare parts.

Figliozzi (2013) compared whole life costs of battery electric delivery trucks to a conventional diesel truck serving less-than-truckload delivery routes. The BEVs are the Navistar eStar (priced at $150,000) and Smith Newton (priced at $150,000), while the diesel reference is an Isuzu N-series (priced at $50,000). Different urban delivery scenarios were designed based on typical US cities values and different routing constraints. Thus, 243 different route instances were simulated by varying values for the number of customers, the service area, the depot-service area distance, the customer service time, and the customer demand weight. Different battery replacement and cost scenarios were also studied. The planning horizon was set to ten years, with the residual value of the vehicles set at 20% of their purchase price. In spite of the fact that the electric trucks had a higher TCO in 210 out of the 243 route instances, a combination of the following factors would allow them to be a viable alternative: high daily distances, low speeds and congestion, frequent customer stops during which an ICEV would idle, other factors amplifying the BEVs’ superior efficiency, financial incentives or technological breakthroughs to reduce purchase costs, and a planning horizon above ten years. With a battery replacement after 150,000 miles at a forecasted cost of $600/kWh, the diesel truck always had a lower TCO.

The need for a battery replacement significantly decreases thee business case for BEV Trucks

Battery electric freight vehicles currently fit much more into city distribution than long haul applications because of the battery’s energy density limitations (den Boer et al. 2013). Typical daily miles traveled by urban delivery trucks are often lower than the range already achieved by electric commercial vehicles (Feng and Figliozzi 2013). With limited payloads, this makes them more viable for last mile deliveries in urban areas involving frequent stop-and-go movements, limited route lengths, as well as low travel speeds (Nesterova et al. 2013), AustriaTech 2014b), Taefi et al. 2014)). With forecasted reductions in battery costs and evolution of diesel prices are compared to electricity prices, as time goes by, BEV distribution trucks should become more competitive with equivalent ICEVs based on their own economic proposition (den Boer et al. 2013). However, commercial BEVs will also have to compete with other fuel alternatives such as compressed natural gas, in which case their business case can be even harder to make (Valenta 2013). Furthermore, significant improvements in ICEV efficiencies are expected in upcoming years (Mosquet et al. (2011)). Nevertheless, for now, the appropriateness of using delivery BEVs ultimately depends on the context of their intended use, but the high purchase cost has been extensively pointed out as a huge cost effectiveness barrier, and the need for incentives at this stage of the market seems like a recurring requirement for a viable business case.

Financial Incentives

The goal of financial incentives is to reduce the upfront costs of electric vehicles and charging equipment (IEA and EVI (2013)). One form is purchase subsidies granted upon buying the vehicle (Mock and Yang (2014)). An example of this is the California Hybrid Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) which provides up to $35,000 towards hybrid truck purchases and up to $50,000 towards battery electric truck purchases to be used in California (Parish and Pitkanen (2012)). Eligible vehicles can be found in CEPAARB (2014). Another similar program is the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program, which offers up to $60,000 for electric truck purchases to be used New York (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2014)).

Companies are also eligible to receive similar purchase subsidies for participating in demonstration or performance evaluation projects (US DOE (2013b)).

Overviews of tax exemptions related to electric vehicles can be found in IEA and EVI (2013), Mock and Yang (2014), ACEA (2014), and US DOE (2012a).

Companies Experimenting with BEVs In North America, large companies using battery electric delivery vehicles include FedEx, General Electric, Coca-Cola, UPS, Frito-Lay, Staples, Enterprise, Hertz and others (Electrification Coalition (2013b)). Frito-Lay alone has been operating 176 battery electric delivery trucks in North America since 2010 (US DOE (2014b)). Fedex also operates over 100 electric delivery trucks (Woody (2012)). Many U.S. companies which operate battery electric trucks have received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to cover a portion of the vehicles’ purchase costs (US DOE (2013b)).

