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Q&A With Our Director of EV Development on the State of the Electric Trucking Industry

November 30, 2022 Electric Vehicles Author: Rush Truck Centers Read Time: 11 Min

The power sources and technologies that fuel America’s trucking industry are rapidly evolving. From renewable natural gas (RNG) and electric batteries to hydrogen fuel cells and everything in between, truck owners have more options than ever when it comes to powering their fleet. The move toward sustainable fuel sources and advanced technologies within the trucking industry isn’t a new trend, but with an increasingly complex regulatory environment and rising diesel costs, fleets are beginning to realize that the time to look toward updating and electrifying their fleets is now.

As interest among truck and fleet owners grows, vehicle and engine manufacturers are releasing more RNG and electric options that aim to reduce owner operating costs, meet state and national emissions requirements, and overall improve sustainability. While the benefits of switching from diesel-powered trucks to alternative fuels are enticing, it’s important to understand how these new technologies may be adapted into different applications and which are best for meeting your unique business goals.

We talked to Rush Enterprises Director of EV Development Colter Souser to get his take on the current state of the electric trucking industry and the options available as well as what advice he has for truck and fleet owners starting down their path toward electrification and, ultimately, zero emissions.

Question: The pressure to make the switch to more sustainable options is growing. What is your take on the current state of the electric vehicle trucking industry? Is it advancing fast enough?

Souser: The electric vehicle (EV) trucking industry is an exciting new space that is evolving very rapidly, but there is still a mountain of work to do. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will seamlessly drop into some applications, while other vocations will need to make major changes to the way work is performed. There are many hurdles to overcome, but the industry is diligently working to resolve these as fast as it can. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global electric truck market was valued at $392.3 million in 2020 and is projected to reach $3,861.8 million in just 10 years.

The question of whether the electric truck industry is advancing fast enough is a tricky one. I believe it is for the types of routes/use cases where BEVs will fit, but I also don’t believe it’s a good practice to force the technology into an application where it is not well suited.

At Rush Truck Centers, we believe the correct approach is to match every application with the correct fuel type to get the job done most efficiently. Diesel is going to be around for a long time, but between electric and renewable natural gas (RNG) trucks, I believe there are few applications that do not have an alternative fuel option that can perform the task at hand.

Q: What should customers consider as they look to make the switch from diesel to more sustainable options?

A: There are several considerations to take into account when looking at purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle. First and foremost is your driving interest behind making the switch. Is the goal to reduce your carbon footprint? Lower your cost of ownership? Prepare for pending regulation? Diversify your fleet? All of these are great reasons to make the transition to alternative fuels, but some technologies are going to be better suited than others for accomplishing different goals.

Truck and fleet owners should also ask themselves if an alternative fuel vehicle will be able to do the job it is expected to perform. The worst thing we can do as a partner to our customers is put a vehicle with an alternative fuel engine in an application for which it is not suited. We are very fortunate that we have inventory available with varied powertrain options and are able to match the correct solution to each unique scenario. At Rush Truck Centers, our goal is and always has been to enable our customers to succeed in their business the best way possible.

Q: What innovations are on the horizon for the electric vehicle industry? What can customers look forward to in the coming years?

A: There is change coming to many different aspects of alternative fuel and electric vehicles. Consumers can expect to see different battery chemistries and configurations aiming to decrease the weight of trucks, bring additional vehicle range, increase battery life and adjust charging speeds to match user charging time requirements.

Other innovations on the horizon include the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell offerings to provide zero-emission options for truck owners who require a longer range. Manufacturers are also working on plug-in hybrid trucks that will have an effective all-electric range paired with an internal combustion range extender to charge the batteries when more mileage is needed.

Engine manufacturers are also working on larger natural gas engines that will produce horsepower and torque ratings that lend themselves to more applications than the current 9- and 12-liter natural gas options.

Q: What are the biggest barriers preventing truck and fleet owners from making the switch from diesel to battery electric or natural gas vehicles?

