TCO the key to ripening 'green' electric trucks

Oct. 27, 2021
The trucking industry knows what electric trucks will offer, but finding the true total cost of ownership for specific applications will be what drives fleet adoption.

As one of the largest for-hire fleets in the U.S., Penske knows it will need to provide an array of zero-emission solutions to customers as states adopt stricter air quality regulations. To make sure those trucks also offer a feasible total cost of ownership, Penske is in the process of validating several light-, medium-, and heavy-duty battery-electric vehicles, attempting to answer critical performance and maintenance questions.

On the Class 8 side, Penske has been testing the Freightliner eCascadia since 2019, and has several more Class 6 and 7 electric vehicle pilots.

Most recently, Penske Truck Leasing is currently testing two 26' all-electric Ford F-650 trucks developed by Roush CleanTech. Power is supplied by Proterra's H Series battery system, which provides 165 kWh. The prototypes are being driven in California, and once more insights are revealed from those tests, Roush will start production on a second-generation version in Q2 of 2023. Penske will be the first customer.

This electric F-650 is expected to have a 100-mile range and 8,500-lb payload. A specific plus for this model is that drivers will not need a commercial driver’s license to operate the truck.

The electric F-650 truck will start out as a typical ICE version at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant, and receive an electric conversion in Livonia, Michigan, by Roush CleanTech, with Proterra supplying the battery system. After an upfitter installs the box, customers will receive the truck. Penske Truck Leasing is currently validating two electric F-650 prototypes and will become the first to receive the production model in Q2 of 2023.Roush CleanTech

“Whatever knowledge we can gain over the period of time that we're learning, we’ll share that with our customers, so they can make an educated decision as to when it's right for them,” said Paul Rosa, senior vice president of procurement and fleet planning for Penske Truck Leasing.

Rosa said a focal point will be how they perform in different along routes, and with different payloads and customers, as well as how topography impacts wear and battery life.

“We want to see a heavier payload with more hills to see what that does for the kilowatt consumption, and we want to go with a lighter weight and start and stop in the city,” Rosa explained.

A bunch of unknowns

Rosa likens the current crop of commercial electric vehicle technology to a green banana.

“If you were to grab a green banana from the shelf, would you eat it? Would you fry it? Or do you really not want to because it's not ripe and ready yet?” Rosa asked.

These unripe options may provide adequate sustenance for those seeking a sustainable solution right now, though they are probably not a sweet enough value proposition for most.

The issue is that there are so many new variables with EVs, such as maintenance intervals and durability.

“You're not going to have as many fuel drains and other things to check,” Rosa said. “But there are other systems that still need attention. And that's what a lot of people don't understand yet.”

These include the battery management system, thermal control system, high voltage cabling, and software that will need to be monitored.

“Everyone is kind of guessing because you can't say, ‘Oh, [maintenance] is going to be 50% less than diesel.’ Well, okay, at what mileage band? Are you talking about a vehicle today that's going 150,000 miles? Well, current battery technology can only go 40,000 miles based on whichever vehicle you are, so how can you say you can project how low the maintenance is going to be?”

Another issue will be much DC fast charging will degrade the battery life. The prototype electric F-650 will start with Level 2 charging only, with fast charging available on the production-ready Gen 2.

“There's a lot of that ecosystem that has to be developed: the infrastructure of charging, the second life of batteries, the cost, and the supply chain is really immature,” said Todd Mouw, president of Roush CleanTech. “We have to go attack those barriers because you can have the greatest truck technology, but if those other things aren't figured out, the velocity of adoption won't happen.

And unlike how you could speed up a banana’s maturity by throwing it in a brown paper bag, seeing how viable these Class 6 trucks will be, and in what applications, is “going to take some time,” Rosa said.

“You can't snap your fingers and expect it's going to it's going to happen, because you’ve got limitations with specifications and range, cost challenges, and infrastructure to work through,” Rosa said. “It's no different than we've done with collision mitigation systems and automated manual transmissions, which took five to seven years to really understand what they were going to be.”

More specifically, getting electric trucks to accept electric trucks will take tens of thousands of miles and hundreds of hours of testing in the maintenance bay to discover just how durable the various systems and components, particularly with the battery, really are. Once that is more understood, a true total cost of ownership calculation can be made.

“We operate vehicles for many years and it's a question we don't know yet,” Rosa told Fleet Maintenance. “How will it perform over those years? What's the durability going to be and what has to be figured out to improve that if there are challenges? You can't just do simulations and apply [that data] to the practical use of the vehicle on the road.”

Actual road conditions will also come into play, such as how inclement weather and snow salt up north will affect cabling under the chassis.

“You just can't do your simulations and think it's going to take into account all the different practical applications,” Rosa asserted.

What is known

“It's absolutely going to be better than its diesel counterpart for the applications it works in,” Rosa said. He added “the power is tremendous,” even ascending hills with full payloads, and that operators will benefit from EV-specific advantages such as smoother, quieter operation.

Maintenance benefits will include less wear and tear on brakes due to regenerative braking and less service needed overall due to fewer moving parts. It’s also known that the instant torque available to EVs will cause more tire wear. For that reason, Roush has expressed interest in developing a torque limiter, which would reduce wear.

Roush has been working with EVs since the '90s, when the engineering arm helped develop an electric Ford Ranger. CleanTech has also successfully deployed propane trucks, which Mouw said offers benefits such as “a buck a gallon” for fuel costs, and fueling stations that could be installed by propane suppliers at no cost to the fleet.

Charging infrastructure will be far more complex.

Rosa said some potential EV customers think they can worry about charging installation when the truck is delivered, and that they don’t understand “it's a year process to get your facility up and running with a charging station for the vehicle on your property.”

Another known quantity is that incentives will be the only way to make early EV deployments make sense.

“The TCO doesn't make sense unless there's a lot of grant money there,” Mouw said.

His advice: “Leverage the incentive funding that's there, locally and federally, put a couple of electric trucks in your fleet, start pilots and get a feel for them, and start to understand infrastructure needs, what your route needs are, and how to train our drivers and technicians.

“Those technicians will be a major influence on if this technology gets adopted in mass,” he added.