BEVs in city logistics have often been used for parcel delivery, deliveries to stores, waste collection and home supermarket deliveries. A few notable private initiatives identified in the report include Deret’s 50 electric vans for last mile deliveries to city centers in France, UPS’s 12 Modec vehicles for parcel and post delivery in the UK and Germany, Tesco’s 15 Modec vehicles for on-line shopping deliveries in London, Sainsbury’s use of 19 electric vans for supermarket

Drivers expressed concerns regarding the reduction in payloads.

Delivered products include parcel, courier, textiles, fast food, bakery, hygienic articles and household articles.

Negative factors experienced included the required investments (vehicles and EVSE), reduced payloads, limited range, the effect of cold temperatures on range, imprecise marketed vehicle ranges, the lack of resources to fix technical problems, incompatibility of vehicles’ connectors with public charging infrastructure, and the need to train drivers to better adapt to the vehicles. All in all, the case studies indicated that the vehicles were found to be most adequate for last mile and night deliveries.

Electric Tricycles carrying up to 440 pounds (200 kg)

Electric tricycle

Electric tricycle

Urban consolidation centers (UCC) are logistic facilities multiple organizations use, close to the area they serve. UCCs using BEVs for last mile deliveries also often use smaller vehicles ideal for tight urban areas, which can lead to increases in vehicle kilometers per ton delivered (Allen et al. (2012)). These smaller vehicles are typically electric tricycles, which have payloads of up to 200 kg (AustriaTech 2014b) and low driving speeds. These tricycles can find parking locations more easily than larger vehicles, can often use bicycle lanes for faster access to customers in congested and pedestrian areas, and from a cost point of view are more affected by driver costs than purchase costs and utilization rates (Tipagornwong and Figliozzi 2014). Allen et al. (2007) present an example of the use of electric tricycles by a UCC. La Petite Reine used a consolidation center in the center of Paris for last mile deliveries of food products, flowers, parcels, and equipment/parts with electric tricycles with a maximum payload of 100 kg (220 pounds). The initial trial in 2003 was deemed a success, with monthly trips growing from 796 to 14,631 and the number of tricycles from seven to 19 in the first 24 months. Operations are now permanent and La Petite Reine operates three locations in Paris with over 70 collaborators, 80 tricycles, 15 electric light duty vehicles and 1 million deliveries per year (La Petite Reine 2013).

Nesterova et al. (2013) present two other cases of two phased deliveries in Paris integrating to some extent electric bikes and tricycles. The first is Chronopost International, which offers express delivery of parcels and uses two underground areas in Paris for sorting last mile deliveries. The parcels are first transported from their facility at the border of Paris to their underground areas, where they are sorted per route and distributed to customers by electric bikes and vans in inner Paris. The second is Distripolis, a delivery concept tested by road transport operator GEODIS. A depot in Bercy receives shipments from three organizations and delivers the packages under 200 kg to multiple UCCs in the city center of Paris (heavier packages are directly delivered to the receiver). From here, electric trucks and tricycles are used for the last mile deliveries of the light packages. Distripolis operated 10 light duty electric vehicles (Electron Electric truck, GVW 3.5 tons) and one electric tricycle in 2012, and aims at having 56 tricycles and 75 electric vehicles by 2015.

BESTFACT (2013) provides another case of two-phased deliveries with electric vehicles. Gnewt Cargo operates a transhipment facility for the last mile deliveries of an office supplies company in London (Office Depot). They use an 18 tons vehicle to transport parcels from the office supplies company warehouse in the suburbs of London to the transhipment center in the city, where the parcels are transferred onto electric vans and tricycles for final delivery to customers. Initially a trial in 2009, the company has permanently implanted this system because it involved no increases in operational costs, and it plans to implement similar delivery systems in other cities (Browne et al. (2011)).

