Big Rigs Going Electric As Navistar, Cummins, Daimler Rev Up Next-Generation Trucks

At the ACT Expo in Long Beach, Nikola Tre semi’s hydrogen fuel cell was displayed.

The electric vehicle revolution is more extensive than Tesla (with its electric pickup) and Ford (heavy-duty trucks and powertrains such as Navistar, Cummins, and Hyundai). They also plan to shake up the industry with next-generation hydrogen- and battery-powered models that reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

The Long Beach Convention Center is just a stone’s throw away from the sprawling Ports Of Los Angeles and Long Beach. This week, North America’s largest container terminals were packed with truckmakers, engine and energy companies, and truckmakers. They gathered at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo to display, test, and debut dozens of heavy-duty and semi-truck models. Many of these trucks will be the first to operate at the southern California ports. The combination of new federal support and improvements in battery and hydrogen technology make clean vehicles more attractive to fleet operators. Additionally, rising oil prices will only make them even more appealing.

Mathias Carlbaum is president and CEO at Navistar. He tells Forbes that the point of cost parity (of electric vehicles) will be reached depending on the application. “We see the battery technology moving forward, really on its chemistry side and all the potential of batteries that will make us move forward.

Navistar plans to increase sales of electric trucks such as its International eMV model. This is in response to the rising demand for clean commercial vehicles.

Although Navistar offers the International eMV truck with battery power and a range of 135 miles, Carlbaum claims that the company is developing more advanced electric trucks, which should reach the market by 2025. These trucks will have a range of 500 miles on a single charge and be powered by one megawatt-hour battery. Even though Navistar also sees a role for hydrogen fuel cell trucks, espicially for very long-range applications, it’s more optimistic than competitors–including Daimler, Volvo, Hyundai, and newcomer Nikola–that battery power is the best option for most heavy-duty vehicle applications.

“The point at which electric trucks are cost parity is dependent on the application is much earlier than most people think.”

Mathias Carlbaum is CEO and president of Navistar.

Erlbaum explained that the Volkswagen Group affiliate would benefit from technology improvements coming out of V.W.’s $100 billion plan to invest in battery and electric propulsion research. That’s 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2040.

Navistar is joined by top truck brands such as Daimler Truck and Volvo, Hyundai, Hino, Peterbilt and Kenworth, International, Mack, China’s BYD, and Cummins. Xos, Proterra, Nikola, and Hyzon are all working together to bring zero-emission commercial vehicles into service with trucking and logistics customers and city fleets. Although the price of hydrogen and battery vehicles is higher than those of gasoline, diesel, and natural-gas-fueled trucks by many thousands of dollars, they all claim that the total cost of ownership (including fuel) gives them an edge. The switch to electric cars is even more attractive when you add generous incentives such as the $120,000 per vehicle California offers.

Freightliner has released an updated version of its Cascadia electric semi that boasts a range of up to 230 miles per charge.

Tesla was absent from the advanced truck exhibition. Elon Musk claimed that his electric car company would revolutionize the trucking industry in 2017 when he introduced the Tesla Semi, promising a heavy hauler capable of traveling 500 miles on a single charge and hitting the market by 2019. However, the Semi was not released on time, and the company hasn’t yet announced a new date. Musk stated last month that the Semi might be in production by 2023 at Austin’s new Giga Texas facility.

His rivals aren’t waiting. BYD, Kenworth, and Peterbilt all sell semi-powered semis to U.S. clients. Freightliner, a Daimler-owned brand, has unveiled a new version of its electric Cascadia truck, which can travel 230 miles on a single charge. Last month Nikola started delivering its TreBEV truck, which can go up to 350 miles per charge.

“Fleets in every sector are turning to a range of advanced clean vehicle technologies, low-carbon fuels, to not only meet sustainability goals but also improve their bottom line,” Erik Neandross (CEO of GNA), the organizer of the ACT Expo, stated in the opening remarks of the event.

This week, GNA’s market trends survey revealed that heavy-duty electric trucks would be deployed in the U.S. from dozens to hundreds this year and next, with some sectors already seeing scale. The demand for BEVs by fleets is vast and will continue to outstrip supply. However, vehicle and battery prices remain high, and the supply chain remains in development.

Cummins is the huge supplier of diesel engines to heavy-duty vehicles. This week, it announced that it has partnered with Daimler for hydrogen fuel cell systems. Many other companies consider this an excellent long-term solution for large trucks. The Cascadia semis of Freightliner will be modified to run Cummins’ powertrain and could reach customers by 2024. Hyundai also announced this week that it would be testing XCIENT fuel cell trucks at the Port of Oakland. Toyota and Kenworth have a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell trucks in their test at the Port of L.A.

Hyundai announced this week that it would start U.S. testing of its hydrogen fuel cell XCIENT trucks at Oakland.

Amy Davis, president, and CEO of Cummins’ New Power unit, said hydrogen fuel cells were a promising option for heavy-duty trucking. Daimler’s partnership with Cummins is an essential milestone in our efforts to make the transition to a carbon-free economy.

Musk, a long-standing hydrogen critic, has reaffirmed his opposition to the fuel in remarks to the Financial Times this week. He called it “the most stupid thing I could imagine for energy storage.”

Despite this, there is growing interest in hydrogen trucks from companies like Hyundai, Daimler and Volvo, and Toyota, Hino.

Rakesh Aneja (Vice President & Chief of eMobility at Daimler Trucks North America) said that hydrogen-powered vehicles could be used with battery-powered electric cars to accelerate our carbon-neutral journey, depending on the application.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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