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Duty cycle matters when going electric

June 24, 2020
NACFE encourages fleets to continue to explore whether electric trucks are right for them, and to make sure that electric truck makers understand the true nature of their duty cycles.

The work we have done in the regional haul arena both with our report, Regional Haul — An Opportunity For Trucking, and with the Run on Less Regional event last fall, led us to conclude that regional haul is an application that is well suited for electric vehicles.

But I think we need to be careful when talking about duty cycles where electric trucks makes sense. Let me give you an example. In Run on Less Regional, Hirschbach driver Mark Casey had an out-and-back route of about 70 miles one way and then he came back 70 miles to return to where he started.

On the surface this would seem like a route that meshed perfectly with electric vehicles, as most commercial battery electric vehicles are capable of going 150 to 200 miles without needing to be charged. But hold on a minute. Casey made that same run three times a day and it was a fast-turn type of route. So, the reality is he was not driving 140 miles a day; he was actually driving 420 miles with little time between runs for charging.

Hirschbach is not unique in having drivers make multiple runs in a day or even slip seating the truck, which is on the road two or even three shifts a day. Similar days like Casey's occur at most ports where drayage trucks might do two or more round trips in a shift.

Let me reiterate, NACFE believes we are heading for an electric future, and regional haul is one place where electric trucks can make inroads. But electric truck manufacturers must be sure they understand the real duty cycles of these trucks so that electric trucks can be deployed where they make sense. It does no good, and, in fact, can do a great deal of harm, if electric trucks are sold into applications where they cannot perform.

The trucking industry tends to be skeptical of new technology, and if fleets start hearing stories of instances when electric trucks ran out of power on the road, they are going to be less likely to give them a try.

A good example is beverage tractors. I was recently speaking on a panel with Rustam Kochur, charging infrastructure lead for Daimler Trucks North America, where he shared that given their time inside stores that beverage tractors, some having 130-mile round trips, are good candidates early on for their eCascadias. I agree with this assessment and encourage us placing the right technology in the right place.  

That said, I encourage fleets to continue to explore whether electric trucks are right for them. Just make sure the electric truck makers understand the true nature of your duty cycle. As with any other powertrain, duty cycle matters. It’s your job to define your specific duty cycle and make sure the electric truck maker understands the nuances of your operation. Doing that should result in the right truck for you. 

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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