Mistakes will slow down deployment
Focus on infrastructure, operational support
Take the time to design system level efficiency
The electrification of medium and heavy-duty trucks is continuing apace, with new product launches and investments happening on a regular basis. Interact Analysis forecast in its upcoming annual study on hybrid and electric trucks and buses that over 80,000 battery electric heavy-duty distribution trucks and over 50,000 battery electric heavy-duty long haul trucks will be registered globally in 2030.
However, amongst all the excitement of this new market, we believe there are three strategic mistakes that are being made by truck OEMs. And, whilst not all are applicable to every OEM, companies should look to address these challenges to both maximise success and the rate at which these vehicles are adopted.
Lack of Focus on Charging Infrastructure and Fleet Support
One of the most important aspects of ‘going electric’ is provision of charging and the integration of vehicles into existing fleet operations. Charging requires additional hardware, grid connection improvements and, in some instances, property and/or land purchase. Fleet operations often require extensive planning to find the best routes for electric vehicles so that charging can be effectively integrated with minimal unplanned downtime.
In the bus market fleets have been using electric vehicles for several years. Bus OEMs offer route planning services and consultancy services aimed at assisting fleets integrate charging. To date, the same approach appears to be limited in the electric truck market. For sure, the nascent market perhaps hasn’t required the same level of support, but now fleets are looking to integrate hundreds if not thousands of electric trucks and they need support with fleet integration, charging and route optimization. They are not, in many instances, getting this support and there is an opportunity for OEMs to do a far better job.
“It’s the Wrong Business Model, Jim”
Star Trek’s Dr McCoy knew a thing or two about speaking truth to power. Had he been around in the early part of the 21st century, he might have had some wry observations about the future of the medium and heavy-duty electric truck market. Interact Analysis has found in its research that, in a large number of markets, the total cost of ownership for medium and heavy-duty electric trucks is not favourable and is unlikely to be for several years. As a result, uptake by fleet operators is likely to be slow unless more favourable government incentives are made available. The availability of incentives is uncertain (at best) but it is not, we think, a sustainable way to encourage adoption over the long-term. Interact Analysis believes it is time to investigate different usage models for electric trucks that move away from traditional vehicle ownership. We believe that truck OEMs should, with speed, look at usage-based models for electric trucks that include all aspects of infrastructure, electricity supply, service and maintenance. Not only will this simplify the process of ‘going electric’ but it will reduce CAPEX and, in some instances, lower OPEX for fleets too. Combined with a consultative service to get fleets using electric vehicles this is likely a powerful and compelling way to build loyalty and drive new business.
System Level Efficiency
Given the challenges associated with electrifying medium and heavy-duty trucks, one of the primary focuses for any OEM design team should be on overall system efficiency, maximizing range and vehicle performance. By overall ‘system efficiency’ we mean not only the overall efficiency of the powertrain but also of the vehicle, including the cab and trailer.
To borrow from the passenger car market, the first generation of electric vehicles were often designed to a particular price point or to meet a particular market or emission requirement. This meant that the vehicles were often not ‘maximally’ efficient as there was little incentive to do so. To give a good example, the second-generation Nissan Leaf had a more efficient heating system and regenerative braking system, was lighter, and more aerodynamic than the first generation. More recent examples include Jaguar’s in-market software update for the I-Pace that adds 8% range or Tesla’s frequent efficiency software updates or the use of a heat pump in the new Model Y to provide in-cabin heating.
There is, understandably, a rush to get medium and heavy-duty electric vehicles to market. However, OEMs should resist the temptation to push system engineers to rush designs and cut corners. It is challenging to electrify medium and heavy-duty vehicles and OEMs should look to designs that maximise every opportunity to improve overall efficiency – this will lead to better performing vehicles and customers who are more satisfied/willing to shift from ICE to electric. There should also be a focus on the ability to make changes – particularly at the firmware level – remotely and when the vehicles are in service. Adding extra range in this way would prove beneficial to fleet operators.
Two areas, in particular, that Interact Analysis believes are being overlooked are the cab/tractor and the trailer. Although cabs/tractors are already using lightweight materials and designs, there is scope to improve performance significantly through the use of more structural plastics, adhesives as opposed to rivets/spot welds and the use of simulation tools like generative design to create the lightest possible structures with the best structural properties.
Trailers offer even more scope for improvement although there are more challenges. Trailers are typically built to the lowest cost and are expected to last a long time and be subject to a fair amount of operational abuse (impacts, extreme outdoor conditions, rough use, etc.). There is little motivation from trailer manufacturers to invest in radical new designs, particular when margins are so low. However, the advent of electrified heavy-duty trucks may give trailer manufacturers – and their OEM partners – reason to look at trailers as part of the technical solution for improving performance. The batteries used in heavy duty trucks are incredibly heavy – 1 or 2 tons – and this limits both range and the weight of cargo that can be carried (both critical factors for fleet operators). A technical effort to reduce the weight of trailers would both improve both the range AND the maximum cargo weight that can be carried.
The latest Interact Analysis hybrid and electric truck and bus forecasts are available this month. For more information please get in touch with the report authors Alastair Hayfield: firstname.lastname@example.org and Rueben Scriven: email@example.com