Traditional Semi Truck Makers Face Extinction If They Don’t Go Electric

2 months ago by Mark Kane 24

Toyota Project Portal Hydrogen Fuel Cell Semi Truck

Toyota Project Portal Hydrogen Fuel Cell Semi Truck

As the plug-in light passenger vehicle market expands, electrification is now creeping into the trucking segment … and established commercial truck manufacturers are already feeling the pressure of upcoming disruption to their business..


Circle the date: Tesla Semi debuts September 28th, 2017

Popular industry website notes that Navistar, Paccar, and other traditional companies risk obsolescence if they don’t begin developments of electrified power-trains.

“That’s the assessment of analyst Alexander Potter from Piper Jaffray in a report released Tuesday for industry investors.

“Many stocks in our truck coverage are exposed to disruption. Other than Wabco and Tesla we don’t recommend buying any of them,” Potter said.

Venerable industry suppliers such as Navistar International Corp., Paccar Inc., Cummins Inc. and Allison Transmission Holdings are among the most “susceptible,” Potter wrote.”

Range is still a major issue for trucks, so the electrification has begin with smaller trucks with regional depots (equipped with charging stations), but there are new players on the horizon:

Daimler Fuso eCanter

Daimler Fuso eCanter

As we see it, electric trucks will probably follow in the foot steps of electric buses, which are already taking sales from traditional business manufacturers in California and other states.

EVs are still of course more expensive to initially buy, and have some range and charging issues, but the regular maintenance costs, and energy costs to operate are much, much lower. Also the driving experience is unparalleled.

As fleet managers and operators more and more see the operational benefits, the change (as with e-buses) will likely be swift when it arrives.

““Naturally the economics are different in other vocations, but as volume rises and prices fall toward parity, other segments should steadily embrace EV drivetrains, including school buses, refuse trucks, and urban delivery fleets, more-or-less in that order,” he said.”


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25 responses to "Traditional Semi Truck Makers Face Extinction If They Don’t Go Electric"

  1. James says:

    There’s less of the FoxNews passion about gas cars when it comes to fleet management. If they see an electric truck is going to save their fleet money, gas powered trucks are toast. If they stick to gas then shareholders can demand to know why they wouldn’t switch to increase profits. It’s not going to be long before we see entire fleets of cars and trucks switching over, en masse.

  2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Wow, is this just a wee bit premature?

    The only market where medium or heavy BEV trucks are being sold successfully is in the “terminal truck” aka “yard mule” market, where they are used only for hauling semi trailers from one spot to another inside a freight terminal (or port).

    If medium or heavy BEV trucks were economically competitive with diesel trucks for over-the-road freight hauling, then Smith Electric Vehicles wouldn’t have had to cease production. Unfortunately, they have had to due to low sales. 🙁

    Tesla and Cummins showing prototypes which almost certainly are nothing but technology demonstrators don’t show that medium or heavy BEV freight trucks are economically competitive. And if I’m right in my prediction that neither of them is a production-intent prototype, then they are further evidence of exactly the opposite; evidence that it’s too soon for battery-electric vehicles to compete on cost with diesel trucks.

    That said, I’m still eager to see what Tesla will show as its concept vehicle BEV semi truck this month!

    1. georgeS says:

      “Wow, is this just a wee bit premature?”

      In the words a a well known analyst:

      “That’s the assessment of analyst Alexander Potter from Piper Jaffray in a report released Tuesday for industry investors.”

      I guess if you are an analyst you can declare just about anything and ears pop up. LOL

    2. MaartenV-nl says:

      A scientist doing the math on electric trucks. Worth a read.

      1. sveno says:

        great find!

        1. SJC says:

          It will come down to money, if they have lower costs then they will consider it.

      2. jahav says:

        It has some good points (how can IEA omit BEV trucks in a forecast that has year 2025 or even 2050 in it?), but once again (as is quite normal in those “we will be on the moon in 5 yrs” articles), it skips/ignores over quite a few things.

        Yes, there will be EV trucks, but even in 2025, they will probably be just starting, not a mainstream. It will take more time.

