Manufacturers May Be Slow-Walking The Transition To Electric Trucks

If you do a search for “electric truck” on the CleanTechnica website, you will find dozens of stories about how Volvo Trucks, Daimler Trucks, BYD, and several other manufacturers of medium and heavy duty trucks are pushing forward with electric truck technology. Volvo Trucks plans to be “fossil free” by 2040 and boasted in its latest annual report that it was “leading the transformation” of the industry. Daimler Truck, the largest maker of heavy trucks globally, has set a goal of selling only carbon neutral trucks and buses in the United States, Europe, and Japan by 2039.

In Europe and many US states, regulators are planning to require the sale of electric trucks in the near future. California just announced a ban on the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2035 and it plans to add medium and heavy duty trucks to the list starting in 2040. For electric transportation advocates, this is all good news, but the Washington Post reported on October 18 that while many manufacturers are talking the talk on electrification, behind the scenes they are slow-walking the transition.

The Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association, which represents the nation’s largest truck manufacturers, has pushed to weaken tougher federal rules curbing planet warming gases and other pollutants. The industry has also led a campaign against a new California rule, adopted by five other states, that would require manufacturers to sell more zero-emission trucks.

“What we’re seeing from their lobbying is they want to commit to as little as possible,” Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, tells the Washington Post. “Promises in press releases don’t actually mean anything. They can say we’re setting a target, we’re spending money, but that doesn’t have to produce results.”

Small Numbers, Big Impact

electric trucks

Mercedes-Benz Trucks opens charging park for customers in Wörth

In a blog post for the Union of Concerned Scientists, senior analyst Sam Wilson says diesel-powered tractor trailers represent only 1% of all the vehicles on the road in California, yet they are responsible for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions from that state’s vehicle fleet, 25% of fine particulate matter, and 33% of NOx emissions attributable to road transportation in the state. He adds that they regularly operate along industrial corridors — areas that often flank communities disproportionately impacted by air pollution. Nationally, medium and heavy duty trucks are responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun work on rules to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from trucks, buses, and delivery vans. The first rules update should be finalized by the end of the year and will toughen limits on truck pollution for the first time since 2001. The second set of new rules would lower greenhouse gas limits starting in model year 2030, which should add impetus to the transition to electric trucks.

Truck makers and their lobbyists have met repeatedly with EPA officials, urging them to adopt a less strict standard for nitrogen dioxide, which damages the lungs. They argue the agency’s proposal to cut nitrogen dioxide 90% by 2031 will be too costly, will divert money away from their electrification plans, and increase the cost of trucks. That last point could cause buyers to delay making new purchases and leave older, dirtier, diesel trucks on the road for years longer.

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize many of these arguments, which have been trotted out by automakers for decades to delay stricter safety and emissions standards. When it comes to electric trucks, we are hearing the same old canards — they are too expensive, people don’t want to buy them, and the charging infrastructure isn’t there to support them.

And so, presumably, we should continue on our merry way, driving up the average temperature of the Earth to the point where humans can no longer survive. It is always interesting how business does not seem to recognize that dead customers don’t buy any of their goods and services.

In 2020, the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation that mandates more than half of all trucks sold in the state be zero emissions vehicles by 2035. To enforce it, California needs an EPA waiver that allows them to set stricter tailpipe rules than the federal government.

The Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association — which represents Daimler Truck, Volvo Trucks, Paccar, Navistar, and Cummins, among others — has challenged the state’s waiver request, arguing that it doesn’t give manufacturers enough lead time.

“It’s hard for me to reconcile the lobbying these companies and their association are doing versus what they’re saying,” said Margo Oge, an electric vehicles expert who directed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 1994 to 2012. “Already, we’re seeing many models of electric heavy duty trucks and buses. We’ve come a long way for the industry to be complaining at this point.”

Having It Both Way On Electric Trucks

Some of the companies opposing California’s electrification plans have taken money from CARB to develop electric trucks. Since 2017, Volvo Trucks has accepted about $122 million to work on electric trucks and buses. Daimler had received $100.5 million. Both companies have battery-electric trucks for sale in the United States and plan to develop hydrogen fuel cell trucks that can travel longer distances over the next several years.

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act also provided a $40,000 tax credit for electric and hydrogen-powered trucks and buses. UCS says that’s enough to bring parity between the purchase price of electric trucks and conventional diesel powered big rigs. “They’re trying to have it both ways,” says Adrian Martinez, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice. “They’re fighting the regulations to compel the technology and then they’re also trying to get pats on the back for developing it.”

Jed Mandel, president of the Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association, said that turning California’s dream of zero-emission trucks into a reality is more complicated than the state’s regulators acknowledge. Then he played the “nobody wants to buy an electric truck” card. The problem, he said, is “there is no obligation that anyone buy them.”

California is trying to address that issue by requiring its largest (more than 50 trucks) medium and heavy duty commercial fleets to begin transitioning to electric trucks in 2024. By 2042, 100% of vehicles purchased by large commercial and public fleets in the Golden State will need to be zero emissions. In addition, the state will contribute up to $500,000 to help pay for the installation of the charging infrastructure needed to service all those electric trucks and other vehicles.

Sadly, according to the Washington Post report, the truck makers are talking out of both sides of their mouths, saying what people want to hear in public while doing everything in their power to slow down the pace of electrification through their lobbying efforts. We hear all the same old tired excuses — it’s too hard, it’s too soon, it’s too expensive, and on and on and on.

The Biden administration has put a lot of money on the table to support the electrification of the transportation sector. The need is great and the time to act is now. We need truck makers to shoulder the load and push the EV revolution forward as soon as possible.


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