Heavy-duty truck electrification is shaping up to be the next big frontier of trucking emissions and mileage efficiency. In 2018, electric or hybrid electric (EV or HEV) trucks were ordered by large fleets that could afford to take the gamble of entering the market early. Tesla’s much touted but rarely seen Class 8 truck grabbed orders early, but now the Freightliner eCascadia has been delivered to Penske and NFI and Peterbilt Motors Co. has its Model 579EV on the road gaining experience.
Electric comes with its benefits and costs, just like everything else. But what if you could go electric without investing in an entirely new power unit? It begs the question: Can you convert a truck to an electric powertrain via the aftermarket?
Charging into the aftermarket
In the OEM world, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to electric trucks, and the aftermarket is no different. What we do know is that suppliers are developing products that will integrate into electric powertrains. Take the Meritor Blue Horizon, for example. The Blue Horizon electric drivetrain systems will feature Meritor’s integrated eCarrier, which utilizes an electric motor inside the axle to power the vehicle, replacing a conventional mechanical engine with an electric motor integrated into the rear drive axle. The axle is currently in the testing phase with availability yet to be announced.
Another electric-minded aftermarket technology comes from Hyliion, a newcomer to the industry, which offers its 6X4HE Hybrid Electric System for Class 8 trucks. It features an electric hybrid drive axle that aims to boost fuel efficiency and lower emissions. According to the company, a potential 30% in fuel savings is delivered by the blend of the company’s three technologies: 15% electric hybrid drive axle, 12% APU, and 3% aerodynamics. It’s available for order now.
When do you plug in?
The first consideration deals with emissions. There’s a reason that most of the electric truck piloting has been concentrated in California. The latest example is Frito-Lay. The PepsiCo Inc. division announced that it aims to replace all of its existing diesel-powered freight equipment with zero-emission (ZE) and near-zero emission (NZE) technologies at its Modesto, Calif. manufacturing site with equipment that includes:
- Fifteen heavy-duty Tesla battery electric tractors;
- Six Peterbilt 220EV battery electric box trucks; and
- Three BYD 8Y battery electric yard tractors.
If you’re in an area that has increasingly stringent air quality regulations or going green is part of your personal ethos, then now is the time to start asking your suppliers how you can start to convert your fleet.
Turning to the business case, it’s too early to tell if electric truck technology will be worth the ROI from a pure fuel savings standpoint in the short term. Electric charging infrastructure isn’t even established yet and electric heavy-duty truck range hovers around the 200-mile mark, which means you’ll have to install infrastructure at your location for charging. How you get your energy from the grid? When do you get it? There are still too many unknowns to say for sure.
The same goes for hydrogen fuel cell trucks, which were early announcements in the green truck development cycle, and are still being developed by Nikola and Kenworth and Toyota.
Maintenance is another question mark, but hints at an answer with huge benefits. When you remove the engine from the equation, you also remove the aftertreatment system, which is a constant headache as you well know. Regenerative braking systems that recapture energy and deliver it back to the battery pack also suggests longer brake life. Without brakes and oil changes, the tires would be the big reason to ever see the trucks in the shop. Of course, the electric powertrains are untested in the maintenance realm given the lack of miles they have driven in real world applications thus far. Electric powertrains also mean a whole new world of training for technicians.
In today’s electrically charged industry, it seems that the future of trucking involves some level of electrification. What level fits your operation is a question that is best answered by your suppliers and aftermarket partners.