Using electric trucks for what today’s technology allows

Whether you like it or not, the biggest news in the industry this past month was the release of the Tesla Semi.

In dramatic fashion, Tesla’s Elon Musk flaunted the electric truck, using comparisons to the traditional diesel powertrain in a manner he knew would electrify his base, similar to a politician stumping during a campaign.

The fact that the Semi goes from zero to 60mph in 20 seconds with an 80,000 lb. payload is impressive, but is an unnecessary feature, as I’m sure the last thing carriers want is their drivers gunning it off the start line every chance they get.

A feature that is valuable is the truck’s range. Being able to travel 300 miles (with an expected lower base price of $150,000USD) or 500 miles (for a higher base price of $180,000USD) is above and beyond what any other company has offered.

By comparison, Cummins, which beat Tesla to the punch with the August release of its electric semi-truck, Aeos, has a 100-mile range with a maximum payload of 44,000lbs.

Tesla’s Semi truck shows us what’s possible now. Twenty years ago no one would have believed it imaginable to produce a fully-electric truck powered by a lithium ion fuel cell that would have a range of up to 800km – that’s slightly further than the distance from Calgary to Regina.

With several factors determining how far these electric trucks will in reality travel on one charge – wind, payload, grade, traffic – and the absence of an adequate number of charging stations, what’s possible and most practical now is to start using electric trucks within municipalities. There’s really no reason not to and to some capacity, this has already started to happen.

If pickup and drop-off hubs were established around our cities – perhaps one outside the city on the east and another in the west – it would be an interesting system to have electric trucks operating within the city, carrying loads to the hub for drop-off, then have diesel trucks pick them up for the long haul to their destination. The truck would then drop the freight at the hub to be picked up by an electric truck and transported within the city to its final destination.

There would be several benefits to this kind of setup – reduced vehicle emissions in our cities, decreased fuel consumption, which helps the environment as well as trucking companies, improved traffic flow due to a reduction in the number of trucks operating in municipalities…I can even see the Tesla Semi’s ability to have a quicker acceleration time as an advantage in the stop-and-go environment of city driving.

It’s not reinventing the wheel here. Cities around the world are using electric vehicles for urban delivery and have been for a while.

Now with big rigs being offered with an electric powertrain it’s just a matter of figuring out how to best marry them with diesel trucks.

It will be years before we see a battery-powered truck have a range equal to diesel, and even longer till we see the necessary infrastructure in place for recharging.

But unless you’ve been asleep at the wheel for the past couple of decades, you have to realize that it’s coming. The pace in which technology progresses is staggering; we talk about and write about it all the time.

Dismissing this reality by saying “it will never happen in my lifetime” is a disservice to the next generation coming into the industry.

Because though that may be true for you, it certainly isn’t for others.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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  • Good luck with this idea, it will only be good down south where the climate is more clement I can not see any of these fancy toy truck in a snow storm on top of the mountains in BC or into frigid minus forty weather.
    They are dreaming big time, I suppose it is all part of a world wide plot for promoting more expensive goodies in order to make a living.
    Big company will be subsidize fully and the petroleum companies will bring down their prices and it should be good for all consumers.
    Other than that it is nice to look at picture of drone electric truck same as drone flying machine no difference.