A: The biggest barriers to the adoption of battery electric trucks or natural gas vehicles include the perception of the technology, purchase price, vehicle capabilities and range, and charging/fueling accessibility.

Perception of Sustainable Technology

With the adoption of any new technology, people fall into several different buckets — anywhere from visionaries all the way to skeptics. Visionaries see the potential for the technology to work and are going to be on the leading edge of deployments. Skeptics are going to be on the opposite end of the spectrum with the “that will never work” mindset.

The majority of the trucking industry is going to fall into the pragmatist category, making their decisions based on more practical considerations. For alternative fuels to really take off, the industry will need to remain open-minded and willing to grow alongside the evolving technology.

Truck Purchase and Fuel Prices

Both RNG and EV trucks are currently going to carry a higher initial price than diesel trucks. The comparison we like to use with customers is that diesel trucks are the cheapest in terms of initial purchase price, but also have the highest fuel costs. RNG trucks fall in the middle with fuel costs that are cheaper than diesel trucks but more expensive than electric options. EVs are going to carry the highest initial purchase price but will offer the cheapest fuel costs in many cases.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the purchase price of a vehicle is really just the tip of the iceberg when looking at the total cost of ownership. In many instances, if you take a holistic look at a vehicle and the associated costs over a lifetime of use, whether that be fuel, maintenance, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), brakes, oil changes, aftertreatment maintenance, transmission maintenance, etc., you can save a substantial amount of money with an alternative fuel engine. Being able to convey these very complex calculations to our customers is where Rush Truck Centers excels in the alternative fuel space.

Total Unit Cost comparison chart for diesel, natural gas and electric trucks

Vehicle Capabilities

Diesel trucks have been around for a long time and are capable of handling some of the longest and hardest jobs. In fact, very few technologies will be able to match them when considering the boundary cases, such as the need for 100,000+ lbs. GVWR or 1,500+ miles of range with easily accessible fueling stations every couple of miles.

Saying you will have to make concessions to add alternative fuel vehicles to your fleet is not the correct mindset; however, there are circumstances where they won’t be desirable due to either an increase in weight, a decrease in operational range or the inability to achieve a particular weight rating. The good news is there are important advancements in the works.

EV Charging/Fueling Accessibility

When comparing how a company operates an alternative fuel vehicle to a diesel engine-powered truck, you are going to see some major differences. Diesel is one of the most prevalent fuels in America, with more than 40,000 truck stops nationwide, and is unmatched by either RNG or electric charging stations in quantity and fueling speed.

RNG trucks can be fueled almost as quickly as diesel trucks, but there are currently only around 900 fueling stations in the U.S. Electric trucks require several hours to charge, and there are currently no publicly accessible charging stations for Class 6–8 vehicles.

Many CNG customers are installing their own filling stations, and all of our EV customers are installing their own charging stations. This is just an additional level of complexity when considering adding alternative fuel trucks to your fleet. Neither is a complete nonstarter, but just something people aren’t used to navigating.

Q: How are emissions regulations currently affecting the EV industry? What are some of the biggest challenges truck and fleet owners are facing due to stricter emissions standards?

A: Pending regulations are a key purchase factor for many looking to invest in alternative fuel and electric trucks, particularly in states that have adopted either the California Air Resources Board’s Heavy-Duty Low NOx (oxides of nitrogen) Omnibus or Advanced Clean Truck/Advanced Clean Fleets regulations. The regulations are going to do many things, from driving increased complexity into internal combustion to mandating zero-emission vehicle sales by manufacturers and purchases by fleets.

These regulations are presenting major challenges for large fleets as they navigate how they will be affected, what the complex regulations truly mean for their business, and how their businesses are going to need to change to remain in compliance and in operation. There is a dramatic shift we are expecting to occur in the following years, and being able to pivot will be crucial.

Rush Truck Centers is committed to helping our customers understand how these regulations and others will affect their fleets and how to best protect their businesses going forward.

Q: What incentives exist for customers looking to make the switch to battery electric?

A: There are several grant and incentive opportunities available in the United States for customers looking to invest in sustainable fuel options. The majority are going to be diesel emission reduction grants, which require the scrapping of an older vehicle, but some are buy-down grants that do not have such requirements.

