5 Emerging Obstacles to Fleet Electrification in 2022

Electric vehicles are reaching new heights, even penetrating supply chain operations. However, while electrifying long-haul truck fleets would bring significant environmental benefits, it turns out to be a difficult task. Fleets must find ways to overcome these barriers to embrace sustainability.

Zero-emission trucks are still relatively new, so some challenges are natural. Yet, as climate change worsens, it becomes more important to overcome these obstacles. Here are five of those setbacks and how the fleets are dealing with them.

1. Limited ranges

The most common challenge with fleet electrification is the limited range of these vehicles. For example, Volvo’s new electric FH has a maximum range of around 300 kilometers with a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 44 tonnes. That’s impressive for an electric vehicle, but the diesel FH, with the same PNBC, can cover 1,000 kilometers between refueling stops.

Electric vehicle lines have improved dramatically over the past few years, but they still can’t compete with traditional long-haul trucks. This can be a challenge for fleets, where making fewer stops is crucial for timely deliveries and customer satisfaction.

As a result, fleet electrification today is better suited to last-mile deliveries, not long-distance driving. While any improvement is respectable, fleets must eventually become fully electric to mitigate climate change.

2. Route optimization challenges

Charging stops are another barrier to fleet electrification. Diesel pumps are far more common than electric charging stations, a problem that limits the ranges of electric vehicles. Since these vehicles need to stop more frequently, but their stopping options are less common, it is difficult to plan efficient routes.

There are nearly 43,000 public charging stations in the United States, and their distribution is far from even. California has almost the same number as 39 other states combined. Designing a route where trucks can make their deliveries and stop at one of these stations requires careful planning.

Charging stations will increase, but this process will likely be slow. Fast chargers cost up to $100,000 to install, discouraging many stations from implementing them.

3. Shortage of electric trucks

Not so long ago, electric trucks were a rarity, often more a proof of concept than a reality. While the market for these vehicles has grown, it is still difficult for fleets to obtain them. Automakers aren’t producing many electric trucks, and high demand from companies looking to go green is exacerbating the problem.

Many logistics companies have placed large orders for electric vehicles, which is encouraging. However, this has resulted in a backlog for many electric automakers, making it difficult for those companies to expand or for others to get those trucks.

Bottlenecks in the electric vehicle battery supply chain further complicate the issue. While experts expect the demand for lithium-ion batteries to increase tenfold by 2030, the raw materials that make these batteries will be scarce. Many automakers will also prioritize electric cars, which will delay electric truck shipments.

4. High initial costs

While some companies have enthusiastically embraced fleet electrification, others are concerned about the costs. Electric trucks come with higher upfront costs than their diesel counterparts. For example, the 500-mile Tesla tractor-trailer costs $180,000, compared to an average of $117,430 for fossil fuel alternatives.

Electric vehicles require much less maintenance than traditional vehicles, thanks to fewer moving parts. Over time, this could help offset the price of the fleet electrification ticket. Yet prohibitive upfront expenses can prevent small businesses from adopting zero-emission vehicles.

As electric vehicle technology improves, these vehicles will become more affordable. For now, however, their high price makes them inaccessible to many small logistics companies.

5. Ignorance

Finally, many companies may be hesitant to adopt fleet electrification out of hesitation about its novelty. This phenomenon occurs with virtually all technologies in commercial spheres. Businesses are often slow to adopt new processes or resources because they are unfamiliar with them, fearing it will cause disruption.

These concerns are not entirely unfounded. As with any new technology, the shift to electric vehicles will come with some initial disruption. Fleet managers will need to approach route planning differently, maintenance schedules need to change, and drivers may need to consider different factors.

If a company has been doing things one way for several years, it will be difficult to switch to another method. Even though statistics show how electrification has multiple long-term benefits, it can be difficult to overcome this mental hurdle.

How do fleets overcome these obstacles?

While these challenges are currently limiting fleet electrification, potential solutions are also emerging. Some of these obstacles, such as high initial costs and limited ranges, will disappear with technological development, which takes time. In the meantime, some fleets have adopted other ways to become more sustainable until electric vehicles are more viable.

For example, some fleets have implemented Internet of Things (IoT) devices to monitor and correct driver habits. Simple fixes like driving at 65 mph instead of 75 can increase efficiency by 20%, reducing their emissions. Likewise, these technologies can also help companies plan more efficient routes.

Technology-based route planning also helps address issues of limited electric vehicle range and route optimization. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can consider many more factors much faster than humans, yielding actionable insights and strategies that help mitigate these challenges. AI route optimization algorithms can plan the most efficient paths for electric vehicles, assigning deliveries based on charging locations and vehicle ranges.

Likewise, telematics data can help fleets evaluate vehicles based on their suitability for electrification, indicating which vehicles and routes are ideal for alternatives to electric vehicles. These companies can then ensure that they are assigning EVs routes that match their charging and range needs, getting the most out of their investment. This optimization will help fleets make the biggest changes until more EVs become available.

New battery technologies could also help reduce bottlenecks in the lithium supply chain, thereby improving availability. Government incentives for electrification could accelerate these changes and encourage more stations to also install charging ports.

Green fleets are difficult but not impossible

Transport is a major source of emissions, so greening fleets is essential in the fight against climate change. Although several obstacles remain in this effort, new solutions are continually emerging.

The transition to zero-emission fleets will not be easy. However, when businesses understand the challenges they face, they can plan more effective solutions.

About Robert Pierson

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