Electric truck and van charging at charging station powered by solar panel system. 3D rendering image.

How Can Electric Trucks Draft off the Success of Passenger EVs?

Over the past 10 years, early adopters of electric vehicles (EVs) have propelled the private EV market, which today counts about 1.6 million EVs on US roads. While we still have a long way to go with respect to passenger vehicle electrification, our efforts have to expand to include the trucking sector—from medium-duty delivery vans to heavy-duty regional haul trucks.

The transportation system that moves the world’s people and goods has been the backbone of economic growth, but it also threatens our climate and degrades our air quality. Transportation is the number-one source of carbon emissions in the United States—and cars and trucks make up the vast majority, or 80 percent, of these transportation emissions.


EVs Are Inevitable, but the Clock Is Ticking 

EV drivers in the passenger vehicle segment have long recognized the inherently better EV driving and idling experience. EVs offer a smoother ride and better road handling, and they’re quiet—many drivers cite these as reasons why they feel less fatigue after a day of driving an EV. And because truck drivers usually put in even more miles in a day, they stand to benefit that much more from these advantages.

Although EVs are now almost certainly inevitable, the climate change clock is ticking. The scientific consensus is that we have to cut emissions roughly in half by 2030 to get on a path that limits global temperature rise to 1.5°C. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, this means we not only need to move one in four Americans into an EV by 2030, but we also need to shift one in seven trucks to electric.

One way to achieve this quickly is to convert medium and large truck fleets to electric. The most easily electrified fleets will be those centered around urban goods delivery and regional hauling. The industry leaders in these segments who are already stepping forward to electrify their fleets are establishing a blueprint for all others to follow, including an understanding of electric truck route planning and depot charging installations. They are also driving technology costs lower as a result of the increased product demand they are signaling.


More and More Electric Trucks on the Road

Some of the largest fleets in North America—public and private—are already moving to electrification. Recently, President Biden announced his goal to electrify the entire federal vehicle fleet of 645,000 vehicles, including the US Postal Service, which operates the largest fleet in the nation with 200,000 iconic and highly visible postal trucks. Ensuring that the next generation of postal trucks are electric would quickly increase the number of electric trucks on the road.

In 2020, 15 states plus the District of Columbia signed an agreement that aims to increase the number of electric trucks in each state and that would cover about 40 percent of all goods moved in the United States.

In the private sector, an increasing number of large fleet operators, including Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, FedEx, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart, have announced plans to begin fleet electrification over the coming years. All told, these efforts will result in hundreds of thousands of new electric trucks on the road.


Supporting the Bold First Adopters

Whereas consumers are often known for making emotional car-buying decisions, fleet operators have to make very rational decisions based on the business case. It’s critical for fleet operators to understand the total cost of operating electric trucks and how the technology will work for their use case.

A 2020 study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory found that EV drivers could expect to save between $3,000 and $10,500 in fuel costs over a 15-year period, as compared with operating a gasoline vehicle. And in 2019, New York City found that the city government spent between $204 and $386 maintaining each of its electric cars, compared with more than $1,600 for the average gasoline-powered car in its fleet. If the early results from trucking fleet operators show similar savings in operating electric trucks, then electrification could spread through trucking fleets even more quickly than it has through passenger vehicles in the past 10 years.

To better inform truck fleets about the current performance of electric trucks and the infrastructure needed to run them, RMI is partnering with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) to demonstrate how electric trucks operate in real-world conditions. The demonstration, Run on Less – Electric (RoL-E), includes 13 electric trucks hauling real freight on real routes.

The third in NACFE’s Run on Less trucking demonstration event series, RoL-E will feature the following companies and trucks running in five US states and two Canadian provinces:


  • Alpha Baking Company operating a Workhorse C1000 delivery vehicle in Chicago
  • Anheuser-Busch using a BYD tractor in the Los Angeles area
  • Biagi Brothers operating a Peterbilt 579EV out of Sonoma, California
  • Cardenas Inc. using an Xos van in Ventura, California
  • NFI using a Volvo VNR Electric out of Chino, California
  • Penske operating a Freightliner eCascadia in Los Angeles
  • PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division using a Cummins box truck in Modesto, California
  • Purolator operating a Motiv-powered step van in Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Roush Fenway Racing using a ROUSH CleanTech truck out of Concord, North Carolina
  • Ruan using an Orange EV terminal tractor in Otsego, Minnesota
  • Ryder System Inc. using a Lonestar Specialty Vehicles terminal tractor in Georgetown, Kentucky
  • SAQ, the Quebec liquor board, operating a LION8 truck in Montreal
  • An additional company to be named soon operating a Lightning electric box truck in the New York City area


RoL-E will also offer a 10-part education series that convenes fleet managers, utilities, policymakers, and other stakeholders across the electric truck ecosystem to discuss key opportunities and challenges as they plan for future deployments of electric vehicles. The Electric Truck Bootcamp trainings will also provide professional development opportunities to decision makers at all stages of their electrification journey and synthesize quick takeaways and recommendations from NACFE and RMI’s electric truck work to date.

We need more wheels on the road to run on electricity in order to halve transportation emissions by 2030. Trucking fleets can play a pivotal role in that effort. If you’re a fleet manager, utility planner, or policymaker, or you have questions about how to find companies using electric trucks to ship your company’s goods, learn more and connect with NACFE and the more than 25 trucking and shipping companies supporting the organization during Run on Less – Electric.