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Medium-duty box truck market 100 per cent electrifiable: NACFE report

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s final report from the Run on Less — Electric competition finds the simple medium-duty segment (over 380,000 vehicles in Canada and the US) is ideal for electrification

The final report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) 2021 Run on Less — Electric (RoL-E) competition concludes that the medium-duty box truck market segment is 100 per cent electrifiable.

This means that by electrifying the medium-duty vehicle segment operating across Canada and the United States, millions of metric tonnes of carbon each year will be eliminated, saving as much as US$6,269 in fuel per vehicle per year, the study found.

“We think this market segment is 100 per cent electrifiable although the electrification process will start with trucks that have simpler duty cycles — think box trucks and stake trucks — and as we learn more, electrification will move to trucks with more complex duty cycles like refrigerated box trucks or dump trucks. The last trucks in this market segment to electrify will be those with very complex operations like garbage/refuse trucks and snowplows,” NACFE’s executive director, Mike Roeth wrote in a recent newsletter.

“When the simpler box truck portion of this market segment electrifies, about 380,000 trucks in the US and Canada, it will result in the avoidance of 7,681,707 metric tonnes (MT) of COtwoand annually.”

NACFE’s Run on Less — Electric was a three week-long demonstration program of 13 different electric trucks during September 2021 and was held in various regions and cities across North America, including Vancouver and Montreal.

The results of the medium-duty segment were reached by studying three battery electric medium-duty box trucks participating in the RoL-E event: a Lion Electric Lion6 medium-duty box truck (Day & Ross), a Cummins-Peterbilt Class 6 220EV (Frito-Lay) and a ROUSH CleanTech/Ford F-650 (Roush Fenway Racing (RFR)).

Five key findings

NACFE defines the medium-duty vehicle segment as a box van body on a medium-duty chassis with an average daily range of less than 100 miles (161 kilometres) and has a return-to-base duty cycle.

RoL-E used Geotab telematics technology to collect data from each of the vehicles in the demo, which helped both the companies and the study researchers to understand the duty cycle of their vehicles.

The report outlined five findings based on the three trucks that participated in the study, that support the conclusion of 100 per cent electrification:

  • Medium-duty box trucks are a great application for electric trucks given their short distances and return-to-base operations;
  • Medium-duty trucks almost always have a second manufacturer who adds body devices requiring engineering design and validation as well as manufacturing planning for electrification;
  • More complex Class 6 and 7 trucks such as snowplows, refuse trucks, and fire trucks will require significant efforts which will delay electrification timing;
  • Application expansion into more complex medium-duty trucks will occur as knowledge is gained; and
  • Other aspects such as driver attraction and retention benefits, maintenance savings and infrastructure challenges exist as they have for other market segment use cases.

Along with these key conclusions, the report reiterated previous findings on the benefits of vehicle electrification that also apply to the medium-duty box truck segment: lower maintenance costs, improved driver health and noise reduction.

Simple versus complex electrification

While the NACFE report for the electrification of medium-duty box trucks is positive overall, there is an important distinction between the different types of vehicles and their current eligibility for electrification.

For the three medium-duty box trucks in the competition, the use cases were simple.

“All three of these vehicles completed the Run and their assigned jobs in an equivalent manner to their diesel counterparts,” read the report. “Day & Ross used its truck, which was equipped with a liftgate, in local pickup and delivery applications of mixed freight in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Frito-Lay delivered snack foods to local grocery stores in Modesto, CA. Roush Fenway Racing hauled racing car parts and promotional materials in Concord, NC. Each participant ran single-shift duty cycles and charged the vehicles when parked at the fleet’s location.”

The duty-cycle for each of the three vehicles ranged between 27 and 112 miles (43 km to 180 km).

However, medium-duty box vehicles that require more complex or specialized use (snowplows, construction vehicles or emergency vehicles, for example) “will have significant engineering and manufacturing challenges and complexities, especially because they are a small segment of the market,” the report states.

While electrification is possible and encouraged for these more specialized vehicles, the NACFE report concedes that a mass movement towards electrification in the entire medium-duty segment will happen later in the decade because of the delays for complex vehicles.

“The opportunity in this market segment to go electric is attracting many new and existing manufacturers to develop and build electric trucks,” according to the report.

“In summary, this box truck duty cycle is ideal for battery electric vehicles.”

NACFE’s full report on the RoL-E medium-duty box truck segment can be found here.

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