Class 8 electric tractors are quietly making history in California though predictably, as with most cutting-edge technology, there’s been some bumps along the way.
Commercial Carrier Journal talked to three trucking companies cast into challenging and rewarding roles as pioneers alongside deeply invested truck manufacturers, all of whom are eager to learn the strengths and weaknesses of some of the world’s largest battery-powered trucks.
In Northern California, GSC Logistics is operating electric BYD 8TT tractors while NFI and Penske Truck Leasing are putting pre-production Freightliner eCascadias to work in Southern California.
All three companies continue to generate valuable data at a time when the state—home to the nation’s most productive shipping ports—has mandated the transition to zero-emission commercial vehicles starting in 2024. By 2045, all new trucks and vans sold there will have to be zero emission.
As a result, more carriers are now lining up to get the jump on zero emissions which can prove to be a tall task for all concerned.
“We’ve got all kinds of inquiries, more than we can handle and we just try and work through them the best we can,” said Paul Rosa, senior vice president of procurement and fleet planning at Penske Truck Leasing.
“In some cases, it’s more inquisitive and they want to try it out for a day or so,” Rosa continued. “Well that’s not the easiest thing to do because we don’t make it available like a rental vehicle. This is a very specific one that requires driver orientation, safety, orientation and so on. You invest a decent amount of time for anyone that will be going into it so it’s not meant for a one-day, or two-day trial. It’s meant for many weeks if not a month or more.”
As with other alt fuel commercial vehicles, grants play a major role in electric truck acquisition particularly in California where the state has rolled out generous incentives to help fleets meet upcoming deadlines.
“When we look at mass adoption of electric trucks, the only way it will work right now, and the only way we’re able to do what we’re able to do, is because of the incentives the State of California has and the State of California knows what it’s doing when it comes to certain things like this,” said Jim O’Leary, vice-president of fleet services for NFI.
Utilities have also gotten on board as well to help fleets make the transition to charging their trucks instead of fueling them up with internal combustion fuels, namely diesel. The critical role utilities play in rolling out electric trucks will only grow as more EVs hit the road, especially Class 8 trucks that can quickly max out a carrier’s power supply.
“The problem we’re going to have adding trucks is really finding more electrical power,” said Brandon Taylor, GSC Logistics director of transportation which is operating three BYD 8TT tractors at the Port of Oakland. “We’re tapped out at our building. Our building is an old World War II warehouse. There’s a lot of power running into it but our panel is tapped out.”
When it comes to work, electric trucks still can’t come close to competing with diesel. Of course that could change in an instant if the right battery technology come along. For now, the key to success is keeping these battery-powered beasts on a short leash with loads they can handle. And with such a diverse range of products coming out of California’s bustling ports, there are a lot of loads that make sense.
“There was going to be some payload that was going to be compromised but you identify the use cases,” said Rosa. “It’s not that a customer had to…