A recent report in  the Wall Street Journal  has shed light on some serious misgivings about the switch  to electric trucks and  the claims that running costs for zero emission trucks will be considerably less than for traditional diesel drivelines.

According  the Wall Street Journals in a story published  last week, major US truck rental, leasing and logistics operator, Ryder revealed that the operating costs for electric trucks have turned out to be far in excess of those for diesel trucks and that it has struggle to convince its customers to deploy electric trucks so far.

To offer some scale and perspective, Ryder is one of the largest truck leasing and rental operations in the world, boasting more than 250,000 trucks on its fleet with an annual revenue in excess of  $US 11.8 billion ( $AUD18 billion) per annum and more than 50,000 customers.

In the story  the Wall Street Journal quoted the CEO if Ryder, Robert Sanchez who said the economics of electric trucks ‘just don’t work for most companies’.

“Battery-electric trucks cost about three times as much to purchase as a diesel rig. There are federal and state programs to help offset the purchase costs, but operating costs and other issues present big hurdles,”

“Truck operators say battery-electric truck operations are too difficult to set up and too expensive and inefficient to run,” Sanchez told the Journal.

“It can take years to install on-site charging facilities for trucks that can travel less than half as far as diesel rigs between refueling and that require at least several hours to recharge,”  Sanchez said.

Ryder apparently started  a service about a year ago to assist companies to set up and run battery-electric truck fleets, including the installation of charging systems as well as the maintenance  and day to day operation of the zero emission trucks.

According to Ryder  it has sold just 60 vehicles  so far through its program most of which have been light-duty trucks although three   companies are running battery-electric heavy-duty trucks, but these are handling drayage or yard work.

Sanchez said that Ryder had  crunched the load and route data from around 13,000 trucks it runs  for its customers and it showed that the annual operating costs of battery-electric commercial trucks were sharply higher than diesel trucks.

The analysis did assume that the fast charging equipment was already in place and instead focused on costs such as buying the truck, maintenance, labour and fuel.

“We found that light-duty, battery-electric vans raise annual operating costs by several percentage points. As trucks get heavier the cost difference becomes more pronounced, according to the analysis, with annual costs of operating battery-electric trucks about twice as expensive as diesel trucks.

“What surprised us was the magnitude of the gap,” Sanchez told the Journal.

According to the Ryder analysis, electric heavy duty trucks also need more vehicles and drivers to do the same job.

This is apparently because battery-electric trucks are heavier than diesel trucks and require several hours to recharge,  meaning operators might need more vehicles and drivers to haul the same volume of freight as a diesel truck.

The analysis estimated that a company would require almost two battery-electric big trucks  and more than two drivers to provide the equivalent output of a single heavy-duty diesel truck.

Sanchez said that unlike passenger-vehicle buyers who might purchase an electric vehicle on principle, companies will only look to battery technology when it can compete with diesel on vehicle running  costs.

Another leading rental and leasing operation in the USA, Penske Truck Leasing said that its pilot program with battery-electric trucks has found that because battery-electric trucks are heavier than diesel powered trucks their tyres wear out faster and that some electric truck parts were more costly.

Despite all this the Wall St Journal  reported that Ryder executives  spent considerable time listening to some of its biggest customers telling them  they wanted to switch to battery-electric trucks. However Ryder said that now that the heavy-duty electric trucks are available,  few customers want to pay for them.

The conclusion the Wall St Journal drew was that truck makers will have  to make major advances in battery weight, range and charging times if zero emission trucks are to seriously challenge diesel rigs in a highly competitive freight industry with the sort of narrow  margins the transport industry lives with.

As part of the analysis Ryder concluded that if a small mixed fleet comprising around 25 trucks   converted around ten of the vehicles from diesel power  to battery electric in California its annual operating costs  would rise about 56 per cent. The same transition in other states  such as Georgia could raise the  annual operating costs 67 per cent or more.