As Volvo, Daimler, Navistar, Tesla and other companies push development of electric trucks, an industry alliance wants to establish a global charging standard.
That goal faces skepticism from trade groups such the American Trucking Associations and the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, or NACFE. Both worry that with electric trucks barely in their infancy, there’s not enough data to point the way to the most effective charging system. Tying truck charging to a system developed for passenger vehicles also might turn out to be the wrong approach, NACFE told Trucks.com.
The alliance, called CharIN, wants to extend the fast charging standard to the higher power heavy- and medium-duty vehicles of today. The group launched in 2015 to promote the Combined Charging System, or CCS, for electric vehicles.
CCS is an AC and DC electric vehicle charging standard that is widely adopted in Europe, the United States, Australia and parts of South America. CharIN reports that 16 of the automotive industry’s top 20 brands use CCS; 12 of those use it exclusively, including Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Ford and Kia.
CCS has some global competition in the CHAdeMO standard, developed in Japan and used by Nissan and Mitsubishi, and GB/T in China. Tesla’s proprietary SuperCharger is another option on the market, though Tesla has been a CharIN member since 2016.
The idea of the standard is to make charging an electric vehicle as seamless around the world as using a mobile phone as it bounces between cell towers, said Oleg Logvinov, CharIN’s North American volunteer spokesman and chief executive and co-founder of IoTecha, a charging infrastructure hardware and software provider. CharIN hopes to make that vision a reality for heavy- and medium-duty vehicles as well.
Truck and bus makers are developing electric powertrains to replace gasoline and diesel engines when possible, as political and social pressures mount to reduce pollution from vehicles.
Many electric truck makers are focusing on the local delivery market, maintaining that trucks and vans with short daily routes are a good fit for electrification. Their batteries won’t need to be recharged until they are retired for the night (or day in the case of nighttime delivery vehicles). Charging can be done at the vehicle operators’ central depots, eliminating the need for expensive roadside charging stations. Others are developing vehicles for local hauling operations, such as to supply restaurants and supermarkets.
Tesla, notably, has promised a long-haul, battery-electric semi-truck.
Logvinov said he’s not sure what standard the group will adopt. Members will decide through focus groups.
“The success of this work is very heavily dependent on the idea that … everyone is welcome to bring their ideas,” Logvinov said. “That’s important because if you want to have a standard that is used by everybody, you have to have a very open environment.”
CharIN has 128 members and counting, but others in the industry are still skeptical about the timing of this newly expanded mission.
It is too early to look specifically at a charging standard for heavy-duty electric trucks, said Robert Braswell, executive director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations.
“We’re starting to think in that area, but sometimes when it’s a little early you just want to wait for the dust to settle a little bit to see where it goes,” Braswell said.
However, by the council’s fall meeting that could change, he said.
Because there aren’t that many heavy electric trucks on the road, data is just starting to accumulate, said Rick Mihelic, director of future technologies studies at the. So it’s difficult to “predict where the designs will go” at this stage, he said.
Logvinov disagrees: “It’s already happening. It’s not something that’s hypothetical. This is a reality.”
Mihelic said it also might not be a good idea to base a truck charging system on one designed for passenger cars because “automobiles and trucks are significantly different in purpose and use. Optimizing for one or the other may limit capabilities of the other,” he said. “Optimizing for both may cause inadequacies for both.
“I think one standard charging system covering all vehicle types likely will make some applications overly costly and complex, because the range of vehicle systems vary so significantly in requirements,” Mihelic said.
He said the bifurcated evolution of diesel and gasoline filling stations is an example. “A one-size-fits-all solution was not appropriate, and the market evolved into distinct segments,” he said.
Although there is “merit” to that argument, “it looks at one side of the problem,” Logvinov said.
Speed to market and economy of scale are also important factors.
It has taken nearly a decade to develop CCS for passenger vehicles, so “using it as a base would allow the standard for heavy-duty vehicles to proceed a lot faster,” he said.
“Economy of scale helps to drive cost and complexity of implementation down and creates healthy competition, which benefits the market,” Logvinov said.
It is too early to speculate about whether one standard will work in both commercial and passenger sectors, said Drew Cullen, senior vice president of fuels and facility services at Penske Truck Leasing. Penske joined CharIN a few weeks ago.
“However, since it is early, it is the opportune time to have dialogue between all the parties involved,” Cullen said.
It would be “ideal” to have one standard for all vehicle classes, said Andreas Juretzka, director of e-mobility for Daimler Trucks North America, which is also a CharIN member. However, he acknowledged that the significant difference in power demands between the vehicles may get in the way. If so, he said, the group should pursue backward compatibility between them.
“Ultimately the market will decide which charging system is to become the primary system of choice by end users,” Mihelic said.
While CharIN’s work on the heavy- and medium-duty standard has begun, Logvinov said the group still wants to grow. It is looking for companies involved all along the charging process, whether that’s power grid infrastructure providers, data companies to work with the charging information, charging technology manufacturers or vehicle manufacturers.
One large, underlying challenge, however, is the clock, Daimler’s Juretzka said. “When proposing a new charging standard, hundreds of stakeholders must have their voices heard and their needs met. This inherently takes a lot of time,” he said. “The main challenge will be to expedite this process.”
CharIN members have their work cut out for them. The group aims to have a specification ready for publication by the end of the year.