EV freight update on the sector where trucks move 70 percent of freight and have 10 percent of highway miles

By Jason MathersFollow, EDF’s Supply Chain Director at our Corporate Partnerships program. Published January 4, 2018 in Economics

Tesla’s much-anticipated electric semi-truck is garnering attention for its futuristic look and zero-emission promise – and it’s part of an innovation trend that is changing the future of trucking, with implications for entire supply chains.
United Parcel Service, Anheuser-Busch, Walmart, PepsiCo and J.B Hunt are among the companies rushing to secure orders of Tesla’s trucks, which are expected to be in production in 2019.All-electric trucks can bring tangible benefits not just to truck owners, whose conventional vehicles can consume more than $60,000 worth of fuel a year, but also to their customers.

Fuel has long been a top cost for trucking, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the per-mile cost. Because fuel bills are passed on to companies that hire trucks to get their goods to market, electric trucks can thus promise businesses significantly lower and more stable operating costs.

For the business community as a whole, savings could be in the billions.

Truck manufacturers hurrying to grab market share

Indeed, Tesla is just one among a number of large auto manufacturers that are now investing in electricity-powered trucks because they see a robust, long-term market for such products and clear bottom-line benefits:

  • Cummins recently announced the electric semi-truck tractor unit Aeos, which is scheduled for production by 2019. It’s designed for buses, delivery vehicles, and drayage duty trucks with a range of 100 miles.
  • Daimler recently launched a fleet of urban delivery trucks in New York City. The trucks, which have a 60-mile range, are set for scaled production in 2019. Daimler is also expected to unveil a larger class 7 electric truck.
  • New Flyer, BYD and Proterra are all taking orders for electric buses. A dozen major cities, including Los Angeles, have committed to buying buses.
  • Nikola, meanwhile, is readying a zero-emission fuel-cell-powered truck for production by 2021.

Along with the economic benefits, medium and heavy-duty trucks provide major health and environmental benefits for neighborhoods and communities nationwide.

Trucks move about 70 percent of freight in the United States today, and while only accounting for 10 percent of highway miles traveled, they are a major source of harmful nitrogen oxide and particulate matter – especially in cities and towns along congested truck routes.

Electric trucks also offer significantly lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions at a time when nations and states are looking for new technology solutions to meet their carbon reduction goals.

Long-haul capability: Key to this market shift

Most electric truck announcements so far have been for urban or regional vehicle use where buses and delivery trucks don’t need to drive very far and follow predictable driving patterns in areas with charging stations.

As the market for electric trucks grows, dense cities and communities will be the first to benefit from the reduction in local air pollution – but as battery technology continues to improve, look for more electric trucks to drive long-distance.

This will be the ticket to the major disruption of the truck industry that many experts believe will come in just a few years, and with benefits multiplying across our economy.

It’s a time of great innovation in the truck industry, and while there is still more we can and must do to make conventional diesel trucks cleaner and more efficient, electric trucks are coming our way.

As eye-catching as the Tesla Semi launch was, it’s just the beginning.


In an interview with Trucks.com, the CEO of international truck-maker Navistar said that his company would have more electric trucks on the road than Tesla by 2025.

CEO Troy Clarke’s claim is a bit of a red delicious-to-granny smith comparison, though, as his company has, thus far, only announced a medium-duty electric truck and an electric school bus. Tesla, on the other hand, has announced a heavy-duty truck that will theoretically be able to haul 80,000lbs and travel up to 500 miles on a single charge. Navistar, by comparison, has not yet announced a range for its medium-duty electric truck, though Clarke said (like most medium-duty trucks) Navistar’s electric version would “run short distances and can depot to recharge at the end of the day.” Navistar’s all-electric school bus—the unfortunately styled “chargE”—will have a range exceeding 120 miles.

Beating Tesla on a delivery timetable alone seems like a good way to set up a one-sided competition—the company has notoriously had trouble meeting delivery deadlines. Navistar also has significant truck-building resources. The company builds a variety of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, as well as school buses, military-style vehicles, and engines. Its electric vehicle foray benefits from a research-and-development partnership with Volkswagen Truck & Bus. (VW owns 17 percent of Navistar, according to Trucks.com.)

Tesla has promised that its semis will arrive in 2019, but a history of missing deadlines might give companies like Navistar the lead time it needs to roll out more electric trucks. Navistar says its medium-duty truck and electric school buses will be ready for the commercial market by late 2019 or early 2020.

Both Navistar and Tesla have considerable competition in the electric-truck field. This year, Proterra built an electric bus that set a range record at 1,101.2 miles on a single charge. Daimler has already launched a short-haul electric truck that it’s supplying to UPS. Cummins, a major truck engine maker in the US, has announced its own all-electric truck cab and electric/diesel hybrid (Navistar buys diesel Cummins engines for its trucks as well).

Still, when it comes to lowering emissions from a polluting industry, a little friendly competition seems worthwhile. That’s especially true if competition lowers the cost of entry into an electric-freight ecosystem.