Challenges Facing the Adoption of Electric Truck Fleets
Innovations in electric truck technology present a major opportunity for business fleets. However, these electric trucks have yet to make much headway in the commercial vehicle market.
Despite several notable milestones and significant corporate investment, consumers and businesses have been slow to adopt these new EVs. A handful of challenges will likely need to be addressed before electric trucks become widely adopted.
Maintenance and High Prices May Be Discouraging EV Adoption
One of the most significant barriers to EV adoption remains cost. The heavy-duty lithium-ion batteries needed to power a truck’s drivetrain can still be extremely expensive. This drives up the cost of new electric trucks compared to similar, gas-powered vehicles.
Reliability and maintenance may also pose a barrier to adoption for some fleet owners. While electric vehicles can sometimes be more reliable than gas cars due to their electric powertrain, they can also be just as or more expensive than conventional vehicles to maintain.
Lithium-ion batteries tend to have a long lifespan, but they don’t last forever. Replacing one can be a major expense. Battery replacement costs for early EVs, like the Nissan Leaf, can be up to $5,000, which is near the resale value of the car. This is due to the price of a new battery and the labor needed to replace the old one.
While most EV maintenance is similar to conventional vehicles, simple failures can cause more serious problems due to the complexity and uniqueness of electric powertrains. Entire components found in a standard, internal combustion engine-powered truck are missing or replaced by other parts, like DC-DC converters, reducers and battery control modules.
If a business wants to keep fleet maintenance in-house, servicing electric trucks will require either hiring new technicians who are knowledgeable about electric trucks or training existing employees in EV upkeep.
The experimental nature of many modern EVs and the use of proprietary firmware may also mean adopting electric trucks would require fleet owners to develop a much closer relationship with dealers and mechanics.
As new EVs age, they may face problems that are hard for businesses to anticipate right now. The reliability of these new electric vehicles may be proven over the next few years — but, for the moment, potential maintenance woes may convince fleet owners to wait on upgrading.
Limited Charging Stations and Range Anxiety May Discourage Adoption
Like most consumer EVs, commercial electric trucks also face the charging problem. Drivers can’t rely on the existing infrastructure of gas stations and truck stops to keep them fueled. There’s a constantly expanding network of EV charging stations being built around the country. Still, outside of a few major cities, available stations may not be common enough to provide a reliable source of power.
Range anxiety — or the fear that EVs don’t store enough power to get a driver from home base to destination to a charging station — is likely a major barrier to the widespread adoption of EVs. Even in areas where charging stations are widely available, the capacity they offer may not be enough to charge EVs in a timely fashion.
For example, the 2021 Tesla Model Y has a range of up to 326 miles and takes eight to 12 hours to get a full charge from a 220-volt power station. Higher-voltage power stations are available commercially, and it’s possible to fully charge a Model Y in just an hour and a half with a Level 3 or 440-volt charger.
However, most existing EV charging stations offer just 220 volts. This means fleet owners will likely have to invest in home charging stations and carefully schedule drivers so they can always make it back to fleet headquarters for a recharge. Businesses that adopt electric trucks would be significantly limited by the density and location of existing charging stations.
While several major infrastructure projects and new subsidies will help increase the number of high-power charging stations, it will be a while before chargers are as common as gas stations.
Investment in the EV Market May Make Electric Trucks More Appealing
Major automakers seem to have committed to the growing EV market. It’s a good sign that, while adoption may be slow, some of the challenges discouraging fleet owners from buying EVs may be solved soon.
Ford has made an $11 billion investment in the EV market and is set to begin delivering the electric counterparts to its flagship truck, the Ford F-150, in early 2022. Other Ford EVs include the brand’s all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV and the 2021 electric Ford Escape. Notably, the price point for Ford’s new electric F-150 is close to the price of the ICE version of the truck. After tax credits, the base electric model may even be cheaper than the gas-powered F-150.
Ford has also argued that the cost of ownership for the electric truck will be cheaper due to lower maintenance expenses and the price of electricity versus fuel.
General Motors, owner of the Ford brand, has long been an EV pioneer. The company launched one of the first few plug-in electric hybrids on the market, the Chevrolet Volt, in 2011. Affordable, modern EVs like these may convince fleet managers interested in electric trucks but have been cautious about investing in an EV upgrade.
At the very least, the rise of new commercial and consumer electric trucks is a good sign that there will be a robust market for used EVs emerging within the next few years. If these vehicles prove to be reliable, preowned models could provide a stepping stone for fleet owners interested in an electric upgrade but cautious about committing to a fleet of all-new EVs.
What the Future of Vehicle Fleets May Look Like
As investment in the EV market increases, commercial adoption of electric trucks and similar vehicles will also grow.
Current barriers to adoption — the high price of EVs, limited charging infrastructure and concerns around maintenance — are serious but aren’t likely to last forever. Prices are falling, the charging infrastructure is improving and more EVs means more mechanics familiar with repairing these vehicles.
In the near future, fleet owners may begin moving away from conventional vehicles to electric ones, but only once these challenges become easier to manage.
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