The Fuse

Trucks Emerging as Next Frontier for Electric Vehicles

by Matt Piotrowski | October 04, 2017

The electric vehicle (EV) market continues to heat up, and trucks are becoming the next frontier.

Trucks have great potential in the EV space, particularly for light- and medium-duty vehicles. With commercial trucks, owners are looking to save costs without compromising performance, making electrification a viable option. Until recently, passenger cars have dominated the EV space, while users of trucks turned more to natural gas or biodiesel as alternatives. But now producers of commercial vehicles are increasingly using electricity because of lower costs and environmental benefits.

While some truck owners are committed to going all electric, others are using hybrid technology to boost efficiency and reduce fuel costs.

XL Hybrids, based in Boston, is making hybrid trucks practical and affordable for large fleets, and recently announced the hybridization of a major Ford model. XL Hybrids has deployed a mix of lower cost hybridization technology for OEM trucks, vans, and buses. The company’s advanced hybrid powertrain provides fleet operators the opportunity to use popular vehicles from the biggest international automakers that drivers already trust. This technology helps companies that are interested in electric vehicles but struggle to find commercial applications where EVs are economical. Vehicles using the hybrid technology can keep their engines and the rest of the system intact.

Last week, XL Hybrids said it is adapting its XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System—which is compatible with a number of commercial vehicles and can be easily installed—for the popular Ford F-250 trucks. Deliveries will begin in the first quarter of 2018.

With the use of the XL3 technology, the owners of the F-250s will see a 25 percent increase in fuel economy and a 20 percent boost in fuel savings.

With the use of the XL3 technology, the owners of the F-250s will see a 25 percent increase in fuel economy and a 20 percent boost in fuel savings.

Sales for the Ford F-Series have been soaring, a reflection of its popularity. Last year, the Ford F-Series sold over 820,000 units, and through August of this year, sales figures eclipsed the pace for the comparable period in 2016.

“This technology provides fleet-ready solutions for major OEM vehicles that fleet operators already trust,” Ed Lovelace, chief technology officer for XL Hybrids, told The Fuse. “It’s a natural fit for commercial heavy-duty pickups that OEMs offer.”

The company’s work with a variety of models has allowed it to determine areas for improvement, launch new projects, such as the one for the Ford F-250, and find cost-effective solutions for fleets. The company has worked with Coca-Cola, the city of Boston, and the Seattle Fire Department, among others.

“We’ve recently passed 50 million cumulative miles driven by our customers, allowing us to provide customers with electrification solutions that are already proven,” Clay Siegert, the COO of XL Hybrids, told The Fuse. “As we’re introducing new products, such as the Ford-F250 with hybrid electric and the F-150 pickup with plugin hybrid, the same platform technology has already been performing, delivering fuel savings and supporting sustainability programs.”

Increased electrification

Analysts expect growing interest in the electrification of trucks in the next couple of decades. “Both incumbent and nontraditional makers of commercial vehicles across most weight categories and a variety of segments are launching new ‘eTrucks,’” wrote consultancy McKinsey & Company. “Based on total cost of ownership, [electric] trucks could be on par with diesels and alternative powertrains in the relative near term.”

“Based on total cost of ownership, [electric] trucks could be on par with diesels and alternative powertrains in the relative near term.”

While companies and regulators are deepening their commitments to electric trucks, more buses are also poised run on electricity. An electric bus from Proterra Inc., for instance, traveled last month by more than 1,100 miles at low speed without having to recharge, a reflection of companies’ commitments to electrification. The bus was able to set a new electric vehicle range record.

The CEO of Proterra said that one-third of new buses in the U.S. will be electric by 2020, and all of them will be by 2030. One positive about city buses running on electricity is that they typically travel on the same routes every day. That makes recharging more predictable, leading to less “range anxiety” that regular motorists may have to deal with when traveling long distances.

Electric buses and trucks are still expensive to produce, but costs are expected to fall over time with improving battery technology. As costs come down, companies will find electric buses and trucks even more attractive.

XL Hybrids says it sees a number of opportunities during the current period of transition from internal combustion engines to all-electric trucks and buses. The company provides a technological solution for truck owners who are hesitant about going all electric because of the operational limits of EVs—such as range limitations, special infrastructure, and high costs—that keep fleets from deploying EVs at significant scale immediately.

“Commercial trucks are different than personal cars. Customers can choose what they want, but with fleet operators, it’s different,” Lovelace said. “Hybridization is something operators can do in all of their fleets. Integrating hybrid technology is an ideal transition instead of going all-electric right away.”