        Let’s take the very first picture “Diesel vs electric: cost/km”:

        Energy tax for looks to be ~$.26/km for ICE diesel in 2025, but for BEV, it is assumed to be ~$0.09/km? This assumption that the government will just allow tax revenue to disappear is just laughable. It will be replaced with GPS systems and per mile counting (e.g. look at Slovakia MYTO system ~€0.14/km and that is excluding fuel tax). I don’t know how exactly it works in Netherlands, but in my EU country, fuel tax+tolls collect ~9% of all tax revenues.

        The assumption that state will just allow it to disappear goes against the reason and recent development of EV fees in some states (e.g. HongKong Tesla surcharge, EV registration fees in various US states).

        Inertia & Time to develop: US and west part of EU is pretty rich. Yet EV buses are rather rare, so are EV bus manufactures. Proterra (for all their press releases build less than 150 buses – they delivered their 100th bus in 2017-04-15).

        It takes time to design, build and test trucks. Even after that, your customer wants to test them for a good time and only after that commits to a contract. The year 2017 is nearly over and in my limited exposure, there are few short-range truck prototypes driving around (Daimer ect). Tesla semi unveil will probably be similar to other unveils – prototype that will take a long to transform into a something you can call a customer product.

        Logistics: Dealing with logistics will be pain. Other that SuperCharges, there is no good way to charge even much less demanding personal BEVs. There is probably not a one . You can see that OEMs are not keen on building even lower-powered charging stations, much less several MW stations required for trucks.
        The “45 minute break every time they have driven 4.5 hours”is useful, only when you actually have a station to use that is on-route.

        There is great benefit that commercial companies look at TCO overlifetime, but the article has really good points, why *eventually* BEV trucks will work, why biofuels are horrid. Eventually is IMO much further in future than the article indicates or I would like.

    3. arne-nl says:

      “Tesla and Cummins showing prototypes which almost certainly are nothing but technology demonstrators”

      That is not at all Tesla’s track record. They are not like the incumbent manufacturers that show off fancy ‘concept vehicles’. If they show a prototype the goal is to mass produce asap.

      And that same track record has shown they can do that if they put their minds to it. And avoid ‘hubris’ ;).

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        I realize I’m sticking my neck out a bit by making that assertion. However, I don’t think I’m sticking it out very far.

        Carl Sagan famously said “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.” In the strict scientific sense, that’s correct. But in the practical real-world sense of how a sizable business operates, it’s not. There were plenty of reports about how Tesla was developing the Model 3, and contracting with suppliers, and building out a gigantic Gigafactory to supply batteries for it. There were plenty of reports about Tesla hiring new employees to work on the Model 3 production line(s).

        There is absolutely nothing equivalent for any hypothetical production EV semi tractor from Tesla. Elon claiming that it would be mostly made out of Model 3 parts… how does that even make any sense? Tesla isn’t going to assemble a semi tractor body out of body parts for the Model 3!

        And where would Tesla get the batteries from? Gigafactory 1 is fully committed to supplying the Model 3, and eventually for the Models S and X. But where would the additional battery supply come from for the very large BEV semi battery packs?

        Reports are that Musk has been talking to operators of large trucking fleets (for example, see link below). That certainly makes sense; Musk is “feeling out” fleet operators to see what they want, and trying to get a sense of what sort of economic advantage they’d need to see to be willing to invest in a different type of truck.

        All that fits in with Tesla showing a technology demonstrator… and not, in my opinion, a production-intent prototype.

  3. G2 says:

    Couldn’t Class 8 trucks go to scaled up Volt type drive trains and at least halve their fuel costs until batteries/charging stations could allow the generator to be removed entirely?

    1. georgeS says:


      If it was me and someone said:

      Design an EV truck that will be a good run against Tesla. I wouldn’t do a pure EV. I’d do a range extended EV Semi.

      It would be quick and easy. A big battery with a 250 mile range and a diesel that runs on NG.

      I’m not a Diesel fan unless we talk NG.

      The CO2 foot print of such a semi would be good.

      Plus you eliminate the need for a dedicated truck super charger network that need a 1 million $ power pack per station (napkin math PMPU).

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        At the risk of nitpicking, my Napkin Math 1.0 didn’t say anything about using a PowerPack for a charging station, nor claim a cost of $1 million per station. As a matter of fact, it didn’t even touch on the cost of installing a BEV semi charging station at all.

        I could easily believe that a BEV truck stop might cost $1 million or more to construct; diesel truck stops can easily cost that much or more to build, and BEV truck stops may well be even more expensive. But that BEV truck stop would almost certainly be capable of charging more than 1 or 2 vehicles at once.

