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50% of the US' Class 8 trucks are all-electric compatible, study claims

5/19/2022

Hundreds of thousands of Class 8 trucks could be converted to all-electric with relative ease, a new study says.

With the vast majority of commercial trucks using diesel as a power source — and prices at the gas pump at all-time highs — motor carriers and logistics firms are in a full-on sprint to rein in their costs to offset how much they're spending on gasoline. Many are contemplating overhauling their fleet of big rigs so that they can run on electricity. But the expense of such a move, in addition to the downtime that it would undoubtedly entail, has prevented stakeholders from seriously considering the switch to renewable energy.

A new study, however, suggests that electrifying tractor trailers may not be too heavy of a lift after all.

Approximately half of the nation's Class 8 trucks whose engines run on diesel can be replaced with all-electric batteries without substantially changing the vehicles' infrastructure. That's according to a newly released report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).

Class 8 trucks — which by definition weigh approximately 33,000 pounds, the heaviest of all the truck classes — are among the most widely used on the nation's highways and byways. Currently, there are approximately 2 million Class 8 tractors that are registered for use in the U.S. for all freight transportation segments, according to the report. And of the 930,000 Class 8's that operate on regional highways, 468,000 have the systems in place to transform to all-electric.

Rich Mihelic, who directs emerging technologies at NACFE and co-authored the study, noted that 50% is a substantial number and may serve as a potential long-term solution to skyrocketing energy prices.

"Battery-electric vehicles cannot replace all diesels, but they can replace a significant share of regional-haul ones, where the driver and truck return to base each day, where loads are usually cubed out, or in the case of beverage deliveries, the daily distances are not very long."

Over 80% anticipate growth in all-electric trucks
While all-electric trucks are far from being widespread, an increasing number of fleets are investing in the technology. Indeed, according to a Gladstein, Neandross & Associates report obtained by FleetOwner, approximately 85% of motor carriers anticipate zero-emissions technology to grow in popularity. In other words, battery-powered trucks are not just a fad; they're the future.

At the same time, though, Class 8 battery-electric trucks have some limitations that traditionally powered Class 8s do not. As the American Transportation Research Institute pointed out in its own report, the sheer size of these trucks limits their ability to drive farther on one charge and depending upon how they're configured with their batteries, they may be cost prohibitive for smaller or midsize motor carriers.

However, more household name brands are kicking the tires on all-electric fleets. Anheuser-Busch, Biago Bros. and Penske all participated in a demonstration hosted by the NACFE in 2021. The American Trucking Associations also champions their use for the environmental benefits, but warns that they need to make economic sense for the trade association to fully support.

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