November 20, 2019
Volume 3 Issue 4
Group Studies Electrification of Work Trucks
An American Trucking Association study group has undertaken efforts to understand the effects of electrification on specifications and maintenance of vocational trucks, with a goal of recommending whether fleet owners should switch to electric vehicles and best practices for doing so.
The ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council S.14 Light & Medium & Specialty Trucks Study Group is a permanent standing committee led by fleet owners, suppliers and original equipment manufacturers to develop best practices on maintenance and specifications for specialty trucks. The committee’s latest undertaking is studying electrification in vocational trucks, which are work vehicles that don’t perform commercial transportation, such as garbage trucks or power line service trucks.
“Vocational trucks are seen in environmental regulators’ eyes as being targets for electrification because they’re typically stationed at night in terminals and therefore not as difficult to maintain a charging regime [for],” Jack Legler, TMC’s technical director, told Lube Report.
TMC’s concerns lie in the financial implications of a fleet owner’s potential switch to an electric fleet. “We’re driven by the bottom line,” said Legler. “Anything that helps us do our work faster, better, more efficiently at a profit level that’s necessary to sustain business are the things we’re interested in.” Environmental and regulatory factors are still a consideration, but a best practice must make financial sense.
Though S.14 has already created a task force on work truck hybridization, electrification is a relatively new topic for the council. The shift from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles in the light-duty sector is gaining traction, but less so in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. “There’s not a lot of those on the road yet, so we’re trying to look at this proactively rather than reactively,” explained Legler.
That means certain unique challenges for vocational trucks. One is how to achieve electric power take off, or in other words taking engine belt-driven accessories and hydraulic pumps and figuring out how to power them with electricity. “A great deal of the energy consumed by vocational trucks – about 30 percent – is consumed by the working equipment of the vehicle,” said Legler.
On that front, the TMC has been working with the Society of Automotive Engineers International, which is developing an engineering standard to build electric power take off drives and figuring out how an electric motor will power it, along with the rest of the vehicle’s working parts.
Work trucks also operate in emergency conditions, making charging the vehicle a challenge at times. “Work vehicles are essential during events like hurricanes and fires. In California when there’s a fire, one of the first things they do is turn the power off. How do you charge an electric truck when the grid is off?” asked Legler. “Obviously the answer is a 15-liter diesel generator, which works counter to the whole environmental side of electrification.”
The study group will develop a recommended practice, a process which typically takes at least a year and a half, according to Legler. “It’s developed through a rigorous consensus-building process, open public balloting, things like that,” he said. “If it passes appeals, passes approval, it becomes a published recommended practice. But right now everything is just in the discussion phase.”
TMC cannot enforce policies, so it is then on fleet owners to follow the published recommendation or not. “We just say, ‘If you’re going to buy this, this is what you need to consider and practices you should do to keep everything on the road,’” Legler explained. “We’re non-denominational in that regard. We don’t care whether it’s diesel, electric, battery, hybrid, fuel cell, whatever; it’s up to the market to decide what they want. But if you do decide to do this, we will assist you in speccing and maintaining those vehicles as optimal as possible.”
Legler noted that public information isn’t available on the number of vocational trucks in use in the United States, but that municipally owned fleets make up about 40 percent of the sector, with private contractors making up the rest.