        1. kbm3 says:

          As much as I admire your posts in general, I believe you’re off base on this one. If I remember correctly, your back of the napkin math was based on reasoning by analogy.

          You seemed to assume that the electric semi would operate very similarly to diesel semi’s. You can bet Tesla started over from first principles looking at anyway they could reduce cost per ton-mile.

          In any event, we should know in four weeks time.

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            Well, I’ll re-post it here for your perusal. But in general, yes you’re correct that I based it on figures for diesel trucking, and then did some simple math to translate it over to a theoretical BEV truck. In fact, I labeled my analysis a “ballpark feasibility case”; I certainly wasn’t claiming my figures were that close to what an actual working BEV semi tractor would get.

            That said, I think it was quite useful; my analysis certainly has better data and more realistic/logical assumptions than many comparisons between diesel semi tractors and a hypothetical BEV semi tractor which I’ve seen posted with the past few months!

            Please also note that nowhere in my “Napkin Math 1.0” (not my label; someone else’s) do I claim this is what Tesla is going to do. I was trying for a general case analysis to see if it even made any sense for someone to try to make a commercial, long-range BEV semi tractor. This could fit a BEV tractor from Cummins as well as Tesla… or at least, it would if Cummins was going to show a Class 8 truck, and not the lighter Class 7 semi tractor which it is talking about.

            I have hesitated to re-post my analysis recently, as some of it is already rather outdated. In particular, my analysis is mistaken when it claims that the economic case simply won’t work. I made a fundamental error there, by assuming that the BEV truck’s battery pack would wear out 3x as fast as a Tesla Model S’s battery pack. In fact, it may well last as long or longer, even with the much greater annual mileage put on the average semi tractor, because the battery pack is much, much larger. So keep that in mind if you read the “Cost Analysis” part of my analysis.

            I also did not consider the possibility of using “relay teams” of shorter-range (200-300) mile trucks, to achieve the same throughput as a single 750-mile truck.

            * * * * *


            (revised May 30, 2017)

            FACTS & FIGURES

            A modern diesel semi pulling a load gets 6.5 MPG; therefore uses 0.1538 gallons of diesel per mile

            1 gallon of diesel contains 40.7 kWh of energy

            1 gallon of diesel varies in weight between 6.85lbs. and 7.5lbs per U.S. gallon, depending on temperature. (I’m going to use the figure of 7.1 lbs/gallon)

            diesel semi typical engine weight 2880 lbs

            Eaton Fuller 18-speed transmission weight 738 lbs

            Tesla Roadster upgrade battery pack: 70 kWh in ~10 cubic feet

            standard sized semi trailer dimensions: 110″ high x 96″ wide, or 9.167′ x 8′

            DOT weight limit for a six-axle semi tractor-trailer: 80,000 lbs

            Typical price of a relatively high-end new semi tractor: $150,000

            Typical trucker may drive as much as 600-700 miles in a day, and can legally drive up to 11 hours per day.

            * * * * *


            What we need is a BEV battery pack for our semi tractor which will allow it to pull a load for ~750 miles. This should allow the trucker to complete a daily run on one charge. We assume at the end of the run either the battery pack is swapped out for one that’s charged up, or the pack is charged during the hours the trucker is sleeping. Either way, we avoid the need for fast charging and very high current.

            Our hypothetical BEV semi will have an energy efficiency 2.6 times that of a diesel semi. (An EV car is about 3.5 x as energy efficient as an average gasmobile, but diesel engines are about 30-35% more efficient than gas engines.)

            Therefore, our BEV semi pulling a load needs (0.1538 x 40.7 / 2.6 =) 2.4 kWh of energy to run 1 mile.

            Estimated weight of a 2016 Tesla battery pack using 18650 cells: 11.5 lbs / kWh

            Estimated price for a Tesla battery pack (not just the cells): $180 / kWh

            * * * * *

            We need to look at three limiting factors for the BEV semi tractor’s large battery pack: Space, weight, and cost.

            SPACE ANALYSIS

            The space behind a long-haul trucker’s cab, the space now devoted to storage and sleeping space, is about 4.1 feet long, at least on the diagram I looked at; I’m assuming the height and width are the same as a typical semi trailer. (At least, the dimensions should be close enough for this ballpark estimate.)

