Chinese-backed electric vehicle developer BYD America has launched the industry’s first all-electric, long-range electric garbage truck, a project jointly developed with Wayne Engineering, the Iowa-based refuse industry equipment maker.
But the election of Donald Trump could usher in big changes in national environmental and fuel-efficiency policies. The president-elect has called climate change a hoax and said he would foster accelerated development of the nation’s coal, petroleum and natural gas resources while reducing the Environmental Protection Agency’s reach.
So is BYD’s all-electric garbage truck a last gasp? Probably not, according to industry insiders.
“No one has a crystal ball, but there are some business case and regional and global market trends that make us believe that electric truck development and targeted deployment will continue,” said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president and trucking programs director at Calstart. The Pasadena-based nonprofit provides clean-energy consulting services for the trucking and passenger vehicle industries.
The trend to greater electrification is meeting customer demands for efficiency and operational improvements and is not tied to U.S. energy policy, wherever that may end up going, Van Amburg said.
Additionally, Congress has allowed California to set its own tougher-than-federal air quality regulations, and the law permits other states with heavy pollution to use Californian’s rules. About a dozen, mostly in the Northeast, have done that. Van Amburg and others said that those states, representing a significant market for low- and zero-emissions trucks, aren’t likely to change their rules even if the EPA does back off on some emissions and air quality regulations.
Industry analysts point out that electrifying heavy trucks isn’t an easy task and that electric trucks have limited application. But even with those obstacles, there’s still a growing industry devoted to electric and hybrid-electric commercial vehicles.
While it is too early to predict what will happen with a new administration, there is sufficient momentum and knowledge about the benefits of electric vehicles in various transit and trucking applications to keep things moving, said Devin Lindsay, IHS Markit’s powertrain and compliance analyst.
That’s certainly what’s keeping BYD going.
“We don’t think this is the end; it is the beginning,” said Zach Kahn, director of government relations for BYD America. “We are developing data that shows that these trucks pay for themselves. So it is the economic argument that will resonate with customers, whatever administration is in office.”
Although detailed operating cost data aren’t yet available, Kahn said BYD expects the trucks to save the typical fleet operator $10,000 a year in operating and fuel costs. The chassis and powertrain are warrantied for eight years and have a life expectancy of up to 15 years, he said.
The Class 6 truck, using a BYD chassis and battery-electric powertrain with a Wayne Engineering refuse collection body designed for the smaller 25,000-pound, rear-loading refuse truck, is one of a number of new electrified commercial trucks and truck prototypes introduced in recent months, which is encouraging news to clean-vehicle boosters. Complete pricing hasn’t been announced, although BYD has said the Class 6 chassis and powertrain — without the Wayne refuse collection body — will sell for $180,000.
It uses a 175-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged in as little as two hours with one of the three charging systems BYD sells separately. The slowest charging system will replenish the truck’s battery pack in 4.4 hours.
The 100-mile range estimate for the refuse collection truck is based on a full duty cycle, the vehicle departing empty and gradually filling up during the workday, returning to the transfer station with a full load, said Andy Swanton, BYD America’s business development director.
The chassis and electric powertrain were developed by BYD as a global platform and are in use in China on electric delivery trucks.
Swanton said that Los Angeles-Based BYD North America is talking to several potential customers about covered delivery, refrigerated delivery and stake bed service truck applications. The refuse truck, sold in an exclusive deal with Wayne Engineering for its trash collection body, has just gone on sale. Demonstrations with the initial prototype are expected to start next month. The chassis and powertrains will be built at BYD’s facility in Lancaster, Calif., and the bodies at Wayne’s facilities in Phoenix and Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The refuse truck, which Swanton expects to hit the streets by the middle of next year, is one of several recently announced commercial electric truck developments.
Among them, electric car maker Tesla Motors has said it is developing a series of electric trucks; Wrightspeed Inc. recently launched a range-extended electric garbage truck initially being put into service by Northern California refuse and recycling firm The Ratto Group; Mercedes-Benz showed off a fully electric delivery truck at the commercial vehicle show in Hamburg, Germany; start-up Nikola Motor Co. is developing a Class 8 hydrogen fuel-cell electric Class 8 tractor; and Ohio-based commercial truck developer Workhorse Group said it is developing a range-extended electric pickup truck that would deliver 80 miles of all-electric range before its gasoline generator kicked in.
“There’s been a growing momentum in the electric truck and bus industry over the past couple of years, and I see that continuing,” said Don Anair, deputy director and head of research for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program. The environmental group recently counted 15 companies in California alone that are developing and manufacturing electric trucks and buses.
Federal policies, especially research investment and purchase incentives, can be a big help in promotive electric truck development. But it has been the states’ policies, more so than federal regulations, that have been a key driver in deployment of electric truck technology, Anair said. A major factor has been the need to address localized air pollution from trucks, he said.
“Heavy-duty applications like garbage trucks, where vehicles travel relatively short distances and are centrally refueled, are ripe for electrification,” he said. Companies such as BYD and electric bus developer Proterra “have led the way in demonstrating that heavy-duty vehicles can be successfully electrified.”
As fuel prices increase worldwide and concerns for air quality grow, “opportunities for electric trucks will continue,” said Calstart’s Van Amburg.
“The target markets for initial launches have not changed. This was never going to start as a mass market option but a targeted one in key regions, particularly large urban centers facing air quality challenges. I think California, Europe and China will be key drivers of this in the near term,” he said.