US heavy transport operators are sceptical about the chances for widespread electrification of heavy trucks  according to a survey by US fleet company Fleet Advantage.

The US Class 8 heavy-duty truck and fleet industry held a prolonged dialogue throughout 2018 regarding the prospects of electrification of vehicles and where they stack up against diesel counterparts. 

While electrification has potential to grow into a possible reality down the road, many in the US industry remain devoted to improving output of quality returns found in diesel.

According to Fleet Advantage there are numerous reasons why electric trucks may continue to take a backseat when private transportation fleets and carriers are developing their truck procurement strategies. 

Items ranging from fuel economy, cost of investment, range and charging station organisation are at the top of the list of trepidations for fleet managers according to the survey.

In a the survey, fuel economy ranked second (36.7per cent) as a top motivator overall for truck replacement. This is especially important since 86 per cent said they’ve experienced a consistent increase in fuel economy in model years from 2013 to 2018. 

This perspective is further underscored by the fact that the recent US price of diesel has increased above what industry forecasts projected. 

According to the latest North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) and its Annual Fleet Fuel Study, diesel recently increased to $US3.28 per gallon ( about $AUD1.10 per litre), surpassing its projection of reaching just $2.72 ( 0.95cents Australian per litre) in 2018.

In terms of electric or hydrogen fuel-cell trucks, only 4 per cent  of respondents said they are currently procuring these types of trucks, and 53 per cent said they neither see the value nor will they consider the technology for at least another 10 years. 

Nearly a quarter of respondents (21 per cent) also said they believe electric or hydrogen fuel-cell trucks will never be widely used for over-the-road operations. As for their reasons, 39.4 per cent said they will not consider the technology because of limited fuelling or charging station infrastructure; and 33.3 per cent have concerns over the vehicle’s range or distance.

Proponents of electrification point to the technology’s environmental benefits. 

However, many do not fully realise the substantial gains diesel has made in these areas as well. Private fleets and for-hire organisations realise these benefits when they upgrade to the latest truck equipment available. 

An analysis of US Class-8 truck utilisation from Fleet Advantage saw that these companies could realise a first-year savings of $AUD 37,754 ($US26,687) when upgrading from a 2012 model-year truck to a 2019 model. This represents a 15.5 per cent increase in savings compared with a similar analysis a year ago upgrading to a 2018 model when diesel prices were the equivalent of 0.95 cents Australian per litre ($US$2.57 per gallon).

In addition to realising significantly better cost savings from fuel economy gains, fleets also achieved an estimated 18 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions and 46 per cent reduction in NOx output when upgrading from a 2012 model-year sleeper to a new 2019 unit.

The industry will continue to calculate electrification as a possible asset for the transport of goods in support of the economy – and they should take a hard look. However, the data continues to support diesel as the primary option for transportation, as newer truck technology makes great strides in improving fuel economy and lowering emissions. 

Fleet Advantage said that coupled with lifecycle asset management strategies that leverage flexible lease models that help reduce the total cost of ownership and help upgrade into newer technology every three-to-four years, diesel will remain the most economically viable option for the foreseeable future.