Canadian businesses face challenges in zero-emission truck journey

Avatar photo

Transport Canada is acknowledging that Canadian businesses face plenty of barriers in the journey to eliminate vehicle emissions, and that diesel or biodiesel will continue to drive longhaul trucking until new technologies and fuel sources reach scale.

But the funds to support available zero-emissions equipment are beginning to flow. The Incentives for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles Program has so far allocated $545,700 and attracted 37 applicants asking for a collective $2.87 million in funding.

The observations are included in Canada’s Action Plan for Clean On-Road Transportation, which highlights a series of previously announced strategies such as a sales target that will require 35% of new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emission designs as early as 2030. Where feasible, all such vehicles in “a subset of vehicle types” will need to be zero-emission models by 2040.

Existing targets are expected to see around 39,000 zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales in 2030, Transport Canada says.

green truck
(Illustration: istock)

Challenges cited by the report include uneven vehicle inventories that focus on areas with available incentives, higher initial purchase prices, and unique charging needs, among other factors.

“Overcoming these challenges will be key to meeting our zero-emission vehicle sales targets,” the report says.

“Despite lower operating and maintenance costs, incentives will be key in offsetting the upfront cost differences between zero-emission vehicles and gas or diesel vehicles.”

Replacing 2.6 million vehicles

While the Incentives for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles Program includes funding to offset the price of 40 such vehicle models from 14 different manufacturers, the government concedes it will take time to replace the 2.6 million medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on Canadian roads.

“It will take over a decade for zero-emission vehicles to replace most vehicles on the road,” the report says. “Therefore, the government is also working to ensure gas and diesel vehicles already on our roads are operating as cleanly as possible. This includes initiatives to retrofit older trucks with more fuel-efficient technologies and increasing the availability of cleaner fuels.”

Over the next five years, $199.6 million will be invested to help retrofit 90,000 trucks and trailers, complete 800 truck repowers, and help fleets conduct energy assessments and implement best practices. That Green Freight Program has already upgraded 1,620 trucks and trailers with 2,830 individual retrofits.

Charging and fueling challenges

The challenges are not limited to vehicles alone.

“Zero-emission technologies for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are less commercially ready than for light-duty vehicles and significant barriers exist that could slow adoption, including inadequate charging and refueling infrastructure in both private and public settings,” the report notes, citing how investments in hydrogen refueling stations will help there.

“Commercial fleets need to know that these vehicles can meet their needs and that they will be able to charge and refuel where and when their operation requires it.”

Bigger energy requirements and applications will require targeted approaches and charging infrastructure that addresses the needs for physical access and high-powered charging technologies alike, it adds. Here, the Canada Infrastructure Bank is investing $500 million for large-scale zero-emission vehicle charging and refueling.

“These investments are paving the way for charging and refueling infrastructure for medium-duty zero-emission vehicles in Canada, however, more dedicated efforts will still be needed,” the report says.

Emissions-related regulatory changes will be supported by $75.8 million in the Zero-Emission Trucking Program to support safety testing, modernize codes, and establish “trucking testbeds to support early deployments”. Coming upgrades at the federal Motor Vehicle Test Centre are to help there.

Transport Canada also noted that emissions standards traditionally align with those in the U.S., referring to pending rules that will apply to Model Year 2027-30, and stricter greenhouse gas standards for Model Year 2030 and beyond.

Avatar photo

John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.