The charging conundrum faced by commercial electric trucks

Buying more time

Daimler owns the Freightliner and Western Star brands and has delivered about 100 electric eCascadias to date. O’Leary said he has customers asking for several hundred at a time. He said he responds by offering 25 and asking clients to push out their orders to allow more time for infrastructure development.

“It’s great that the acceptance has been so strong. The people who have them love them, but they need to figure out how to charge them,” he said.

Others are echoing O’Leary’s assessment.

“We’ve seen huge variability on what’s available from the grid depending on where you are,” said Adam Buttgenbach, director of fleet engineering and sustainability at PepsiCo, which is testing electric trucks.

“We would go to the utility and say we need this much power, and they would say, ‘Great, come back in two years,'” Buttgenbach said.

Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, said companies need to plan to build charging infrastructure about a year ahead of when they plan to deploy electric trucks.

Volvo Trucks works with its customers to install home base charging stations for those who travel routes in which they return to base at the end of each shift. It also is working with its California dealers to install chargers that can create a corridor on the major Interstate 5 trucking route. It expects to have five operational stations by the end of this year.

UPS is taking delivery of its first 10 eCascadias, part of a go-slow approach even though it will eventually need tens of thousands of zero-emission trucks of varying sizes to meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

“I think everybody wants to know what real infrastructure looks like long term. So for us at UPS, we are going small scale,” said Anthony Marshall, vice president of maintenance and engineering, transportation fleet at UPS. “We’re playing with these electric trucks and just making sure charging and everything else goes fine.”

Disparate organizations

Part of the problem is that the transition to electric trucking requires disparate organizations to work together, something they haven’t done before, said Rakesh Aneja, head of eMobility at Daimler Truck North America.

There’s the truck manufacturer, such as Daimler, and then the charger provider, the customer, the utility company and the construction company that will build out the high-voltage system, he said.

“Just for everyone to figure out their multistakeholder timeline with the critical path, that’s been a challenge,” Aneja said.

Another hurdle is the typical timeline of the utilities providing the power.

“They don’t start their activity until they get a firm order commitment from the customer. And by the time that firm order comes in, it’s just too late from a timeline and a process perspective,” Aneja said.

All of this will sort out, but it will take time, said Henrik Holland, global head of mobility at Prologis, a large warehouse and distribution company working with fleets and manufacturers on advanced transportation systems that include both electric and autonomous trucks.

“As more electric vehicles and trucks take to the road, the public and private sectors need to work together to ensure we’re investing in the needed infrastructure,” Holland said. “We will see new and innovative solutions emerge that will help expand our energy options — including increased solar production, energy storage and fuel cell technologies — as the nation moves to an electrified transportation system that will help reduce emissions.”

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