            Let’s use that space for the battery pack. I don’t see losing this space as a problem. Since we no longer need a long nose for the diesel engine, which isn’t there, we can shove the cabin forward, and leave room for the battery pack behind. The tractor now looks more like a “cab-over” tractor with an extended space behind the cabin, rather than a long-nose tractor.

            So I estimate that space at 4.145 x 9.167′ x 8′ = 303.977 cu.ft.

            An upgraded Tesla Roadster’s battery pack has 70 kWh and measures ~10 cubic feet.

            Assuming a similar configuration, that gives us (303.977 / 10 * 70 =) 2127.8 kWh.

            At 2.4 kWh per mile, that’s 886.6 miles.

            This is comfortably beyond our needs of ~750 miles.

            Space isn’t an issue.

            * * * * *


            Weight *is* an issue, altho perhaps not as much as it appears.

            At 2.4 kWh per mile, enabling a range of 750 miles requires our BEV semi tractor to carry a (750 x 2.4 =) 1800 kWh battery pack. At an estimated 11.5 pounds per kWh, that’s 20,700 lbs. We save just a bit by losing the diesel drivetrain; maybe 3000 lbs or so. We also save half the weight of the fuel*, which for a trip of 750 miles (using ~115.35 gallons) would be approximately 409.5 lbs. (We could also subtract the weight of the transmission, but then the EV motor, inverter etc. do weigh something, so let’s assume that cancels out the 738 lb transmission weight.) This brings us down to an estimated ~17,300 lbs. That’s 21.6% of our maximum weight limit of 80,000 lbs. And note that various State laws may reduce the maximum weight even further, depending on what States our long-range truck travels through.

            Now, that’s not to say this makes the idea impractical. It may well be worth sacrificing some shipping capacity as a tradeoff for lower cost per mile of moving the freight. But it does limit the market for our BEV semi a bit, or perhaps more than a bit, depending on what the customer’s needs are.

            *We can only deduct half the weight of the diesel fuel, because that weight will disappear over the course of the day’s trip. Now that’s assuming the driver starts with as much fuel as he needs for the entire day’s trip, which may or may not be correct. So far as I can find by Googling, there isn’t any standard size for semi tractor fuel tanks; one source says they range from 100-400 gallon capacity, and I see a reference to 2 x 150 gallons as a typical size. So then, it appears reasonable to assume ~115 gallons is carried at the start, with no stops for refueling for the entire shift.

            However, the importance of the weight limit has been called into question by Piper Jaffray analyst Alex Potter, who says “Most fleets run out of space in their trailers long before they approach the 80,000-pound threshold.” We think he’s right on this point. The weight limit will be an issue for some fleets, but not for others, and perhaps not for most. So the weight limit apparently would not limit Tesla’s market much.

            * * * * *

            COST ANALYSIS

            Cost for the battery pack is the real issue here. And that cost is almost certainly why, for example, UPS, FedEx, Wal*Mart, and other companies with large trucking fleets have not already started switching to heavy BEV trucks.

            That 1800 kWh battery pack, at $180 / kWh at the pack level, will cost an estimated $324,000. And that’s Tesla’s estimated cost, not price, so you can likely add another 15-25% to that. Note a reasonably high-end diesel semi tractor costs $150,000, so adding that battery pack is more than tripling the cost. With a 20% markup, it’s $388,000, which is 259% of the diesel semi tractor’s $150,000 price. Sure, Tesla will save some money by using an EV powertrain instead of the much more complex, and more expensive, diesel powertrain. But as a percentage of the price of that battery pack, I doubt losing the diesel engine, exhaust, etc. etc. will make much of an impact on price.

            There is also the matter of battery life. A Tesla battery pack may be expected to last the life of the car, but the typical car is only driven about 5-10% of the hours in a day. Contrariwise, a long range truck is expected to be on the road as much as possible. A truck just sitting around still has to be insured, and the owner still has to pay all those fees for a heavy commercial vehicle. A truck just sitting around is losing money for its owner.

            So we need to ask: Just how many times will that very expensive battery pack have to be replaced, over the lifetime of the truck? A semi truck is expected to last an average of 20 years, significantly longer than the average life of a passenger car. Will the truck save enough on fuel costs to justify the amortized cost of buying replacement packs?