The types of grants and incentives available to you are going to depend on a couple of things, including which states/counties/cities the trucks are operating in, what units are available for replacement and how much the trucks are utilized.

We are fortunate to have a dedicated team at Rush Truck Centers that specializes in grants and regulatory compliance consulting. For those who are interested in going down the path of applying for a grant, I would suggest they reach out to their Rush Truck Centers sales representative or our grants and incentives team to look at which options may be available.

Q: What zero-emissions options currently exist in the trucking industry? When can customers expect to see zero-emissions trucks become more readily available?

A: There are several different zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) truck options currently in production, from class 6 to class 8. Manufacturers are currently focusing on the production of trucks designed for local pick-up and delivery, regional haul/drayage and refuse applications. I think we should expect to see vehicles become more readily available over the next three to 10 years, but if a customer is after a carbon-neutral solution in place of zero tailpipe emissions now, RNG engines can be a fit in many applications where diesel engines are currently used.

Q: How accessible are natural gas vehicles? Are they a better option for customers looking to make the switch from diesel right now?

A: Natural gas-powered trucks are very accessible in the marketplace. Not all truck manufacturers are currently putting the engines in their vehicles, but many are, and I believe more will include natural gas options in their portfolios going forward.

However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say natural gas is a better option for truck owners right now when compared to battery electric trucks as a broad statement. There are applications where an electric truck would be a better replacement due to the duty cycle and operational details, and there are also scenarios in which RNG vehicles would be a better fit due to the need for increased range or lighter weight. Our truck experts can help you analyze all the details of your specific use case and make a recommendation to best fit your needs.

Q: What should truck and fleets owners do now as they start their journey to zero emissions?

A: There are many different ways to accomplish your goals on your path to zero emissions or a reduced carbon footprint, but EVs are real, and they are coming at an ever-increasing pace. I would make the recommendation to begin your preparation now to be ready for the future.

There are some low- to no-cost steps you can take to start down the path to implementation. Start by looking at your fleet as a whole to determine which units can easily be transitioned to EV technologies — from tractors to straight trucks all the way down to service trucks and support vehicles. With coming regulations, all will be affected.

I would also recommend that you simultaneously start to look at fueling and what it is going to take to prepare your facility for charging larger vehicles. Depending on the size of the project and the facility you are trying to electrify, this process can range from the simple installation of a smaller AC charger that can accommodate a Class 2–6 vehicle with longer charge time availability to installing dozens of 150+ kW DC electric charging stations over the course of several years.

If you can have a good understanding of what you currently have available by way of power, and what it would take to get your facility where it needs to be, this will pay dividends as you start the move to an electrified fleet.

Q: How is Rush Truck Centers currently partnering with customers who are looking for more sustainable options for their fleets?

A: We are putting a tremendous amount of effort into helping truck and fleet owners as they transition to alternative fuels and electric trucks. This includes educating our customers on available technologies and their capabilities and conducting total cost of ownership analyses between different powertrains to better help them understand the lifetime costs. We’re also helping to facilitate conversations between our customers and natural gas suppliers and utility companies as well as educating them on current and upcoming regulations and how the purchase decisions they make now will affect their future compliance. We are positioning ourselves to be the best partner we can and to be the subject matter experts fleets will need to lean on during this transformative time.

Explore Alternative Fuel and Electric Solutions Available at Rush Truck Centers.

Rush Truck Centers offers a variety of vehicles from the brands you know and trust that can fit nearly any application. If you’re interested in upgrading your fleet to alternative fuel- or electric-powered vehicles, our experts can help you determine which options — from diesel and gas to natural gas and battery electric — make the most sense for your business.

We’ll work with you to understand the total cost of ownership and how purchasing RNG or battery electric vehicles will impact your bottom line as well as how any new vehicles purchased will affect your future regulatory compliance.

Contact us today to request an evaluation of your fleet and speak with our truck sales experts about how Rush Truck Centers can help you reach your sustainability goals.

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