Guest Column | May 8, 2023

What's Driving The Trucking Industry's Transition To Electric?

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized


Diesel used to be the main fuel for the constant flow of goods across global highways. Now, although slower to make the switch, big rig operators are starting to embrace electric transportation to lower fuel costs, reduce emissions and take advantage of government EV incentives. Battery-powered fleets are already rolling out across the world.

Factors Encouraging Electric Transportation

There are numerous reasons behind the decision to phase out fossil fuels.

Air Quality

More than 33% of the U.S. population lives in an area that falls short of federal air quality standards and heavy-duty trucks are a major contributor to the issue. They’re the world’s largest mobile source of nitrogen oxides — which become ozone and particulate matter in the atmosphere — and people are starting to lobby for cleaner air.

Fleet owners face pressure to reduce their environmental and human health emissions. In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations for Class 8 trucks. The rules would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 60% per vehicle compared to current standards by 2045 and would take effect in 2027.

As pollution laws become more stringent in many countries, trucking companies are feeling the heat and switching to electric tractor-trailers. This move will help them avoid financial penalties and stay in good standing with an increasingly eco-conscious public.

More Vehicle Choices

Fleet managers have a greater selection of electric semi-trucks than ever before. With more big rigs on the market, trucking companies can choose models to suit their specific needs, such as how far the trucks must travel and how long they take to charge.

PepsiCo started using Tesla Semis to haul Pepsi and Frito-Lay products in 2022. The trucks suffer from poor range when transporting soda due to the weight but enjoy significantly greater mileage when carrying chips.

Although Tesla’s Semi is dominating the conversation about electric big rigs, other options include Nikola’s Tre BEV, the eCascadia from Freightliner, Volvo’s VNR Electric, the Peterbilt 579EV, and the 8TT from China’s BYD. Kenworth also unveiled its T680E model last year at the Las Vegas CES 2022. It runs on Meritor’s Blue Horizon 14Xe tandem electric powertrain and will get a 150-mile range.

Lower Costs

New technologies are usually prohibitively expensive at first launch — EVs were no exception when they debuted. But now, thanks to government incentives, electric transportation costs are within reach for many fleet owners.

California offers a $120,000 subsidy for battery electric semi-trucks, concurrent with its plan to phase out diesel big rigs by 2045. Government incentives mean the cost of electric semis could rival that of diesel trucks in the coming years.

Additionally, electric trucks are often cheaper to maintain over their roughly 15-year life span. Their lack of oil, fuel filters, spark plugs, timing belts, and engines makes them an excellent choice for owners looking to lower maintenance costs. Fewer moving parts also means a greater chance trucks will make it to their destination without suffering a breakdown, improving driver safety.

Overall, diesel accounts for 20% of short-haul trucking costs and 35% of the budget for long-haul operations. The price of diesel remains high in many countries, but charging a truck overnight is leaps and bounds less expensive.

An Aging Fleet

In some countries, the average age of semi-trucks on the road indicates many vehicles are approaching retirement. Australia’s average big rig is 10 to 15 years old. Because fleet managers will have to phase out these vehicles anyway, some see it as the perfect time to switch to electric transportation. Electric tractor-trailers should have the same life span as ICE vehicles.

Dependence On Foreign Oil

The world does not evenly distribute the oil used to make diesel. Consequently, the trucking industry is often at the mercy of foreign countries when it comes to buying fuel. Wars, embargoes, and supply chain disruptions can change the price of diesel from year to year.

Charging trucks with domestically produced electricity reduces the dependence on international oil. It helps secure the energy market despite overseas political conflicts or shortages, ensuring the shipment industry can keep on trucking.

Barriers To Widespread Adoption

Although EVs are becoming more common, the switch to all-electric transportation won’t happen overnight. A few issues still stand in the way of taking every diesel truck off the road.

A Lack Of Charging Stations

The global charging infrastructure is still in its infancy. There will need to be more frequent charging stations — ideally for big rigs only — along the world’s highways to support an electric shipping industry. For now, electric big rigs are best suited for short trips.

Low Range

Although the battery range of electric trucks has improved, EVs still don’t have the long-haul capabilities of a diesel truck, many of which can travel up to 2,000 miles before refueling. The Tesla Semi promises 500 miles, but Elon Musk has yet to demonstrate this bold claim.

Other electric semi-trucks get even lower mileage. Nikola’s Tre BEV gets 350 miles per charge, Freightliner’s eCascadia can travel 250 miles and Kenworth’s T680E has a 150-mile range. One promising solution is to use hydrogen hybrid fuel cells as a backup.

Long Charging Times

Another downside of electric trucks is how long they take to charge. Compared to filling a diesel tank — which takes as little as five minutes — Peterbilt’s 579EV’s 3.3-hour full charge time starts to look imposing. Still, trucking companies can recharge their fleets overnight in the garage, which is a benefit diesel big rigs can’t claim.

Electric Trucks: A Sign Of More To Come

The transition to electric transportation has been years in the making, but it’s finally here. Trucking companies across the globe are replacing their aging big rigs with EVs. Although electric trucks aren’t perfect, this radical shift will revolutionize the shipping sector by lowering emissions, reducing maintenance costs, and boosting energy independence, all while saving on fuel. The roads are about to get a lot quieter.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.