Fleets kick the tires on the latest commercial electric trucks, testing street sweepers, garbage haulers and big rigs.
Normally, the screech of dragsters and the roar of NASCAR short-track racers dominate the air at Irwindale Speedway. But this week, the vehicles zipping around the track and parking lot ran almost silently.
Commercial vehicle brands and fleet operators congregated at the raceway to demonstrate and test the latest battery-electric trucks at the sprawling complex.
About 500 attendees from private companies, utilities and government agencies drove electric semi-tractors, box trucks, street sweeps, flatbeds and garbage trucks around the speedway parking lot and track — sometimes executing slow-speed overtakes in massive vehicles in an almost silent demonstration of green powertrain technology.
Nathan Bevers, senior manager for EV infrastructure and deployment at Republic Services, said he was impressed with the box truck he drove in the lot and the refuse hauler on the track.
"I would say that the power off the line is definitely a big difference. There is a lot of torque on the vehicles. ... It is a silent experience compared to our traditional vehicles," he said.
Electric truck cabs are more comfortable for drivers, and they have better climate controls, he said. "This is an event for customers that are facing regulations to see what options and offerings they have to integrate into their fleet in the near term," said Alexander Voets, general manager of Velocity EV, the electric vehicle wing of Velocity Truck Centers, a national chain with more than 30 stores.
Velocity demonstrated models "that can be purchased, that exist and are not prototypes," he said. Customers such as Republic Services, which has 17,000 vehicles, will play a big part in the shift to zero-emission vehicles. The company plans to make half its new-truck purchases zero emission by 2028.
Other fleet customers, including trucking firms, delivery companies and municipal service agencies, want to kick the tires on these zero-emission vehicles as they face regulatory timelines for phasing out combustion engine trucks.
The manufacturers and Velocity, which hosted the event, are looking to reach potential customers such as Rich Kennedy, vice president of the bulk trucking operations at Plastic Express, which hauls chemicals and supplies for the plastics business.
"This will be my first time driving an electric commercial vehicle. You need to attend an event like this to get the opportunity," Kennedy said. "I need to see and feel the difference from a diesel-powered truck—the power and the feel of the torque when you are pulling."
His company has about 250 trucks nationally and is figuring out how it will comply with regulations phasing in the use of zero-emissions vehicles.
"I want to get behind the wheel and feel the acceleration, torque and braking and see how that compares with an 80,000-pound diesel truck and trailer," said Collin Stewart, owner of Stewart Transport of Phoenix. His company operates 180 trucks, mostly regional and local trucking in the Southwest.
Stewart said the cost compared with that of a diesel truck is a big concern.
"It has to be at a price point that we can make it work with the rates we can charge in the environment we operate in," he said.
Arizona does not provide subsidies and incentives for zero-emission commercial vehicles. But fleets in California will get some help from a robust green truck sales incentive program. Depending on the buyer and use, the state will provide up to $315,000 to buyers and lessees of fuel-cell zero-emission trucks and buses. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act also offers a $40,000 tax credit for heavy-duty zero-emission commercial vehicles.
The subsidies are critical to the transition from combustion engine vehicles as electric trucks are often double the price or more. A diesel box truck, for example, will cost about $70,000, Voets said. An electric counterpart lists for about $150,000. But just the California incentive closes much of the gap, reducing the price by $60,000. The federal credit could make the electric truck less expensive before related infrastructure expenses.
California's Advanced Clean Fleets regulation, approved in April, phases out internal combustion engine trucks next year and ends combustion truck sales in 2036. Depending on their business, companies will have to transition to only using zero-emission trucks within the 2035-2042 time frame.
The California Air Resources Board estimated that its rules will put about 1.7 million zero-emission trucks on the state's roadways by 2050.
How the market develops in California will influence other states. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia plan to follow all or some of California's truck regulations.
The two-day ride-and-drive event featured trucks from two manufacturers, encompassing three brands.
Daimler Truck dealer Velocity Vehicle Group provided drives of the Freightliner eCascadia Class 8 tractor and Freightliner eM2 box trucks. Freightliner is the leading truck brand in the U.S., with about a 40 percent market share.
Based on recent registrations, Freightliner said it leads the U.S. electric heavy-duty truck market. Globally, the German company sold almost 1,000 zero-emission trucks and buses last year and collected orders for more than 2,000 — twice as many as in the previous year.
Velocity also showed the new Rizon by Daimler Truck Class 4 and 5 electric box trucks. Daimler Truck became a standalone truck builder following its December 2021 spinoff from the corporate parent of the Mercedes-Benz car business.
Battle Motors, a New Philadelphia, Ohio, truck manufacturer, showed electric versions of refuse trucks, flatbed trucks and an electric street sweeper.
Charging station installation
Customers are interested in electric trucks, but they need to learn more about installing chargers and how the vehicles operate, said Kelleigh Ash, a former Ford Mustang engineer who is Battle Motors' chief technical officer.
"They need to see it in action, see how it performs versus diesel and CNG," Ash said.
Manufacturers, however, caution that customers can't assume they will test-drive a truck, buy one and integrate it into their fleets like they would a combustion-engine counterpart.
While the Rizon trucks will work with widely available technology, larger, heavier-duty commercial EVs require specialized charging infrastructure.
"We always say that three factors are necessary for a successful transition to zero-emission transportation: vehicles, green energy infrastructure for battery and fuel cell, and cost parity," a Daimler Truck spokesperson said. "The uptake of zero-emission vehicles largely depends on transport operators being able to invest in the vehicles and operate them profitably."