Other Interesting Distribution Concepts for BEVs

An interesting experiment regarding last mile deliveries with BEVs can be found in the context of project STRAIGHTSOL, during which TNT Express integrated a mobile depot into their operations in Brussels with electric vehicles during the summer of 2013 (Nathanail et al. 2013), Anderson and Eidhammer 2013), Verlinde et al. 2014). A large trailer equipped as a mobile depot with typical depot facilities was loaded with parcels at TNT’s depot near the airport in the morning. Next it was towed by a truck to a dedicated parking spot in the city center, where last mile deliveries as well as pick-ups were made with electric tricycles by a Brussels courier company, which then returned to the mobile depot with the collected parcels. At the end of the day, the mobile depot was towed back to TNT’s depot, from where the collected parcels were shipped. Challenges included gaining exclusive access to the parking location for the mobile depot, significant increases in operating costs, and decreases in the punctuality of the deliveries and pickups (Johansen et al. 2014), Verlinde et al. 2014).

They could find a niche application in short haul port drayage operations (CALSTART 2013b). One example of this practice is found at the Port of Los Angeles, where 25 heavy duty battery electric drayage trucks manufactured by Balqon were tested for operational suitability. In exchange for the purchase of the trucks, Balqon agreed to locate its factory in L.A. and pay the port a royalty for future sales (EVI et al. (2012)). The Port of L.A. also tested similar heavy duty battery electric trucks from Transpower and U.S Hybrid, as well as a fuel cell heavy duty truck (Port of L.A. 2014).

Incentives still play a critical role in the business case of these vehicles, but the long-term unsustainability of certain financial incentives and recent trends suggest their imminent phasing out (Bernhart et al. 2014) will require that these vehicles be cost competitive independent of such incentives. One could argue that these vehicles are not ready for this challenge, in view of current cost dynamics, recent financial setbacks of key industry players, often resulting in discontinued vehicle models (Schmouker 2012), Shankleman 2011), Truckinginfo 2013), Everly 2014), Torregrossa 2014)).

The market take-up of electric vehicles in urban freight transport is very slow, because costs are high compared to conventional vehicles and companies are still uncertain about the maturity of the technology and about the availability of charging infrastructure.

The worst possible use of an e-truck is daily mileage less than 40 km, never needs to return to the base, has little chance of charging while on operations, needs to be charged in 20 minutes or less, carry a full load equal to a diesel truck, carries the full load all day, goes the same speed much of the day, travels on freeways, hilly terrain, and charges at peak load. The best possible use of EV is 60+ km/day, returns to the base to recharge 3 to 6 times a day for 30 minutes a day, carries half a load, has very high variations in speeds traveled in flat urban areas and only charges off-peak.

Financially at least 50% public subsidies pay for it

At present, lithium ion batteries are most often used in electric freight vehicles with a current battery lifetime of 1000 to 2000 cycles (approximately 6 years). Also, the kilometer range declines over time, which may reduce peak power capacity and energy density. For these reasons electric vehicles are currently most suitable for daily urban distribution activities as the battery energy density is too low for regular long haul applications. At the moment, lithium ion batteries last for four years; however, practical experience has shown that the average period of use is only two years. Improvements in battery powered trucks are expected within five years in terms of the cost and durability of batteries.


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8 Responses to Diesel is finite. Trucks are the bedrock of civilization. So where are the battery electric trucks?

  1. Nathanael says:

    None of these are significant. The bus market is being replaced with electric buses as we speak. The short-haul truck market, which has nearly identical duty cycle characteristics, will take a year or two longer.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Cars, light trucks, and buses are irrelevant to preventing collapse. Short-haul trucks are triple the cost of a diesel equivalent on average, and at least 10 times more than a used short-haul trucks. They’re only on the roads at all because of HUGE state and federal subsidies from clean-air programs that make up the difference in cost between electric and diesel vehicles:

