There are more than four million electric vehicles on American roads, but less than 1,000 of them are heavy-duty trucks. On Tuesday, the three largest truck makers plan to announce an effort to overcome that deficit by asking governments and utilities to help create many more spots to charge the big rigs.
Daimler Trucks, which owns Freightliner; Navistar, which is controlled by Volkswagen; And Volvo Trucks has formed an association to push for chargers, electricity grid improvements and other measures they say are needed to promote battery or hydrogen-powered trucks.
The new organization, Powering America’s Commercial Transportation, will be based in Washington and will also be open to suppliers, nonprofit organizations and other groups.
The companies’ decision to work together underscores how much the transition away from fossil fuels depends on government support and decisions made in Washington and state capitals. The Inflation Reduction Act, which Democrats passed in 2022, provides $1 billion for electric trucks, including a tax credit of up to $40,000 for companies buying them, as well as subsidies for charging infrastructure.
But officials have just begun to distribute the money, and truck companies complain they have received less attention from federal and state governments than carmakers.
“There’s a lot of funding available from the federal government,” said Don Fenton, vice president of government relations and public affairs at Volvo North America. “There has been little focus so far on heavy-duty charging infrastructure.”
According to Energy Department data, only nine fast charging stations in the United States are capable of serving heavy trucks.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States, and trucks, buses and vans account for 29 percent of vehicle emissions, according to CalStart, a nonprofit group whose members work in industry as well as government. Poor communities suffer the most from truck pollution because they are more likely to be in industrial areas or near highways.
Eliminating those emissions is difficult. An electric truck requires a larger, heavier battery which reduces the vehicle’s carrying capacity.
Zero-emission trucks are also two or three times more expensive than diesel trucks, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, although prices are expected to drop as companies increase production.
Truck makers say they are committed to selling emissions-free vehicles, but environmental groups have accused them of trying to block policies that would force the industry to move faster.
This month, the Sierra Club, along with 40 other advocacy groups, sent Letter The chief executives of Daimler Trucks and Volvo Trucks were accused of trying to circumvent stricter emissions standards. In comments on the proposed rules by the Environmental Protection Agency, both truck makers lobbied for slow implementation of the new standards.
In a letter to Martin Lundstedt, Volvo’s chief executive, the group wrote, “Volvo Trucks USA must focus its efforts and resources on electrifying the transportation sector, especially in the communities that suffer the most from truck emissions. are affected, rather than fighting it with the necessary policies.” The whole system fast.” The groups sent a similar letter to Daimler Trucks Chief Executive Martin Daum.
(Volvo Trucks is not part of carmaker Volvo and Daimler Trucks is separate from Mercedes-Benz.)
Truck manufacturers face less competitive pressure than car companies. In the car business, Tesla has won over customers who previously drove cars made by Mercedes, General Motors and Volkswagen, forcing those companies to respond. According to market research firm JATO Dynamics, the Tesla Model Y sport utility vehicle was the best-selling passenger car of any kind worldwide in 2023.
No upstart truck maker has had a comparable impact. Tesla has developed a long-range electric truck called the Semi, but the company has not started selling it in large numbers.
“If there was a zero emissions truck company leading the way, we would have grown faster over the last five years,” said Katherine Garcia, director of a Sierra Club program that promotes clean transportation.
Nikola once aimed to become the Tesla of the trucking industry, but has struggled since its founder Trevor Milton was accused of defrauding investors by lying about the capabilities of the company’s technology. Mr Milton was sentenced to four years in prison in December after a jury convicted him. He denies wrongdoing and is appealing. Under new management Nikola shipped 79 vehicles in the first nine months of 2023, the most recent figures the company has revealed.
Truck manufacturers argue that they cannot be expected to sell battery-powered trucks when there are no places to charge them. Electric trucks require extremely powerful chargers and, as a result, larger connections to the electrical grid than are readily available. Many utilities must upgrade aging distribution lines, transformers and other equipment to be able to deliver the energy needed to fuel multiple trucks at once.
Brian Sheehan, head of government relations and regulatory affairs at Navistar, said one customer had ordered a fleet of electric trucks and had 20 chargers installed at its depot. But, he said, “they couldn’t get it activated by the utility.”
Deficiencies in the electrical grid “are going to hinder our ability to grow the industry, said Mr. Sheehan, former chairman and chief executive of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates electric utilities.
Ms. Garcia of the Sierra Club said that, despite slow progress so far, she is optimistic. He said sales of electric delivery vans and other small trucks are growing rapidly, partly because California and other states are forcing manufacturers to reduce emissions and providing incentives for truck buyers.
Delivery vans, like those used by Amazon, require less energy and typically run relatively short routes. As a result, those vehicles can be charged overnight on less powerful chargers than those required for heavy trucks.
“The market is moving really quickly,” Ms. Garcia said. “We’re at the point where it’s really going to accelerate.”