Thoughts on Electric Semi-Trucks from Logistics Leaders

Thoughts on Electric Semi-Trucks from Logistics Leaders

Heavy electric vehicles are becoming a viable option for Hoosier transportation and logistics firms, but it takes a lot of effort and major investments to switch over an entire fleet. Even more so when that fleet is vital to countless other industries. So where do things stand at this point?

The adoption of electric semitrucks and other pieces of electrified equipment has been slowly increasing in many ways throughout Indiana business sectors. To learn more about how it’s been going, we gathered perspectives from several transportation industry leaders. We wanted to know more about the advantages and disadvantages of the new electrified options available to shippers, and how experts view the transition to new types of fleet technology.

Gary Langston, president and CEO of the Indiana Motor Truck Association (IMTA), and Bryce Carpenter, senior vice president of industry engagement with Conexus Indiana, spoke with us about the changes happening in the industry lately.


Building Indiana (BIN): What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of electric semi-trucks?


Gary Langston (IMTA): “There isn’t a loud clamoring from the trucking industry for electrification. The primary reasons that carriers are engaging and focusing on electrification has more to do with requests and demands from shippers. Also, from a public relations and business development perspective, it’s good to be green in many areas. Some firms have announced they are adding one truck as a start. Or perhaps they’re purchasing 10 trucks and five of them are electric, as a start to see how this goes.

There certainly are carriers in the industry who do care about environmental sustainability. The work that has happened with cleaning up diesel has been phenomenal. Today it’s the case that 70 trucks emit less pollution than one truck did in 1988. So, it’s not that trucking has been sitting around waiting for something. We work on that regularly.

Compliance with local regulations in certain areas is one advantage of electrification. We’re starting to see legislation and new regulations in many places, which will require a focus on electrification.”


Bryce Carpenter (Conexus): “In the short term, I don’t know that there is an advantage to pursuing heavy fleet electrification. The technology, the weight, are not there yet. This is an industry that has been hit hard by challenges through the pandemic. And costs of adopting this equipment into the fleets is hard to justify given some of the short-term carrier contracts that a lot of these trucking companies are operating under.

But long-term, once the technology catches up with the business model on range, weight, and hours of service, I do think there are advantages. But you’ve got to reconcile the advantages with the costs of acquiring that technology.”


BIN: With the move to be more sustainable coming at the trucking industry from many different angles, have trucking firms been wary of adopting electrified vehicles? Or are they waiting to see what their requirements are going to be?

Carpenter: “I think it’s a requirements play. One of the great things about the infrastructure bill that was done at the federal level is it made a lot of resources available to states to continue to evaluate and test these technologies. But by no means is this technology ready to be deployed at scale overnight.

Shippers and warehousing/distribution firms are trying to prepare for what the needs will be, but I don’t think anybody has a realistic timeframe for widespread adoption. Or exactly what that adoption is going to look like. For example, there’s a lot of talk about hydrogen fuel cells and how that could be a good landing point in between diesel and an all-electric fleet. There’s a lot of advantages to hydrogen fuel cells.

Could we be looking at a freight network that is a composite around electrified fleets for short routes and hydrogen fuel cells for the long-haul routes? And then, how do fulfillment providers organize their facilities to service the different types of trucks that are coming in? I think that justifying the business case is going to have to be first in order for a lot of these shippers, truckers, and warehousing/fulfillment people to dedicate the funding at a time when just moving goods the conventional way has become incredibly complex and expensive.”

Langston: “There are a lot of applications now that are progressing well, like spotters for example at docks. (Spotters are workers that move containers around shipping facilities). Local and regional applications are progressing well. For a 175 to 250-mile range, those work well because they’d have plenty of time to recharge. On the Class 8 side (long-haul), that’s far away. The OEMs will tell you they’re not close to being ready for that.”


A Controlled Setting Example

The Ports of Indiana has been working on a pilot initiative that provides a good, smaller-scale example of how electrification can work today. Last summer, the Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor started demonstrating various types of electric vehicles and equipment to operators, businesses, and trucking companies. These vehicles operate inside the port and are never far away from the infrastructure needed to support their charging and maintenance.

Carpenter explained that using this type of technology in a localized setting is the type of electrified capability that companies would be able to commit to in today’s working environments.

Heavy-duty trucks, yard jockeys and forklifts are available for firms to try out in real-world shipping scenarios. Officials involved with the program have stated that with greater adoption, heavy electric vehicles might lead to cost savings for businesses.

“Connecting best available technology with port users is key to gaining their confidence in implementing electric-power into their trucking operations,” said Andrea Hermer, Ports of Indiana’s chief operating officer. “Having port businesses participate in the program is essential for a successful program and ultimate adoption at the port.”

Partnering organizations including NIPSCO and Current Trucking provided the vehicles, chargers, and other support during the pilot. NIPSCO’s role is important because they are supplying the power to the required industrial-grade DC fast chargers.


Always Innovating

Indiana’s trucking and shipping organizations are certainly willing to test out the new electric transportation technologies, but miles of ground must be covered before an industry-wide transition could occur. Many things need to be achieved first, like billions of dollars of charging infrastructure and greater availability of technology that’s proven reliable. That could be years away, but in the meantime trucking and freight firms will continue to evaluate new technologies and find new ways to innovate to keep business moving at its best.

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Category Features, Logistics