For as long as anyone alive today can remember, trucks have had big powerful engines in them to haul any load they were asked to move, and almost since the first trucks left the factory, the battle to get more mileage out of them started. Today, things are changing, electric trucks are being seen on haulage routes all over the country, but what are they like and what does it mean for truck drivers now and into the future?
Modern trucks have made huge strides in fuel efficiency, the latest Peterbilt trucks are so far ahead of where the industry was just 2 decades ago that the progress really is amazing, but even that cannot compete with the possibility of an electric drivetrain for running costs. While much of the talk about a new wave of trucks has focused on autonomous models that drive themselves, the reality is that for the foreseeable future, it is the change in drivetrain to electric that will affect drivers the most.
As an industry, trucking is not renowned for running to embrace new technology, exactly the opposite in fact, we like what we have because we know it works, and we like things that we can rely on to work. However, this is a big change that none of us can ignore, and eventually this technology will prove itself as reliable as anything else, this means that it is important for all of us to understand what the technology is and what it means for working truck drivers.
Currently there are half a dozen or more manufacturers investing heavily in electric trucks, from Tesla that everyone has probably heard about to new US startup Nikola, but there are others all over the world. In Japan, Mitsubishi, Fuso and Hino are all producing working trucks, while in Europe both Mercedes-Benz and Swedish company Scania, who do not currently sell their product in the US, are also ploughing development funds into creating electric truck lines.
With so many manufacturers involved, it is clearly the future for the industry, and it’s not just fuel savings that are driving this. At the moment, electric buses and garbage trucks are highlighting just how much electric power can save operators, with savings of $60,000 a year possible thanks to the fuel and much decreased maintenance costs, so while electric power requires a significant upfront investment compared to traditional trucks, long term, operators are saving money. With initial purchase costs decreasing quite rapidly as the technology advances, the cost advantages will become more and more attractive to operators.
As battery technology is advancing rapidly, increasing range and decreasing charge times simultaneously, electric trucks become viable for more and more uses, so it perhaps won’t be long until the revving of a big engine is replaced by the gentle whir of an electric motor at every truck stop in the country. How much working life changes for truck drivers will depend on the range and charge times of course, but it is certainly to be a lot cleaner at the fuel stop.