Criticism of electric trucks for either last-mile delivery or longer distances is manifold, varying from a strong scepticism about the vehicle range, charging speeds, and lack of high-speed charging facilities to claims about the inefficiency of electric vehicles in general. Whereas some of these arguments have a certain validity, one needs to acknowledge the rapid innovation of battery technology and increasing interest in electric trucks by industry leaders. This is shown by various purchases of sizeable fleets by companies such as Colruyt (food wholesale in BE & FR), Amazon (UK) with less than ten vehicles and Pepsi (USA), which aims to deploy 100 trucks in 2023.
NextETRUCK plays an essential role in the research of this zero-emission urban freight solution, which has the potential to decarbonise the industry. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the state of play of electric trucks and the potential challenges, followed by an overview of the contributions of NextETRUCK to overcome these hurdles of large-scale deployment of electric HGVs. The latter is critical as conventional trucks represent less than 2% of Europe’s vehicles but cause 25% of emissions from road transport (2).
State of the art
Recent research shows that ‘due to the declining costs of batteries and electric motors, electric trucks will be less expensive than diesel in the 2025–2030 time frame’ (1). Whereas the previously mentioned companies have invested in an early generation of electric trucks that will mostly serve deliveries between depots and larger facilities, the research highlighted that electric freight is the best solution for urban environments. This is particularly clear as commercial electric trucks of up to 26 tonnes that operate in urban or regional areas are already available. Real-world tests show that depot charging during off-peak hours is the most efficient way of utilising the vehicles, which have a range of up to 300km (2). For example, further studies have shown that the total cost of ownership (TOC) of last-mile delivery battery-electric trucks is already on par with conventional diesel trucks in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Rome, if the available purchasing premiums of the respective states are applied (3)
What are the current challenges?
Even though electric trucks can be a viable alternative in urban areas, and enhancements in battery technology will foster this trend in the next years, operators still face various challenges. One obvious example is growing energy costs. Smart charging solutions, which can utilise times of lower grid load to charge docked vehicles in a depot, can save up to 10-15% of the total energy costs, based on German research with an electric truck fleet of ten vehicles (2). Another challenge linked to energy costs is the network costs, which are often underestimated, as a potential capacity increase of charging stations (for example from 22 to 44kW) could lead to significantly higher network costs. Such an increase could outweigh time savings due to reduced charging times (2). Therefore, the optimisation of charging strategies will be an important factor for logistics companies in the future.
Besides charging costs, the various vehicle parameters have a significant impact on TOC and vehicle consumption. Without going into further detail, these include (among others) the parameters of vehicle efficiency, the driving profile, the daily distance travelled, the payload, and the ambient conditions (street quality, weather, temperature etc.).
How can the NextETRUCK framework support?
These latter parameters of uncertainty are exactly the reason why NextETRUCK is testing electric freight haulage systems on urban roads for at least 200km per day to test a tailor-made high-efficiency battery and thermal management system, as well as an assessment to validate the TOC benefits for fleet integration. NextETRUCK pilots will test a new powertrain topology development and advanced vehicle controls as part of a waste collection fleet. You can find more information on our dedicated pilot information of Utrecht, Barcelona and Istanbul. Overall, our project will assess the potential of new equipment and software, including lightweight chassis and integration of electric powertrain components (Istanbul), switched reluctance traction motors (Utrecht) and fast charging (Barcelona) among others. The software solutions include digital twins, charge management solutions and diagnosis tools. Therefore, the expected results from NextETRUCK will help users and OEMs to develop the electric truck of the future. Nevertheless, such a zero-emission scenario can only be achieved if the right political framework supports this form of mobility.
How can decision-makers pave the way for the transition?
Overall, socio-economic and political factors will have a major impact on the future of electric trucks, their use cases and the related TOC. Tax- and incentivization schemes could have a significant impact on bolstering electric truck uptake in a favourable political environment. Thus, Transport & Environment, as well as RAPOnline have defined some policy recommendations to promote zero-emission urban deliveries, of which these are deemed relevant (3&4):
- Impose emissions charges on all diesel vehicles entering low- and zero-emission zones.
- Encourage smart charging infrastructure deployment at urban logistics depots to help operators reduce charging costs.
- Providing more effective vehicle acquisition incentives;
- Supporting public charging at major warehouses and logistics hubs;
- Reviewing where appropriate driver hours regulations and rest stops (to increase charging efficiency)