            That’s a subject beyond the scope of this analysis.

            * * * * *


            Several people responding to this “napkin math” analysis have pointed out that if we assume the driver only drives for half a shift, then uses either battery swap or fast recharge while eating lunch, then this will allow us to use a battery only half the size, weight, and cost. This of course allows us rather more optimistic assumptions. We’re not sure how realistic it is to think that a trucker would always stop to eat lunch at a battery swap station or a BEV truck stop, but let’s do the math anyway.

            First, we will assume a 60% battery pack size, not 50%, because there needs to be a least a bit of flexibility in what time the driver eats lunch and how far he drives before stopping in mid-shift.

            60% battery pack size weighs 12,420 lbs. Losing the weight of the diesel engine and the diesel fuel saves approx. (3000 + 204.75) ≈ 3200 lbs, totaling 9220 lbs, which reduces the 80,000 lb. carrying capacity of our hypothetical BEV semi tractor-trailer rig by 11.53%, which makes this a much more optimistic scenario!

  4. Dave K says:

    I think the applications named(school buses, trash trucks etc.) are actually overdue, any application where they stop and start often driving through neighborhoods. The shorter drives and regenerative braking advantages make it an ideal application. The post office tried it a while back but the tech wasn’t ready, it certainly is now!

    1. Scott says:

      Better late, than never.

    2. Steven says:

      Don’t forget postal delivery vehicles. I think they’re a prime candidate also.

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      There are already practical, working BEV trash trucks. I dunno how much of a market penetration they have made, but they do exist.

      This one’s a PHEV with a gas turbine range extender:

  5. scottf200 says:

    Wow — “Heavy-duty rigs make up between 7 and 10 percent of vehicles on the road but consume more than *25* percent of the fuel”

  6. Scott says:

    Buh bye, diesel. I cant wait to watch the recalcitrant go bankrupt.

  7. Terawatt says:

    Going electric makes even more sense for trucks than cars. Energy is a much bigger part of total cost and it’s cut to a third or even a quarter by using electric propulsion. Maintenance also costs much more because trucks have much higher utilisation and there’s an income loss whenever it’s not in service. The impact on the environment is also greater, partly because trucks run in diesel rather than gasoline today.

    Getting sufficient range requires big battery packs, very fast charging or battery swapping, or some combination of the above, or sacrificing utilisation and drive fewer hours and miles per day. It’s going to be exciting to see Tesla’s initial take at this!

    1. Doggydogworld says:

      Tesla might achieve 2.0 kWh/mile with super-streamlining. A similar diesel will get 8 mpg (Supertrucks do 10+, but some mods aren’t legal or practical).

      2.0 kWh/mile is ~20 cents/mile electricity cost. Add 10 cents/mile battery degradation (3000 cycles is 1500 lifetime miles per $150 kWh) for 30 cents/mile total. Diesel is ~$2/gallon untaxed, so an 8 mpg super-streamlined semi is 25 cents/mile.

      EV Semi should have lower maintenance and power train cost, but that’s offset by higher financing cost and lower payload.

      Dynamic charging gives EV a small cost advantage because an ultra-life chemistry such as LTO reduces battery depreciation to 2 cents/mile. Financing and payload are better than diesel, instead of worse, so it ends up with a 5-10 cents/mile advantage. But only after we spend $20b on a national dynamic charging network. Don’t hold your breath.

  8. Patrick says:

    The auto industry had their “Kodak Moment” in 2014 and most of them failed to act. Now the luxury car makers are losing share to Tesla, soon the mid-sized sedan market will feel the same. The trucking industry has had fair warning. They can respond or be a footnote in history:

  9. Byron Alpizar says:

    Ok people.
    Fact No.1 Tesla is a money machine NOT A CAR FACTORY, if they show a concept electric wife, stocks will touch sky Why? Because stock market is an actual economic bubble about to blow worst than north Korea, so is smart make money before the storm.
    Fact No.2 Drones, this technology grows soooo but sooo fast that as a fact the fight we see from Amazon, vs other retailers will hurt, truck market before 2025.
    Fact No.3 OK heavy transport yes is OK any factory can make prototype models, and there is a question gas fight Russia Vs USA will trigger use of it before electric models that require completely new infrastructure? Time to recharge? New production plants instead minimal modifications? And just load the thank and run again 24/7?

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