[Podcast] Roll On: Electric Trucks Are Coming Sooner Than You Think

Darren Hau
Published in
3 min readJan 28, 2022


Courtesy of Autoblog.

This post is part of a Climate Now podcast series on the intersection of transportation and energy. I encourage you to listen to the full episodes yourself, as well as Climate Now’s other content. It’s chock full of science and data and nitty gritty stuff that often gets glossed over.

It seems like not a day goes by when we don’t hear about a sleek new consumer EV coming onto the market. These stories are catnip for me personally, but there’s also an entirely different segment of vehicles that have an outsized impact on emissions. As we covered in a previous post, medium and heavy duty trucks are responsible for 23% of US transportation emissions, and more than 6% of total US emissions, even though they represent a minuscule fraction of vehicles on the road.

To gain some insight on this sector, we spoke with Mike Roeth, Rick Mihelic, and Jessie Lund from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). Founded originally to help trucking fleets increase their fuel efficiency, NACFE continues to provided trusted advice on current technology but has also started track emerging technologies like electrification and autonomy.

We heard from Mike that efficiency is really a core value proposition for fleets. A diesel semi truck that costs around $130–150k upfront will consume $60–70k a year in fuel — which means you’ll spend as much in fuel in 2 years as the truck initially costs!

Due to the acceleration of e-commerce, the trucking sector has bifurcated into last-mile delivery truck and long-distance heavy-duty tractors. While the former is more present in our day-to-day experience (is that Amazon truck outside yet?), the 2.5M heavy tractor trailers across the US drive far more miles and are responsible for about 80% of the emissions from trucking.

On a positive note, Mike believes trucking is not the hard-to-abate industry it’s sometimes made out to be. Trucks turn over every 5–10 years, and fleets that experience an electric truck tend to wholeheartedly embrace the technology. Electric trucks, much like their passenger counterparts, are simpler to drive, easier to maintain, and enable operations in more areas that currently impose limits on loud, polluting diesel trucks. This all leads to a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

In terms of the broader landscape of technologies, Rick highlighted some reasons NACFE sees battery electric as a more likely long-term winner compared with hydrogen fuel cells trucks. Because truck sales volumes are relatively low, in order to achieve scaled manufacturing costs hydrogen trucks will have to integrate with a regional and national hydrogen strategy (e.g. linking with hydrogen infrastructure at ports). Meanwhile, battery degradation may not be as serious of a problem as some claim — many fleets already cycle their diesel trucks to less demanding applications as they age.

We asked whether the mix of new fuels would present difficulties for truck refueling facilities, and Rick pointed out that these facilities are already managing different fuels — natural gas, diesel, and different forms of gasoline.

The bigger challenge will be designing around the longer dwell times of electric trucks. A typical truck stop today may have 15–50 fueling stations and parking for hundreds of trucks — this sort of “pull-through” facility will not work when trucks need 30 minutes or more to recharge. Because of the immaturity of this infrastructure, the participants in NACFE’s current Run On Less Electric pilot are all charging trucks at depots, where their trucks already dwell for hours and can afford to charge during that time.

When asked about adoption trends, Jessie mentioned that electric trucks tend to be bought by larger fleets that have the resources to absorb the upfront cost and the analytical firepower to re-optimize their operations.

Finally, for those who raise alarms about the ability of our grid to absorb millions of new EVs, Jessie believes that the grid is largely capable of producing the incremental electricity. The bigger issue lies on the distribution side in what’s called “make-ready infrastructure” — the local substations and site-specific equipment required to support megawatts of power for a single customer.