A Policy to Increase the Availability of Electric Trucks

October 25, 2019
Jimmy O'Dea/UCS
Jimmy O'Dea
Senior Vehicles Analyst

Today marks the opening of a 45-day public comment period on a proposal (“Advanced Clean Trucks”) that would require truck manufacturers to sell electric vehicles in California. The proposal is modeled after the state’s policy requiring carmakers to sell electric vehicles in the state, a major reason California has a disproportionate number of the country’s electric passenger vehicles. The standard would apply to Class 2b-8 trucks, which range from large pickup trucks to delivery trucks and semi trucks.

Based on the current proposal, zero-emission trucks would make up 4 percent of trucks on the road in 2030. But the need for zero-emission trucks is urgent and electric trucks have made major strides towards commercialization over the last few years. Seventeen groups, UCS included, recently submitted a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) asking that this standard be strengthened so that zero-emission trucks comprise 15 percent of trucks on the road by 2030.

The proposed standard would result in 11 percent of sales being electric trucks from 2024-2030, and a peak in 2030 of 22 percent of sales across all categories. Within specific groupings of vehicles, the proposal requires 50 percent of sales in the Class 4-8 vocational category in 2030, but 15 percent of sales in 2030 of Class 2b-3 and Class 7-8 tractors. The standard sets no requirements for who has to buy electric trucks.

Over the next 45 days, UCS and many other groups will continue to voice our concerns with the proposal and why a stronger standard is needed to improve air quality and reduce global warming emissions.

How did we get here?

The proposal has been under development and subject to a series of public workshops at CARB over the last three years. The proposal has not changed much over this time, despite significant advances towards the commercialization of electric trucks as well as policies and infrastructure investments to support this transition.

The main changes to the policy since it was first proposed have been to delay the standard from starting in 2023 to 2024 and requiring sales of Class 8 electric semi trucks, which were originally a voluntary option. In all, UCS estimates the original proposal (released in April 2017) would have resulted in about 67,000 electric trucks by 2030, and the latest proposal will result in about 75,000, or 4 percent of the 1.9 million trucks on the road in California today.[1]

Since public workshops on this standard first began in 2016, UPS and FedEx have each ordered 1,000 electric delivery trucks; Amazon has ordered 100,000 delivery trucks; and manufacturers from Tesla to BYD, Daimler, Volvo, Motiv, Lightning Systems, Lion, Xos Trucks, Toyota and more have made vehicles that are either in customers hands or undergoing testing towards that goal. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach committed to all zero-emission drayage trucks (roughly 15,000 trucks) by 2035. And the California Public Utilities Commission approved investments in heavy-duty electric charging infrastructure for all three major private electric utilities in the state, supporting at least 18,000 heavy-duty electric vehicles and equipment by 2025.

At the same time, the need for electric trucks is increasing. Global warming emissions from heavy-duty vehicles in California have shown no decline and air pollution across the country has increased over the last two years.

How does a 15 percent on-road target for electric trucks compare to other polices?

For comparison, the zero-emission transit bus standard (“Innovative Clean Transit”) that CARB passed last December will get at least 20 percent zero-emission buses on the road by the end of 2029.[2] So, the 15 percent on-road target groups are recommending for trucks is less ambitious than the standard CARB set for transit buses. With similar, if not cheaper, total costs of ownership (TCO) for some truck applications today, and estimates that other types of electric trucks will also have cheaper TCOs in the coming years, commercial trucks could electrify even faster than buses if policies such as this manufacturers standard send the appropriate market signals.

Tell CARB a stronger standard is needed

If you agree that CARB’s proposal should be more ambitious than just 4 percent of trucks on the road in 2030, let them know what you think here. Regulatory processes move slow – from the time workshops on this proposal began in late 2016 to the time the standard would take effect in 2024, more than 7 years will have passed. We can’t miss the opportunity to take strong action now. Progress tomorrow begins with action today.

[1] Based on estimates of annual truck sales by the Engine Manufacturer’s Association (EMA) here. In a previous blog, we estimated that CARB’s current proposal would result in 84,000 electric trucks and 5 percent of the on-road truck population. Since then, we’ve updated these numbers using EMA’s sales estimates and an updated estimate of the on-road truck population in California using EMFAC 2017.

[2] CARB’s ICT standard for electric buses could get as much as 9 percent zero-emission buses on the road by the end of 2021 in the regulatory case where 1,250 zero-emission buses are purchased or operating by the end of 2021. The 20 percent on-road value by 2029 referenced in the main text represents the case where only the minimum amount of zero-emission buses are purchased each year, accounting for different purchase standards for large and small agencies and for different types of buses. A 14-year vehicle life was assumed in determining the number of buses purchased each year (7 percent annual fleet turnover).

About the author

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Jimmy O’Dea's work focuses on cleaner vehicle and freight technologies and policies. Previously, Dr. O’Dea developed energy and climate policies for Senator Brian Schatz during an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Engineering Congressional Fellowship awarded by the Materials Research Society and Optical Society.