Disruption is a good thing.

Every industry benefits from disruption, and trucking is no different. Disruption shakes things up. It separates the innovators who truly embrace the opportunity to transform an industry from those who will soon be on the outside looking in.

One such example of disruption in the commercial transportation industry is the prospect of electric vehicles. Fully electric long-haul trucks have the potential to offer significant benefits, not just to the environment, but to the bottom line of many in the industry. Failing to acknowledge their inevitability would be what Ted Levitt called “marketing myopia” back in 1960.

“The [railroad] industry is failing because the people behind it assumed they were in the railroad business, rather than the transportation business.”
Ted Levitt, Harvard Business Review

Yes, there are many powerful factors that make electric trucks a logical step forward for the industry. However, before we can embrace a fully electric future, there is a broad range of questions that must be considered.

Is electric viable today for use in commercial transportation?
When will electric battery costs reach parity with diesel?
What about the charging and maintenance infrastructure?
What does a realistic timeline for achieving fully electric class 8 long-haul trucking look like?

It’s important to understand the fundamental nature of electric vehicle technology and its potential impact on our industry. There are some unique factors that make electricity as a commercial vehicle power source both advantageous and problematic. Let’s take a look at the current landscape and the obstacles that must be overcome on the path to electrification.

Inconsistent Range

One new industry entrant initially claimed its semi would be able to travel 500 miles on a single charge. However, that estimate didn’t take into account real-world conditions like speed variability, auxiliary loads, extreme weather and HVAC needs. Additionally, because ~20% of the battery’s capacity can’t be used while the vehicle is in operation, a purported 500-mile maximum range would actually be closer to 400 miles, at best.

Limited Capacity

The considerable added weight of electric batteries also limits their effectiveness. Let’s say you have a truck with a maximum allowable cargo weight of 59,525 lbs. that needs to travel 621 miles. To reach your destination, you’d need a battery weighing 55,116 lbs., leaving only 4,400 lbs. for cargo.

Lack of Infrastructure

Long-haul trucking relies on a robust network of gas stations for refueling mid-trip. Electric trucks will need a similar charging infrastructure, yet there are currently no class 8 truck-ready charging stations along well-traveled routes. Experts suggest building a viable charging station network could cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.


Given the importance of uptime in the trucking industry, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the quality control and production issues reported in the press with some electric vehicle manufacturers. For electric trucks to be viable, we must take the passenger car industry’s hard-learned lessons to heart so we can deliver quality products on day one.


Despite the roadblocks mentioned above, the overall outlook for electric trucks is very positive. A combination of technological breakthroughs, heightened emission standards, falling battery prices and subsidies will inevitably spur the industry’s electric revolution.

With that said, the path to electrification remains perilous for those who approach it haphazardly. Only with a pragmatic and methodical approach can we help customers take advantage of electric trucks’ greater cost savings and efficiencies – and avoid exposing them to unnecessary risk and potential downtime.

Key to Success: View It As an Entire Electric Ecosystem

It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype of a sleek, new electric truck. But that runs the risk of missing the bigger picture: successfully transitioning from diesel to electric will be contingent on addressing the major components of an entire electric ecosystem.


Drag the Lever

Product (Electric Trucks)

  • Viable range
  • Reliable
  • Lightweight (full-load ready)
  • Low adoption costs
  • Reasonable residual value

Charging Infrastructure

  • Nationwide network along major routes
  • Fast and safe charging
  • Compatible with all electric trucks

Operational Requirements

  • Different than diesel, so the industry will have to adapt
  • Driver training
  • Viable leasing options for fleet owners
  • Parity (or lower) with diesel

Parts and Service Needs

  • Suppliers will have to reinvent themselves
  • Maintenance costs may be lower
  • Modular approach to servicing and parts

Building an Industry Consensus

It will take an industry-wide effort to solve the new infrastructure and supply chain challenges electrification will introduce. That includes supporting policies and standards that help all stakeholders in the industry not just comply with federal and state regulations but accelerate the industry to greater efficiencies and safety.

Scalability and Prioritization

One of the key advantages of electric vehicle technology is its ability to scale to meet the different needs and ranges of commercial vehicle applications on the road today. Thus, scalability should be an inherent part of the roadmap to an electric future.

This implies testing shorter-range electric commercial vehicles in real-world situations, such as school buses. These vehicles are also vulnerable to substantial battery drainage in colder climates, due to the constant opening and shutting of doors that puts a strain on HVAC systems. Such real-world world testing is needed to determine the impact on battery range and life span. From there, electric class 6 and class 7 commercial vehicles become even more feasible.

  • Target: 2019
    Short-haul: school buses; other trucks with low-mile needs
  • Target: 2020
    Medium-haul: class 6 and 7; commercial vehicles with medium-distance needs, proximity to charging station
  • Within Years
    Regional-haul port: class 8 trucks; need ports with proximity to charging stations
  • Future
    Long-haul class 8: based on more advanced solid-state lithium-ion technology, not available today

We’re excited about the future of trucking and electric technology. We’d like to than all stakeholders, existing and new, for helping accelerate our industry’s continuing evolution into the electric-powered era.

As an industry leader, we embrace a more holistic, methodical and sensible view of this promising new technology. This is reflected in our phased electric roadmap for success. As importantly, we are in a unique position through our strategic alliance with Volkswagen Truck & Bus to combine industry heritage and know-how with game-changing resources to win tomorrow’s electric market opportunities. This smart approach will ensure uptime and value for our customers.

Bottom line, we intend to lead the industry in electric the right way.

For a deeper dive into our point of view on electrification,