Electric cars proliferate, but where are the electric trucks?

Driven by consumer demand in the personal car segment, electric vehicle (EV) sales are steadily increasing worldwide. With improving performance and charging infrastructure, as well as subsidies in certain jurisdictions, cars which were once ridiculed are increasingly tempting consumers to part with their money.

Inside EVs, a publication that tracks EV sales, calculates that global sales of electronic passenger vehicles (including hybrids) rose by 41.3% in 2016, totalling 777,497 cars. Whilst this accounted for only 1.12% of total passenger vehicles sold globally (based on statistics from OICA), the rate of adoption and manufacturer’s plans for new releases suggest that demand will continue to rise.












However, whilst electric vehicles are steadily becoming a mainstream option for consumers, commercial demand (with the exception of forklifts) has not grown at a similar pace. For trucking operations, this is primarily the result of two issues: utilisation requirements, and a deficit of charging infrastructure.

Whilst the latter is relatively straightforward to solve, the former is tricky.

A 2012 EU study calculated that the average British driver covers only around 40 km per day, which makes an EV a reliable option for personal use. By contrast, anecdotal accounts suggest that UPS package delivery drivers in the UK cover at least 160 km per day.

This alone is a substantial issue; Deutsche Post DHL’s StreetScooter delivery vans, which are powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery, have a maximum range of 80 km, and can therefore cover only half of the average route requirements suggested by the above example. Given that the vehicle’s battery also takes 4.5 hours to charge to 80% of its capacity, the effective utilisation of the StreetScooter is further damaged.

With two EV’s required to deliver the operational performance of one IC vehicle, additional issues arise; chiefly, congestion and road abrasion. A further issue is the cost of refuelling.

Quite apart from the impact of oil prices, the cost of charging electric vehicles for business use can be considerable. As UPS’s director of sustainability for Europe, Peter Harris, has stated: “If you have a lot of EVs simultaneously in the same building that need recharging, then getting that power into the building takes you into uncharted territories.”

The company’s UK subsidiary has spent over £600,000 in attempts to upgrade its infrastructure for charging multiple EVs simultaneously, but a lack of grid capacity has rendered these upgrades worthless. In a trial at its Kentish Town site, UPS is currently testing the use of old batteries as a decentralised capture and dissemination system to circumvent this issue, which may represent a successful alternative.

Whilst this venture may be successful, much still has to change before electric delivery vehicles hit the levels of performance seen by the conventional vans and trucks they are intended to replace.

Ti’s latest report, Global Contract Logistics 2017, contains a detailed analysis of the challenges facing electric vehicles, as well as other alternative fuels. For more information regarding the report, please register your interest below or contact Michael Clover on +44 (0)1666 519907.

Source: Transport Intelligence, April 25, 2017

Author: Alex Le Roy