One of the most interesting things that is happening in the commercial battery electric vehicle space is the number of new names that are popping up staking a claim to what will likely be a lucrative market. Tesla, Nikola, Chanje, Thor, Hyliion, Lion, the list goes on. These are companies that have not traditionally served the medium- and heavy-duty truck market.
There is both good and bad news for these new entrants into trucking. The good news is that they are not tied to the traditional business models of building a truck that the more established truck OEMs have used for years. It is easier for them to start with that cliched clean sheet of paper; as we know some of the most creative solutions come when you start at the very beginning.
The bad news — or rather the challenge — is making sure their new products are designed for and tested across a variety of use cases including differing duty cycles, weather and terrain conditions. If these manufacturers want to capture more than a small piece of the market, they are going to have to make sure their vehicles can stand up to the array of modes and geographies in which trucks operate. Not to mention the rigors of some applications.
Trucking is a complicated business and to date, there has never been a one size fits all answer to all applications.
That being said, traditional truck makers would be wise not to write off any new guy as just a one-trick pony. There are some pretty smart folks putting some significant resources into speeding up the development of electric vehicles that are capable of operating in commercial applications. And they have an advantage: it is always easier to make leaps and bounds improvements with brand new technology compared to the incremental improvements that are possible with tried and true technology like those powered by diesel.
It is too soon to say who will be the winners and losers in the move to electric vehicles.
A couple of things I know for sure:
It’s been well over 20 years since a new heavy-duty truck OEM emerged and stayed in the market. I think that will come to end an end with this group of new entrants.
We will not see a wholesale switch to commercial battery electric vehicles overnight, but we will see increased adoption in some applications.
The companies — whether existing manufacturers of diesel-powered vehicles that are venturing into the electric space or firms that are strictly focusing on making electric trucks — that offer fleets products that meet their needs and have a good ROI are the ones that will be around for the long term.
*Commentator: Michael Roeth, Executive Director, North American Council for Freight Efficiency
Mike has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as the Executive Director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. Mike is also leading the Trucking Efficiency Operations for the Carbon War Room.
Mike’s specialty is brokering green truck collaborative technologies into the real world at scale.
He has a BS in Engineering from the Ohio State University and a master’s in organizational leadership from the Indiana Institute of Technology. Mike served as Chairman of the Board for the Truck Manufacturers Association, Board member of the Automotive Industry Action Group and currently serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.