Getting Charged Up About Cleaner Trucks.
by Ruben Aronin, Assistant Director, California Green Business Alliance
Consumers have been hearing about the economic and environmental benefits of hybrid and electric cars for years (the upcoming LA Auto Show will feature the introduction of over two dozen all-electric or plug-in electric models) and the Toyota Prius hybrid was recently named the best-selling car in California.
Interestingly, one of the more polluting vehicles on our roadways – diesel trucks – are also going electric, but there hasn’t been as much coverage of the emerging electric vehicle (EV) truck sector. Fortunately, businesses and truck manufacturers are starting to pay attention to the financial and performance benefits of EV and hybrid-electric trucks and over 1,000 are already on the road here in California thanks to companies including Frito-Lay, FedEx, UPS, and Coca-Cola.
Similar to passenger cars, these new trucks come in different versions: a standard hybrid like a Prius, a plug-in hybrid such as the Chevy Volt, pure electric like the Nissan Leaf, as well as natural gas and hydraulic hybrids. Given the varied choices and different pros and cons to each type, consumers need to determine which is right for them.
CALSTART President and CEO John Boesel (CALSTART is a Business Alliance member) has been advocating for the electrification of trucks for the last 20 years and is particularly excited about the future. “The combination of technological innovations and 20 years of experience is dovetailing with incentive programs, the unpredictability of gasoline prices, and people’s desire to live in a clean state with healthy air. Concern over the underlying technology in electric, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid trucks is no longer the issue, it is now a question of dollars and cents,” said Boesel. As with any new technology, the initial cost for electric trucks is still higher than conventional trucks and reducing the cost will require getting the technology to scale. This means government incentives are a key factor in getting large-scale adoption of electric trucks.
Amp Electric Vehicles President Steve Burns recently said, “We firmly believe that there are pockets of our transportation sector that will leave petroleum much earlier than others and are well suited for electric power. Ninety percent of the medium sized operators…typically drive less than 100 miles per day, and usually on the same roads, taking the same turns. Because they have predictable routes, these types of deployments don’t worry about running out of charge. And most important, because they get such poor gas mileage, the payback on electric modification is usually in the three- to four-year range. The surprising truth is that although an all-electric costs more at the beginning, on a 10-year cost basis, they are at least $100,000 cheaper than the air-polluting, climate-changing diesels that fill the roads these days.”
With many conventional diesel trucks getting under 10 miles per gallon, it’s easy to see how expensive they can be to operate. Given that most companies keep a truck for over 10 years, the significant fuel savings from owning a clean truck can often justify the higher initial price especially when paired with government incentive programs.
While battery cost and range issues will need to continue to improve for broad-scale deployment, the existing alternative-fueled trucks are already a great option for numerous truck fleets. California’s clean vehicle standards and policies like the state’s clean energy and climate law, AB 32, are driving business owners to become early-adopters.
Today, while there are over 1,000 electric and hybrid trucks on the road in California, there are still nearly one million diesel trucks operated around the state that cost more to operate every year, and also contribute to the states’s air pollution problems. For California businesses, purchasing an alternative-fuel truck is an opportunity to get charged up about.