News, Trucks

THE Wall Street Journal is reporting that North American truck rental, leasing, road transport and logistics giant Ryder System, has found that electric truck running costs are far greater than diesel running costs and that getting its clients to take on electric rigs is proving to be a hard sell.

Ryder System, with annual revenue of $A18 billion, has 250,000 trucks servicing some 50,000 customers.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Robert Sanchez, the chief executive of Ryder System as saying: “The economics just don’t work for most companies.”

The Journal said: “Battery-electric trucks cost about three times as much to purchase as a diesel rig. There are federal and state programs to help offset the purchase costs, but operating costs and other issues present big hurdles. 

“Truckers say battery-electric truck operations are too difficult to set up and too expensive and inefficient to run.  

“It can take years to install on-site charging facilities for trucks that can travel less than half as far as diesel rigs between refueling and that require at least several hours to recharge,” the paper said. 

It reported that Ryder launched a dedicated service a year ago to help companies set up and run battery-powered fleets, including installation of charging equipment and maintenance of the vehicles. 

Ryder told the Journal that so far it has sold just 60 vehicles through the program and that most of those are light-duty trucks. Three of the companies are running five battery-electric heavy-duty trucks, but those trucks are confined to yard work.

Mr Sanchez told the Journal that Ryder used load and route data from 13,000 vehicles it operates on for its customers which revealed that the annual operating expenses of battery-electric commercial trucks were sharply higher than traditional diesel rigs. 

The paper said the analysis assumed the infrastructure to provide fast charging was already in place and focused on expenses such as buying the vehicle, maintenance, labor and fuel. 

“The company found that light-duty, battery-electric vans raise annual operating costs by several percentage points. As trucks get heavier the cost difference becomes more pronounced, according to Ryder’s analysis, with annual costs of operating battery-electric big rigs about twice as expensive as diesel trucks.

“What surprised us was the magnitude of the gap,” Mr Sanchez said. 

Electric heavy trucks also need more trucks and drivers to do the same job.

The Journal said that Ryder found that, because battery-electric trucks are heavier than diesel trucks and require several hours to recharge, companies need more vehicles and drivers to haul the same volume of freight as a diesel truck. 

“The Ryder analysis estimated that a company would need nearly two battery-electric big rigs and more than two drivers to equal the output of a single heavy-duty diesel truck,” the paper reported.   

Mr Sanchez told the paper that unlike passenger-vehicle owners who might buy an electric car on principle, companies will only switch to battery technology when it can compete with diesel on the cost of running the vehicle.

Penske Truck Leasing reported that its pilot programs with battery-electric trucks have found that because battery-electric rigs are heavier than diesel trucks their tyres wear out faster. The company also found some parts for electric vehicles were more costly.

The paper said that executives at Ryder System spent years listening to some of their biggest customers say they wanted to switch to battery-electric big rigs. 

“Now that the heavy-duty trucks are available, the company says, few customers want to pay for them.”

The Journal said this suggests that truck makers will need to make significant advances in battery weight, range and charging times if battery-electric trucks are to seriously challenge diesel rigs in a highly competitive freight sector that runs on thin margins.  

The Ryder analysis found that converting a typical mixed fleet of 25 commercial vehicles, including about 10 heavy-duty trucks, from diesel to battery power in California would raise a fleet’s annual operating costs 56 per cent. The same transition in Georgia would raise annual operating costs 67 per cent.


Footnote: One of the big issues with heavy duty electric trucks is that their battery pack adds so much weight to the rig that the truck is forced to carry that much less fee-paying cargo – a huge issue in a business that runs on such slim margins.  

On a car carrier, for example, this means that you would have to take one vehicle the size of a Land Cruiser off the truck so it could reach its weight limit.

In addition, as diesel rigs progress and use fuel, their fuel load gets progressively lighter unlike batteries that weigh the same even when there is little charge left.

By John Mellor

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