ICC Climate Conference Session: Making Zero-Emission Trucking a Reality
Sustainability • Published on November 10, 2022
To ultimately be successful in reducing carbon emissions from road transport in logistics supply chains, the nation’s small trucking companies need to have the ability to adopt zero-emission trucking technologies at scale. According to the EPA, the transportation sector makes up 27% of all U.S greenhouse gas emissions, and 26% of those come from heavy-duty trucking or vehicles that carry over 26,000 pounds1. In 2021, there were almost 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., making it one of the most common jobs; 95% of those drivers work for a small owner-operator or fleet with ten trucks or fewer2.
The clock is ticking to make the changes needed to stave off the devastating effects of climate change, and there is an urgent need to translate the aspirations and expectations into concrete outcomes. The “what” – net-zero emissions by 2050 – must now come with a “how” – decarbonizing supply chains through innovation.
Convoy recently hosted a session during the 2022 ICC “Make Climate Action Everyone’s Business Forum” Conference, a virtual event of disruptive ideas and ground-breaking insights from stakeholders delivering solutions to the world’s toughest climate and sustainability challenges. I virtually sat down with two transportation leaders working on the “how” in the industry. Andy Brown, Product Marketing Manager of Electromobility at Volvo, and Samuel Morales, Senior Manager of Carrier Programs of Convoy, are a wealth of industry knowledge.
Here’s what they have to say about “Making Zero Emission Trucking a Reality.”
The challenges facing the adoption of electric trucks
Andy Brown of Volvo: We first need to reach a place where the price gap between the initial investment to purchase an electric vehicle has achieved parity with the price of a diesel vehicle. Electrification is also a profoundly interconnected ecosystem. It’s more complex than buying a truck in a plug-and-play model, as there are different value streams that customers, big or small, have to factor in, such as your infrastructure. Critical factors include where you will charge a truck, how that will fit into your operational standards, and in addition, the shifts in the daily life of a truck driver. Another critical challenge is the charging infrastructure and whether that is public or private charging. For example, if you send an EV truck to California, there may be limitations on the time of day you can charge your vehicle to an already stressed energy grid. On top of that, we need to ensure that our microgrids can handle this.
Samuel Morales of Convoy: When you think about the public infrastructure needed to support electrification, you’re regionally bound to California, Texas, and a few other areas. These regional limitations present a challenge when shippers consider adopting or scaling electric trucks in areas with limited infrastructure to support electromobility. Another challenge to adoption is the range of electric vehicles when we look at haul length from a utilization perspective. We have long, regional, short, and city haul when you look at most over-the-road movements. At Convoy, we think of local freight moving from a hub-and-spoke distribution model, which lends itself to leveraging electric trucking technology. However, that’s not the majority of the freight. When considering who uses electric trucks today, it’s confined to local freight movements. But the good news is that we see the technology for electric trucks improving.
Another industry-wide challenge is the intensive capital resourcing required to implement, which is traditionally reserved for only larger asset-based fleets. Investments include developing a policy team to deal with local regulations and permitting to install the charging infrastructure. So, there is a disparity in enabling electric trucking technology as you go down the chain from a large fleet size with the capital available to adopt this technology to the small owner-operator. Other factors that can influence adoption are insurance requirements, driver comfortability, or awareness. And last, we still see that some people are hesitant about change and new technology.
Awareness, education, and professional development of electric truck drivers
Andy Brown of Volvo: The definition of success for my job is to advocate on behalf of and educate regulators, customers, and fleet owners on the importance of electrification.
Volvo recently had an electromobility summit where we invited customers throughout North America to our global customer center in Dublin, Virginia. The goal was to educate Volvo’s customers on electromobility. Hesitation or resistance is just a natural curve of change adoption and change management. To keep drivers comfortable in their environment, Volvo designed the Volvo North American Regional (VNR) Electric to be the same cab as we built on the VNR Diesel, which has been around since 2017. There are only a few minor differences, which include the regenerative stock and what you see on the dashboard. These different aspects are designed with intent, so you don’t overwhelm the driver.
The general population can only handle a certain amount of change with a product update from the first to the next generation, which is why we can’t just bring the same electric truck cab style already utilized in Europe and expect widespread adoption. Here in North America, you have the conventional style. Volvo wanted to stay true to the North American personas by providing an electrified version of a truck that drivers are accustomed to, accelerating the shift to electromobility.
Importance of industry collaboration to accelerate electric truck adoption
Samuel Morales of Convoy: Consumers are driving the push toward sustainability. At Convoy, our shippers are looking for support to meet the demand to drive greener logistics in their supply chains.
First, we tackle how to reduce carbon emissions in our trucking space. We identify what the future is and acknowledge the dependencies to get there. Convoy and Volvo have been in a wonderful relationship looking at ‘how do we approach this problem space?’ We work with our shippers to understand their climate roadmap and their drive to achieve carbon reductions. We also talk to our carrier base to learn how they are shifting to electric today. Next, we analyze our supply chain to understand which lanes electrification makes sense and the infrastructure dependencies. Then we build a plan together to architect the implementation. Throughout this process, we consider the stakeholders involved and how Convoy can support carriers and help manage shipments going forward.
Electric truck adoption requires extensive collaboration across the industry. We need to set up infrastructure in teams to manage the complexities of this supply chain, manage regulatory requirements, and analyze facility abilities to work with electric vehicles. There are considerations at the implementation stage of where to place the electric trucks in your network, what type of freight you give them, and how you strategically leverage them. So having those discussions and identifying those dependencies are a great way to address this problem space and how we started doing it here at Convoy.
The future of electromobility in trucking
Andy Brown of Volvo: Today, Volvo is focused on the continual adoption of short and regional haul. That’s where the Volvo North America Regional Haul (VNR) really shines with the short hood, excellent visibility, and maneuverability, making it perfect for city traffic. As we start to look into the future, Volvo has three parallel roads. First, improve the battery technology of the battery electric vehicle (BEV) and adopt that to our Volvo North America Long hood (VNL). Second, for the long haul, we have a joint venture with Cellcentric to accelerate the use of hydrogen technology to increase the range of electric vehicles. Third, there is the continual production of internal combustion engines (ICE) with I-torque and turbo compounds and other levers we can control. I believe we can achieve a fossil-free transportation future through these three pathways.
Samuel Morales of Convoy: The future of commercial electric vehicles will depend on innovation by manufacturers and pioneering by shippers and transportation partners such as Convoy. We know the constraints today with mileage and the need for increased utilization to justify high investments to adopt this new technology. In the next ten years, I see a reduction in this technology’s total cost, enabling widespread adoption. I also envision shippers making a heavier investment and preference to leverage this technology in their overall supply chain as a result of end-customer feedback. I look forward to zero-emission freight becoming the new normal within 10-20 years!
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 United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2020. “Fast Facts on Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/fast-facts-transportation-greenhouse-gas-emissions.
 American Trucking Association. N.d. “Economics and Industry Data.” https://www.trucking.org/economics-and-industry-data.