      Maker Model Battery-kWh Year GVWR $-Electric truck $-Conv truck $-Diff Times-more-cost
      AMP trucks walk-in Van 100 2013 19,500 $133,000 $ 58,000 $ 75,000 2.3
      BYD Motors K9M Bus 2014 39,683 $850,000 $422,000 $428,000 2.0
      BYD Motors T5 2016 16,100 $165,000 $ 47,888 $117,112 3.4
      BYD Motors T7 2016 23,600 $195,000 $ 84,995 $110,005 2.3
      BYD Motors T9 2016 120,000 $300,000 $117,500 $182,500 2.6
      BYD Motors Package Truck 2016 23,500 $175,000 $ 83,343 $ 91,657 2.1
      Motiv Power FE4 80 2014 14,500 $181,000 $ 29,605 $151,395 6.1
      Motiv Power FE4 100 2014 14,500 $195,000 $ 29,605 $165,395 6.6
      Motiv Power FE4 120 2014 14,500 $212,000 $ 29,605 $182,395 7.2
      New Flyer XE40 100-300 2015 44,312 $750,000-$920,000 $465,000 $285,000-$455,000 1.6-2.0
      New Flyer XE 35 100-200 2015 44,312 $735,000 – $825,000 $450,000 $285,000-$375,000 1.6 -1.8
      New Flyer XE60 100-300 2015 69,000 $1,075,000-$1,210,000 $745,000 $330,000-$465,000 1.4-1.6
      Proterra Inc BE40 Bus 2014 39,500 $825,000 $635,000 $190,000 1.3
      Trans Tech Bus SSTe 2015 14,500 $180,000 $ 60,000 $120,000 3.0
      Zenith Motors Cargo Van 136″ 52 2015 10,050 $ 92,900 $ 32,500 $ 60,400 2.9
      Zenith Motors Shuttle Van 52 2015 10,050 $ 92,900 $ 33,595 $ 59,305 2.8
      Zenith Motors Cargo Van 136″ 62 2015 10,050 $ 97,900 $ 35,595 $ 62,305 2.8
      Zenith Motors Shuttle Van 52 2016 10,050 $109,000 $ 37,204 $ 71,796 2.9
      Zenith Motors Cargo Van “159” 52 2016 10,050 $ 99,000 $ 37,364 $ 61,636 2.6
      Zenith Motors Cargo Van “136” 52 2016 10,050 $ 99,000 $ 32,419 $ 66,581 3.1

      Table 1. Cost of electric trucks versus diesel equivalents (ICEV). Source: 2016 New York State Electric Vehicle – Voucher Incentive Fund VEHICLE ELIGIBILITY LIST. https://truck-vip.ny.gov/NYSEV-VIF-vehicle-list.php

  2. Nathanael says:

    Oh. And long-haul trucks shouldn’t exist; long hauls belong on rail.

    • energyskeptic says:

      80% of communities are served ONLY by trucks because there are 4.1 million miles of roads but only 95,000 route miles of rail tracks. I too would like to see more rail, but all of the rail companies are privately owned, and more than any other industry they have to plow most of their profits back into maintaining their rail lines. Yet roads, airports, ocean and river ports are all publicly subsidized, which puts rail at even more of a disadvantage. And rail can only be put where there is ideally less than a 1% grade, though there are 2% grades, and in cities many of the right-of-ways now have buildings on top of them. Future plans all revolve around ghg emissions, not energy efficiency, and endless growth rather than trying to consume less fossil fuel.

  3. Raymond Kaiser says:

    For the drayage trucks, hydrogen might be a good bet.

    • energyskeptic says:

      The port looked into this and found that hydrogen fuel cell technology was very far from being commercial. Hydrogen is like a battery – it has ZERO energy. In fact, the hydrogen made today uses a lot of fossil energy in every step: splitting hydrogen from oxygen uses energy, compressing or liquefying hydrogen uses energy, building the extremely expensive storage tanks and pipelines to store and move it uses a lot of energy (special metals are required because hydrogen embrittles regular tanks and pipelines, and gaskets and seals to keep this smallest element from escaping). Delivery uses energy. Putting the hydrogen into a fuel cell or tank uses energy. And there is no distribution system for hydrogen, that too would take a huge amount of energy. See the topic hydrogen in the energy category for details.

