13th March 2018

Electric cars are very much here and vans are improving, but what about heavy HGVs?

The passenger car sector has made significant strides in overcoming the ‘range anxiety’ that has deterred certain motorists from placing their trust and investing their finances in electric cars, with real-world electric ranges of over 200 miles now commonly being announced.

In the world of commercial vehicles, however, even the latest breed of larger electric vans like Renault’s new Master ZE are held back by maximum ranges of around 75 miles and recharging times of circa 6 hours, manufacturers admitting that such vans are only suitable for last-mile deliveries.

Anyone who frequently travels on a motorway like the M6 close to our head office in Crewe will have seen that a significant proportion of the vehicles using it both day and night are heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), many of them travelling vast distances from one end of the country to the other. If manufacturers haven’t even been able to bestow humble Transit-sized vans with electric motors offering useable ranges for more than city and town usage, what hope is there for large, heavy duty lorries?

What stage are the leading HGV manufacturers at?

One would be forgiven for having become excited on catching sight of the headline in CommercialFleet that read ‘Renault to sell electric trucks in 2019’, only for reality to hit home that after 10 years of testing, Renault Trucks’ forthcoming electric 12-to-16-tonne trucks will again only be equipped for urban and inner-city situations, such as large-scale bakeries delivering to local supermarkets.

Able to go about their business relatively quietly and cleanly, such vehicles sound ideal for the developed world’s cities that are increasingly banning diesel vehicles.

Large commercial vehicle heavyweights Mercedes-Benz (Daimler) and MAN have also been testing electric trucks, going as far as incorporating them into some of their customers’ daily activities. Although the 18 and 25-tonne Mercedes eActros trucks are primarily being trialled in urban scenarios with a range of around 160 miles, it’s inevitable that this commercial vehicle stalwart will have a long-range tractor cab option up its sleeve, so we’ll just have to wait for the news to emerge.

Will long-distance hauliers get to taste electric any time soon?

What about the Eddie Stobarts of the world, though, who haul goods the length and breadth of countries and even continents?

Probably the leading figure in electric vehicles, Elon Musk has unsurprisingly been developing an electric HGV. Called ‘Semi’ it’s being promoted as not only the world’s most cutting-edge large commercial EV but also the safest and most comfortable truck ever produced.

Incredibly, Tesla’s truck is set to offer a range of at least 300 miles and perhaps as much as 500, but it will also be able to accelerate to 60mph in a staggering 20 seconds – fully loaded. Tesla is justified in describing its truck’s performance as ‘badass’ and with four independent electric motors it’ll boast remarkable traction.

Elon Musk claimed boldly that his electric rig’s value could be recouped within just two and a half years by way of fuel savings, but DHL have got their abacuses out and actually reckon they could break even on investing in each Tesla Semi in just eighteen months. Prototypes are currently being tested on roads in states like California ahead of production starting next year.

Fleet management and road safety benefits

Electric trucks will be relatively more straightforward to maintain than diesel HGVs, so haulage fleet managers certainly have a lot to think about. Anyone passionate about road safety will also welcome the claims that the Tesla Semi will be immune to jack-knifing.

Does the Tesla Semi face any current or forthcoming competition? In terms of its incredible performance statistics, no – but the world’s established HGV manufacturers can’t afford to gamble on Elon Musk’s semi not becoming a reality, so are developing their own green heavy duty trucks as fast as possible.

The E-FUSO One from Daimler is said to be capable of carrying an 11-tonne payload, just 2 tonnes short of the diesel equivalent, and is promoted as having a range of around 220 miles. While the E-FUSO sounds more medium than long-haul, it’d still be good for Liverpool to Leeds and back so is one of the main developments to watch.

Exciting start-ups to the rescue

With Cummins, MAN (Volkswagen’s heavy truck division) and most other established manufacturers sticking to zero-emissions trucks for quiet urban use, pioneering newcomers are cooking up some phenomenal creations.

American firm Nikola Motor is pouring over $1 billion into its “iPhone of trucking” concept, tipped for a 2021 launch. The Nicola One will have fully autonomous capability and, more amazingly, will be able to use up to 1,000 horsepower from the 3,000bhp technically possible from its drivetrain, while generating up to 2,000lb ft or 2,711Nm of torque. The secret to its anticipated Tesla Semi-beating range of 1,200 miles is that Nikola has turned to hydrogen fuel cell technology, its long-haul FCEV semi able to be refuelled in just half an hour or so.

Nikola One

Returning to pure electric power, Thor Trucks is undoubtedly the remaining beacon when it comes to developing ridiculously modern and green heavy trucks. A self-funded startup from Los Angeles, it plans to partner with existing manufacturers rather than go it alone, combining its cutting-edge battery and motor technology with tried and tested mechanical components while ditching any driverless functionality so it can focus on the environment. This sounds like a good strategy to us and the Thor Trucks ET-One is expected to offer a range of up to 300 miles on a single charge while retailed or leased for the same $150,000 price as the Tesla Semi.

We agree with James Ayre’s admission in CleanTechnica that in the long-distance haulage market “a successful rollout of all-electric semis will require a vast, comprehensive rollout of fast-charging infrastructure, accompanied by adjacent support facilities (food, sanitation, etc)”.

EV and FCEV heavy trucks are an immensely exciting prospect that will be sure to please many, from fleet operators, finance directors and consumers to road safety and environmental voices and truck-spotters. As ever we will continue keeping an eye on the market on our blog.




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