Race to zero: How manufacturers are positioned for zero-emission commercial trucks and buses in North America
A quiet commotion.
“Man, that’s quiet!” I said as an electric truck whizzed by earlier this summer. I had the great pleasure of seeing an all-electric truck in the wild for the first time during a site visit to the Frito-Lay manufacturing and distribution facility near Modesto, CA. The team at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) had invited me to tour the Frito-Lay facility and see their fleet of about a dozen battery-electric delivery trucks and terminal tractors. NACFE’s site visit to Frito-Lay was part of their preparation for “Run on Less—Electric” a demonstration event that showcases all-electric commercial trucks in real-world operations. The Frito-Lay fleet is one of 13 company fleets across the U.S. and Canada participating in RoL-Electric, which officially launched yesterday.
We at the ICCT are big fans of RoL: we were a sponsor of the initial 2017 event, in which seven trucking fleets competed to push the envelope on fuel economy in real-world operations. Given the success and buzz generated in 2017, we were not surprised to see the NACFE team and its fleet and industry partners pull off the follow-up RoL showcase in 2019, which highlighted regional haul tractor-trailers. But I wondered, ‘What’s next for Run on Less? Wouldn’t it be awesome if they focused their energies on electric trucks?’ Wouldn’t you know, in early 2020, Dave Schaller, NACFE’s Industry Engagement Director, told me they were putting out feelers about a RoL to feature all-electric trucks. Fast forward a few months and RoL-Electric was officially announced!
In addition to the focus on zero-emission trucks, and in contrast to the previous RoL events, RoL-Electric showcases several types and sizes of trucks. Whereas RoL in 2017 and 2019 featured combination tractor-trailers, RoL-Electric spotlights a variety of trucks and vans, including a walk-in van, package and delivery truck, semi trucks, and terminal tractors. What’s more, this is the first time RoL has participation north of the border, as there are two Canadian fleets on display. Pretty cool, eh?
On a personal note, I’m taking RoL-Electric as an early 40th birthday gift! I started exploring electrification for heavy-duty trucks 15 years ago during my graduate work at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis. Back then, all-electric trucks were mostly a pie-in-the-sky curiosity. It’s so exciting to see these electric trucks on the roads in bigger numbers over the past few years, a trend we’ve chronicled in our review of sales numbers for 2019 and 2020 in the U.S. and Canada.
As RoL-Electric unfolds over the next few weeks, we wish all the fleets and the NACFE team the best of luck. As of Thursday morning, all 13 of the participating fleets had electric trucks in service, collectively logging about 200 miles and 10 deliveries. But don’t take my word for it—check it out! NACFE and its telematics partner, Geotab, are collecting and sharing operations data and metrics of various kinds online. We’ll be tuning in to the live data trackers on the website, which also has a library of great videos from each of the fleet teams. Judging from the packed house at NACFE’s launch event at the ACT Expo earlier this week, it’s safe to say that RoL-Electric will help to elevate the gentle hum of electric trucks into a quiet commotion in the coming years.