• Electric Vehicles
  • Electric Trucks
  • Commercial Electric Vehicles
  • Decarbonization

Electric Trucks Accelerate along the Learning Curve

Scott Shepard
Mar 11, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

With EVs spreading quickly through global car and bus markets, governments are pressing to see the same for commercial trucks. A notable mark of the trend, the California Air Resources Board introduced the world’s first zero emissions rule for trucks in June 2019. The rule mandates greater shares of zero emissions truck sales over time and is likely to be adopted by other states and replicated in other countries. Meanwhile, a broad and growing range of corporations are declaring their interest in seeing suppliers decarbonize.

Considering the trends, Mike Gerty, Advanced Powertrain Manager of the global truck maker, PACCAR, explains, “Some of the fleets we’re talking to see that there’s going to be a customer drive … Other [fleets] see the regulations coming and don’t want to be caught flat-footed.”

Fleets Face Electrification Challenges

Although there are powerful drivers to electrify, the challenges for fleet managers to do so are significant. Besides concerns about technology reliability, driver familiarity, and how charging time will affect operational schedules, the greatest concerns are tied to capital. 

Upfront costs for electric trucks and charging infrastructure eat into capital to maintain fleet turnover rates. This effect has cascading impacts on how fleet managers control repair costs, maintain predictable vehicle up-times, and ensure driver satisfaction. Unfortunately, the championed operational savings of electrification, lower energy costs, and likely lower maintenance costs, are not that helpful here.

Mindful of the challenges, fleets are moving forward. Gerty describes current market adoption rates “as part of the learning curve,” wherein fleets, looking to become familiar with the technology before making a larger investment, will take on “one or two electric trucks.”

For its part, industry is also on the learning curve. A viable electric replacement for diesel has significant upfront costs and needs a stack of technologies and services (many emerging and others more established) with brief histories working together. Fleet electrification requires the electric trucks, chargers, and after-sales services as well as power automation for energy management between the meter and the EV’s charger. The latter includes distributed energy resources and microgrid technologies and will be increasingly important as fleet electrification scales. 

Partnerships Build the Business Case for Electrification

The technology stack size and complexity can be a turn-off for customers. As such, EV industry vendors often adopt vertically integrated solutions to simplify EV adoption. This approach presents conveniences, but it has risks such as vendor lock-in and asset stranding. As such, PACCAR has approached the market more collaboratively with electrical engineering company Faith Technologies and a long-time leader in power systems technologies, Schneider Electric.

The partnership retains the one-stop-shop benefit of the vertically integrated approach and produces advantages on costs and services. Namely, cost markups from subcontracting are avoided and fleet managers have direct access “to the people doing the work,” Gerty says.

The partnership also builds a stronger business case for fleet electrification, which can then lead to new revenue for the provision of grid services. Companies like Schneider Electric have been innovating smart grid technologies for buildings and industry for years. Bringing Schneider Electric’s solutions into the fold commercializes electrification value-adds such as improved resilience via the ability to integrate onsite energy resources and reduced energy costs via vehicle grid integration. Bobbi Dillow, Director, Automotive & EMobility Segment at Schneider Electric describes, “By providing our power systems expertise and expanding Energy as a Service capabilities with advanced microgrids, we can help PACCAR meet the evolving needs of fleets and truck operators, while further enhancing environmental sustainability today and into the future.” 

Ultimately, partnerships like this are a sign that the industry is maturing and that perhaps the vertically integrated approaches of the past can start to be dismantled. Doing so will help industry move toward lower cost, scalable solutions easier for mass market adoption.