  4. Andy says:

    This week I came across a highly optimistic view of the battery market. The piece ends as following:

    “Batteries are an enabling technology for zero-carbon energy to achieve deep penetration in both the transportation and power sector. For that reason, they’ll be a special focus of my ongoing series, “Almost Everything You Know About Climate Change Solutions Is Outdated.”

    Finally, the battery miracle is so transformational, it is driving NASA, Airbus, and many other plane manufacturers toward electrification of air travel, as I’ll discuss in my next piece.”

    Here’s the link…

    The comments section has some additional links to electric powered trucks using supercapacitors or hybrid electric-gas turbine drivetrains:




    My knowledge on the subject is restricted so I would love to hear comments on the viability of Wrightspeed’s technology.

    Thanks for the great blog.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Joe Romm in the first link, talks about MONEY, not a revolutionary battery technology improvement. There have been tens of thousands of articles like this over the past decades. Yet batteries are still only 5 times more powerful than the first batteries invented 200 years ago. And the battery management system will suck up half of any improvements made in the future. Nor is “peak lithium” considered. If energy storage of electricity is attempted, that will suck up all of the lithium reserves quickly! See my book “When trucks stop running” for details, and posts at energyskeptic. And recycling is an issue as well. And the price of electricity is likely to skyrocket in the future, we burned through the best fracked natural gas drilling spots, and before we did that, the U.S. was in a crisis over declining conventional natural gas supplies, and we’ll soon be back there again ans fracked natural gas wells decline 85% within 3 years and we’ve gotten the good stuff. Coal production peaked decades ago as well. Oh well, too big a topic, but I have many posts covering all of the issues you raised.

      I read a great deal about this kind of charging system before writing “When trucks stop running” and didn’t mention it because this technology only works for buses that run one at a time at some interval, perhaps 10 minutes. There can be 10,000 heavy-duty drayage trucks on the I710 corridor at any time, and they are much heavier than a bus, and would require an insane amount of electricity. I’m working on a post about that now.

      The Nikola hybrid truck is NOT EVEN BUILT YET, NOT EVEN A PROTOTYPE, and the price will be $375,000! This is a classic scam to raise money. And in reality, who will buy it? A used diesel truck is $3,000, a new one $100,000. A long-haul truck is the WORST candidate to be a battery hybrid, they don’t stop and start enough. Also, truckers hate CNG. It only takes them 1/4 as far as diesel. There is very little infrastructure for it, and what exists is for medium-duty delivery trucks, mainly at private locations. The distance is 320 km DEPENDING ON THE LOAD. A chart of how far at 20, 40, 60, and 80,000 pounds ought to be provided. Nor does it say how long it will take the battery to charge. They can say a class 3 charger will do it in half an hour, but no one is doing this because there is a good chance it will shorten battery life. You should read http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/advanced-cars/electric-truck-startup-nikola-motors-claims-23-billion-preorder-before-prototype-is-even-ready which says “As you might expect from a startup, all of this stuff sounds pretty great. But we’re obligated to point out that there are a lot of grand plans but little in the way of execution. Furthermore, this level of hype always makes us vaguely suspicious, especially when the one number that we can actually fact check, the preorder amount, is at best confusing and at worst deceptive. That “$2.3 billion in presales” refers to 7,000(ish) deposits to reserve a truck worth approximately $375,000. But each deposit is a fully refundable $1,500—not the full $375,000—meaning that Nikola Motors has received slightly over $10 million. It’s a significant amount of money, but that $2.3 billion isn’t really meaningful at this point. Nikola Motors says that it will unveil the Nikola One prototype on 2 December in Salt Lake City, Utah. And if it’s everything Nikola Motors says it is (or even mostly everything), we’ll certainly be impressed. Technology like this could be an enormous benefit for the trucking industry. However, as with all things that seem just a little bit too good, we’ll be reserving our judgement and excitement until Nikola manages to deliver on its promises.”

      Wrightspeed is very clever, it will be interesting to see what they come up with, but it’s all talk! There has to be a revolutionary battery breakthrough for this to succeed and that will be hard to do: