This week: An ACT Research report finds some stunning news comparing the total cost of ownership of battery-electric and diesel trucks; Nikola is deploying high-power remote chargers to bridge the gap to a more robust truck charging infrastructure; and a Kenworth customer reports on its takeaways from participating in a fuel cell pilot program.

Leveling the playing field

If you’re wondering when electric vehicles, whose prices are up to three times higher than diesel trucks, will reach total-cost-of-ownership parity with diesel, ACT Research has the answer.

They already have.

“Power Up,” the research firm’s exhaustive study of battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks, forecasts electric truck demand from 2021 to 2040 based on TCO and return on investment. The study’s author, ACT Research Vice President Ann Rundle, was stunned by one particular outcome.

“If your criteria is strictly looking at total cost of ownership, the answer is 72% of those vehicle applications across all regions are already at a positive TCO,” Rundle told me.

Yes, those trucks skew to the lower gross vehicle weights in the U.S. Last-mile and pickup-and-delivery trucks that return to base for overnight charging and don’t require direct-current (DC) fast charging dominate the early years. But ACT forecasts that 100% of battery-electrics will have a TCO advantage over diesel by 2030.

The growth in battery-electric trucks looks like a hockey stick. (Source: ACT Research)

separate study by Roush conducted for the Environmental Defense Fund and released this week found that TCO parity between medium- and heavy-duty battery-electric and diesel trucks would be reached in 2027.

In Europe, where diesel fuel costs almost twice as much as in the U.S. — even with the recent inflationary run-up jacking prices to 2014 levels — ACT found the high cost of diesel fuel works in electricity’s favor for heavy-duty trucks used in regional hauling.

ACT did not consider incentives, like California’s hybrid and electric voucher program that can shave 35% off the upfront cost of an electric truck, in its calculations. Vouchers and other spiffs are too fickle to count on, though study purchasers get an Excel spreadsheet to calculate costs after incentives.

“The reason we don’t factor [incentives] in is because an incentive might be here today and gone tomorrow.” Rundle said. “China is the poster child for this. Light motor vehicles had all sorts of incentives and they ripped those away. They also did it on buses. Battery-electric bus volume is dropping because the Chinese government has been pulling subsidies.”

Then, there’s infrastructure

ACT assumed that every truck it counted needed to have its own behind-the-fence charger. That is extremely conservative since yard tractors and other early electric trucks often share a charger. 

For the most part, these trucks can get by on Level 2 charging, which delivers juice slower and less expensively overnight than DC fast charging, which can get pricey because of demand charges that utilities assess for drawing power when the electric grid is under a heavy load.

“We wanted to err on the conservative side so it didn’t look like we were puffing up numbers for electrification,” Rundle said.

ACT counts on private and public charging being in the infrastructure mix. Class 8 battery-electric daycabs from legacy manufacturers like Daimler Truck and startups like Nikola will need DC fast charging to get the most out of today’s 200-to-300-mile range between charging. 

Unlike some dire projections for electric infrastructure, including one recent FreightWaves’ analysis, Rundle sees glimmers of hope, including two utility-led initiatives: 

Charger availability, public and private, will be key to keeping electric trucks rolling. (Photo: ChargePoint)

Power to go 

We know Nikola is beginning to deliver its battery-electric Tre cabover to customers. It is also delivering the charging, not fixed installations but mobile charging trailers with one or two 175-kilowatt direct current fast chargers.

Working with Australia’s Tritium, Nikola has ordered 20 trailers for early customers and dealer partners to make up for a lack of public infrastructure to bridge the six to 12 months it takes to get permits for permanent chargers. 

One mobile charging trailer equipped with a single charger can charge two to three trucks a day. To get the state of charge from 20% to 80% takes about 2½ hours per truck.

Getting power to the chargers requires a 480-volt three-phase connection to the grid or a mobile power source like a generator set consisting of a generator and an engine. Depending on the fuel used in the GENSET, the zero-emission value of running on battery power is reduced.

If the name Tritium rings a bell, it is because the company was in the news this week when President Joe Biden announced a new Tritium manufacturing plant near Nashville, Tennessee, that is expected to produce as many as 30,000 electric-vehicle chargers annually and create 500 jobs.

Mobile charging trailers are the interim solution for Nikola battery-electric trucks until infrastructure catches up. (Photo: Nikola)

About those fuel cells

Southern Counties Express, the first fleet to try out Kenworth T680 Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks, has wrapped up its drayage demonstrations in the Port of Los Angeles.

So, how did it go?

“The Kenworth T680 FCET was regularly in operation from Monday to Friday, and occasionally during weekends. It was used only on the morning shift, which usually starts at 5 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m.,” said Ivan Hernandez, dispatch supervisor for the Rancho Dominguez, California-based provider of drayage, logistics and warehousing.

The truck covered two main runs — to and from the BNSF Railway yard in Commerce and then to a customer warehouse in Rancho Dominguez. The second run was back and forth from the customer’s warehouse to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In all, the truck traveled 3,600 miles.

Drivers liked the overall quietness of the truck compared to diesel.

It was the first of 10 FCETs that Kenworth delivered last year under an $82.5 million demo program. Others still operating the trucks include Toyota Logistics Services, Total Transportation Systems Inc. and UPS.

A Kenworth T680 powered by Toyota’s fuel cells. (Photo: Toyota)

Best of the rest

Cummins Inc. has elected Jennifer Rumsey, president and chief operating officer, to its board of directors. She was promoted to her current role overseeing Cummins’ global operations last March.

The Port of Long Beach is looking for interested parties to install 100 electric chargers at four sites within the port. Getting more electric trucks into and out of the port with less pollution is the goal of the Clean Air Action Plan Update, the shipping industry’s most aggressive effort to reduce the environmental impacts of goods movement.

Mack Trucks and Mack Financial Services are offering an all-inclusive vehicle-as-a-service program to make buying or leasing the Mack LR Electric battery electric truck easier. For one monthly payment, the program covers the chassis, the garbage truck body, applicable taxes and a comprehensive vehicle protection plan. Mack did not disclose the cost.