Some new US research, funded by online retail giant Amazon and issued by the California Trucking Association in association with environment not for profit Ceres and carried out by Navigant Research, has concluded that many American fleets are looking to integrate electric trucks into their operations but are facing a series of obstacles that will slow the shift away from diesel vehicles.

The report says that ‘continuous improvements in EV technologies are producing lower costs, greater range and faster charging, further enabling the use of EVs in the commercial transportation sector, and says that though the trend is encouraging, fleet operators face challenges that, if not confronted, may slow this progress.

Electric trucks are nearing commercialisation because the main cost of EVs — the battery — has declined as much as 80 per cent over the past eight years, according to the report.

That is expected to drop an additional 50 per cent over the next decade, which would put upfront costs of many EVs below equivalent diesel trucks by 2030, the report said.

Additionally, recurring costs such as fuel — in this case electricity to power the vehicles — and maintenance are lower than internal combustion trucks, the report said. That will provide significant operational cost savings and encourage adoption.

However the report concludes that significant hurdles still remain.

For example charging, takes far longer than filling the fuel tanks of a diesel truck and concludes that EV charge times must be minimised and be more predictable while reliability must be consistent with conventional fossil fuel-powered vehicles, the report adds.

Fleet operators also know how to keep a diesel fleet supplied with fuel but need help learning how to manage an electric fleet, how to navigate issues such as power outages and how to work with landlord/property owners, vehicle leasing companies and other service operators to integrate electric vehicles into their operations.

Property owners, for example, would have to allow the construction of high-voltage charging infrastructure to keep the trucks powered.

Utilities also present a challenge to fleet operators. The fleets surveyed by the study said that utility programs need more transparency, flexibility and speed.

Fleet operators also need data and information upfront to improve decision-making and to optimise their fleet-electrification strategies,” the report said.

Fleet operators will also need a power supply/electricity contact who is an EV expert to efficiently provide the needed rate information and other services electric truck users will require.

Fleets also will need technology interoperability open standards for hardware and software that will allow operators to invest in charging infrastructure “that is future-proofed and scalable,” the report said.

The report’s findings are “generally well-aligned with the issues we have been working on,” said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of Calstart, a California based not for profit clean transportation industry consortium.

“Utilities must address many of the key issues that would make scaling of truck electrification easier and faster for fleets,” Van Amburg said.

“Really streamlining their processes and simplifying their rate structures and requirements would be of tremendous help,” he said. “The gorilla in the room is the fact that utilities generally cannot act independently of their regulatory structure. Utilities are regulated for their rates at the state level.”

California is one of the states encouraging utilities to invest proactively in infrastructure and revising their rates. “[But] the nation is a crazy quilt of different approaches,” Van Amburg said.

But the trucking industry in the state wants a smooth transition.

“As operators of commercial medium and heavy-duty vehicles, California truck drivers have a unique set of needs that must be addressed to ensure any transition to EVs is as efficient, safe and cost-effective as possible,” said California Trucking Association CEO Shawn Yadon.

California is pushing the use of electric trucks, setting a series of targets for adoption. It wants to have an estimated 4,000 zero-emission trucks on the state’s roads by the end of 2024.

A draft rule issued by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in April would require 5 per cent  of new Classes 7-8 (heavy duty) prime mover sales to be zero-emission vehicles such as electric or fuel cell trucks by the end of 2024. Such vehicles would be 9 per cent of Classes 4-8 (medium and heavy duty) straight truck sales by the same time period.

That ramps up to 30 per cent of class 7-8 tractor sales and 50 per cent of Classes 4-8 (medium-heavy) straight truck sales by the end of 2030.

Electric trucks already are operating in small numbers in the state. Both logistics firm NFI and Penske Truck Leasing are testing Freightliner electric trucks. NFI will start using the electric version of Volvo’s VNR truck later this year. Snack food maker Frito-Lay plans to test Tesla’s electric semi at its facility in Claifornia this year or next, according to CARB.