Frank Lopez">

Electric trucks are displayed outside of the California EPA. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

published on July 9, 2020 - 12:44 PM
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The road into 2020 has gotten bumpier since the onset of the coronavirus, and at a time when virtually all industries are feeling the brunt of the economic downturn, the trucking industry is seeing a proposal that is a shock to some.

The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Advanced Clean Truck Rule proposal, (ACT) approved last week aims to curb pollution by requiring medium and heavy-duty truck manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of electric trucks in California instead of diesel and gasoline vehicles from 2024 to 2030.

The regulation applies to vehicles from Class 2B to Class 8, which range from light/medium trucks, such as the Ford F-250 and up to heavy trucks in the Class 8 category including semi-trailer trucks.

CARB’s plan would require 5% of all Class 7 and Class 8 heavy trucks sold in 2024 to be electric. Sales for Class 4 through Class 8 straight truck sales would begin at 9% in 2024.

Based on the most recent CARB projections of annual truck sales, an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found the proposal would generate about 4,000 electric trucks to be sold out of around 75,000 total truck sales.

ACT requires the percentage of heavy trucks sold in the state to increase each year with the goal that 100% of trucks be electric zero-emission vehicles by 2045.

Craig Duehring, Air Resources Supervisor with the mobile source control division with CARB, said that the four-year delay of implementing the regulation is to give manufacturers time to design and produce electric vehicles.

“The primary reason for the delay is to allow manufacturers the time to do the design, the research, the development and prototyping, and make sure that they have the adequate time to produce a product that’s commercially ready by 2024,” Duehring said.

It is important to note that the rule only applies to truck manufacturers, not sellers or trucking companies.

Duehring said that he is confident that, because of market research, through talks with truck and engine manufacturers and transport companies such as FED-EX, UPS and others, and with their interest in creating infrastructure to support zero-emission vehicles, California will meet the plan’s goals.

There are plans to go back to the drawing board in the next year or two to implement the deployment of the trucks in California, but Duehring said he doesn’t know what that looks like yet.

The regulation also calls for large employers in the industry — retailers, manufacturers, brokers and others — to report about their shipments and shuttle services. Fleets with 100 or more trucks will be required to report about their existing fleet operations. The info collected will help identify future strategies to move fleets to zero-emission trucks.

There is a Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) launched by CARB in partnership with CALSTART, but the waitlist was put on hold in November 2019 after receiving voucher requests for its entire $142 million budget.

Though the costs could be higher upfront for an electric truck, information officer for CARB Karen Caesar said that electric trucks will lead to greater savings in the long haul.

“They’re pricey upfront, but the savings over time are substantial in terms of maintenance, but also fuel because you don’t need to fill your tank up,” Caesar said. “Infrastructure is growing, so there are more chargers available. It is the future.”

Research from Energy Innovation and the Environmental Defense Fund calculates that the ACT proposal would generate between $7-$12 billion in overall economic savings in the U.S. by 2040.

Because communities of color and lower-income areas often feature higher levels of air pollution, Duehring said that these communities would highly benefit from cleaner vehicles on city streets and highways.

“We want to make sure that there are products available, especially for disadvantaged communities and those impacted the most by combustion engine vehicle operations,” Duehring said.

Kim Mesfin, president at Affinity Truck Center, a truck dealership in Fresno, said that 2019 was a record year for truck sales for the entire nation, and there was a forecast to drop by 20% for 2020, but because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus, sales have gone down 50%.

Mesfin said that the company does have clients that have been affected with less loads for trucks to carry. The repossession of trucks has gone up, Mesfin added.

The ACT rule, Mesfin said, sends a certain message to actors in the business industry trying to comply with federal as well as state regulation.

“It’s the message. I feel that we are pushing faster than technology is ready. Even if we get it ready, it’s not tested yet. We need it, it’s good for us, but we don’t really know how it will work” Mesfin said.

Mesfin said that one of the stressful parts of the ACT rule is that there are no available electric trucks to test beside five Class A tractors that VOLVO has running in the South Valley as part of its LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions) Project.

“How can you push something in an entire state when there are only five that are in test mode,” Mesfin asked.

Mesfin said that even if she buys trucks to sell, if a customer cant afford them or have interest in them, or doesn’t have the ability to charge their electric truck, she can’t expect to sell them unless it is financially sound for the purchaser.

There is also no pricing on electric trucks available yet, or word on whether they would be on a permanent lease. The state hasn’t designed a rebate yet, Mesfin said.

Though several West Coast electric utilities have proposed a phased in approach to adding electric vehicle charging stations every 50 miles on the I-5, the system does not exist yet.

“The batteries won’t charge that long and there are not enough charging stations along the way. You wouldn’t want to have to stop and charge repeatedly. Right now the range per charge is about 150 miles. Imagine stopping on your 3,500 mile trip every 150 miles,” Mesfin said.

There may be some more details that have to be thought out, but Mesfin thinks overall, this is a good direction to move toward.

“I do agree with moving forward,” Mesfin said, “but it is jumping off a cliff instead of staggering it in a bit.”

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