Fleet Deployment Will Drive Future of Mobility
Momentum equals mass times velocity. Today, electric and autonomous commercial vehicles have momentum in a way that hasn’t been seen since their technology was incepted. Climate change has intensified our desire for a future with zero emissions as COVID-19-related supply shocks have intensified our desire for faster, automated supply chains.
But how do we show tangible results in 2021 and 2022 that create the business case for rapid scaling of new EV and AV technologies in 2023 and beyond? Results that bridge the gap between today and where we’re going tomorrow?
The simple answer is commercial fleets. Medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks will usher in this new era of mobility. The business case is simpler, and the routes are more predictable than passenger cars. But, like anything that’s worth having, it’s not going to be easy.
Case in point, one of the first executive orders announced by the Biden administration was to replace 645,000 federal fleet vehicles with American-made EVs. A great initiative, both for carbon neutrality and U.S. manufacturing job creation, but most experts predict this fleet overhaul will take years before completion.
Likewise, the USPS recently announced an overhaul of its fleet – the first in three decades – will begin with 10% of the fleet being electric vs. internal-combustion-engine vehicles before fully transitioning to all-electric down the line.
For fleet owners and electrification-focused supply chains, transitioning fleets to electric is an enormous, layered commercial opportunity. Strong public-private partnerships are imperative to these efforts and are the mechanism by which fleet electrification is successful.
The focus on medium-duty fleet electrification is strategic as it will have the greatest near-term impact on air quality in the most affected areas of the country. And it will drive demand for advanced battery technologies. This will lead to innovations that will lower EV component manufacturing costs and bring about EV price parity (which is the largest barrier to EV adoption).
It will be critically important to educate audiences like small business fleet owners and school districts on the benefits of switching from diesel to electric. Businesses and school districts have such compelling cost-saving stories. Using an electric medium-duty bus instead of a diesel bus could save a district $6,000 per seat, or some $230,000 per bus, over a 14-year lifespan. States like Michigan are leaning into this conversion. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has even created a new grant program to flip school buses from diesel to electric.
As far as work vehicles, light-duty truck transition can guide efforts with medium-duty. ~60% of Ford F-150 pickup buyers, many of whom use their vehicles for business, chose more fuel-efficient V-6 engines in 2020 if given the opportunity. This is evidence that the industry and targeted programming can convert small business owners.
For heavy-duty trucks, much like airplanes, they will be harder to electrify. In a recent blog post, Bill Gates points out that “the problem is that batteries are big and heavy. The more weight you’re trying to move, the more batteries you need to power the vehicle. But the more batteries you use, the more weight you add—and the more power you need. Even with big breakthroughs in battery technology, electric vehicles will probably never be a practical solution for things like 18-wheelers, cargo ships and passenger jets. Electricity works when you need to cover short distances, but we need a different solution for heavy, long-haul vehicles.”
However, all is not lost in these heavy-duty situations. There are solutions that can be leveraged. Michigan-based Remora has created hardware-based technology that captures the carbon emissions from a semi-truck and sells the captured carbon dioxide to concrete producers and…