The Evolution of Electric Commercial Vehicles

In a surprising turn of history, electric trucks have quietly navigated the roads for over a century, primarily relying on lead-acid batteries. Traditionally confined to niche applications such as local delivery services and factory logistics, these silent giants have witnessed a resurgence in the modern era.

Back in the early 1900s, the Walker Vehicle Company, distinct from the Walker Motor Car Company, pioneered the Walker Electric Trucks, a line of vehicles that continued production under various entities for more than three decades in Chicago and Detroit. Renowned for their use in milk deliveries, these electric trucks boasted a rear axle motor with a range of up to 50 miles and a top speed of 10 to 12 mph. Notably, the iconic milk float, designed exclusively for milk deliveries, became a staple of battery electric trucks in the United Kingdom for decades.

The Challenge of Idling

Electric vehicles found practicality in applications where frequent stops were the norm, mitigating the inefficiencies of idling common in internal combustion engines. Milk floats, with their frequent stops, demonstrated the advantage of electric technology. This idling issue also led to the adoption of electric vehicles in garbage collection, exemplified by Birmingham’s use of four-ton electric garbage trucks in 1938, known as the Electricar DV4. More recently, Beijing’s preparation for the 2008 Olympics saw the replacement of 3,000 internal combustion engine garbage trucks with their electric counterparts.

Electric garbage trucks have since become a global phenomenon, making appearances across Europe and the United States.

The Resurgence of Electric Commercial Vehicles

The revival of electric vehicles (EVs) coupled with advancements in battery technology has paved the way for zero-emission (ZEV) commercial vehicles to permeate broader sectors. Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, a subsidiary of Daimler Truck, introduced the Canto Eco-Hybrid in 2005, a light-duty class electric vehicle that became commercially available in Japan. In 2017, they further innovated with the eCanter, one of the pioneering fully electric commercial trucks.

Daimler Truck North America continued the momentum by unveiling the Freightliner eCascadia in 2022, a class 8 tractor with a range of 230 miles. The subsequent year marked the commencement of full-scale production of the eM2, available as a class 6 or class 7 box truck. In a bold move, Daimler Truck introduced its latest brand, RIZON Truck, catering to the class 4-5 segment, and it has already found a market in the United States.

As ZEV mandates gain traction globally and companies prioritize decarbonization, the prospect of a widespread adoption of electric commercial vehicles has never been more promising.

The Proliferation of EVs: A Global Shift

All major auto manufacturers are now actively participating in the electric vehicle game, with some committing to exclusive production of electrified cars in the near future. In response to climate change concerns, regulatory frameworks have been established worldwide, with over 20 countries announcing bans on internal combustion engine (ICE) cars or mandates for new sales to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by the end of 2020.

In the realm of commercial vehicles, the influential California Air Resources Board (CARB) has recently given the nod to the Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation, likely to become state law. ACF aims to hasten the adoption of zero-emission trucks and bus fleets across California to align with state air quality and climate goals. This regulation is already driving the surge in sales of electric commercial vehicles, and similar mandates are poised to follow suit in other states.

Beyond EVs: A Sustainable Future

As the history of electric vehicles completes a full circle, the question arises: are EVs a lasting solution or a passing infatuation? This time, a critical shift is underway. Ecological imperatives, corporate CO2 goals, and government mandates are propelling electric vehicles to the forefront.

One thing remains certain — the embrace of electric vehicles will persist as long as they prove to be the optimal solution for addressing the pressing challenges of our time.

1Truck America, December 18th 2023