New report shows truck and bus manufacturers are readying for a zero-emission future

The North American truck and bus market is on the cusp of a zero-emission future. There is a clear and urgent need to drive down pollution from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which contribute to climate change and cause serious harm to human health. Companies, transit agencies and other organizations that operate large fleets understand this, and are moving swiftly to zero-emission alternatives. Manufacturers, recognizing the growing demand for zero-emission vehicles, are racing to bring more of these vehicles to market.

A new report from Environmental Defense Fund, The International Council on Clean Transportation and Propulsion Quebec demonstrates the magnitude of manufacturer investments. Race to zero: How manufacturers are positioned for zero-emission commercial trucks and buses in North America shows that every major truck and bus manufacturer is now developing at least one all-electric vehicle model or is part of an industry collaboration to bring zero-emission vehicles to market.

This growth in model availability demonstrates a marked change in an industry that, just a few years ago, had only a handful of zero-emission options on offer.

State of the market

In looking at the current set of models that are being prototyped or deployed commercially in the U.S. and Canada as of July 2020 — both by original equipment manufacturer and technology type (hydrogen vs. electric, for example) — our analysis finds that at least 125 zero-emission truck and bus models are in production, development or demonstration. There are models for each of the distinct major segments of the heavy-duty truck market, including transit and school buses, delivery vans, box trucks and combination trucks.

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Established manufacturers, such as Volvo and Daimler, and recent entrants, like Rivian and Lion Electric are all investing to develop zero-emission solutions — and a strong collaborative dynamic has emerged across the industry. For example, virtually all of the legacy OEMs have formed strategic relationships with or acquired smaller zero-emission suppliers to bolster their acumen in electric drive technology.

With their current and announced product plans, manufacturers are positioning the industry to move beyond the initial barrier of vehicle availability, that has been limiting progress over the past several years.

Moving from development to deployment

Zero-emission trucks and buses currently only account for a small fraction of new sales in the medium- and heavy-duty market. Roughly 570 of these vehicles were sold in the U.S. and Canada in 2019, representing less than 0.1% of the on-road commercial truck and bus market. Even in the transit bus segment, which has the largest penetration of zero-emission technology, fully electric vehicles made up a mere 3% of sales in 2019.

But plummeting ownership costs will help move these trucks from the showroom floor to highways and local streets across North America. Numerous studies have demonstrated that these vehicles are increasingly cost-competitive. Electric vehicles can have lower total cost of ownership in several key market segments today, such as transit buses, and are projected to have lower cost of ownerships across the medium-and heavy-duty sector in the coming few years. Over the past five years alone, sales of zero-emission commercial vehicles have shot up by nearly a factor of 10.

As exciting as this pace of change is though, we still need to go faster. Under the current business-as-usual scenario, fossil-fueled trucks would still account for more than half of the trucks on U.S. roads in 2050. Zero-emission technology is ready, and urgent environmental and health imperatives demand we move much faster.

The road ahead

To ensure 100% of the new trucks and buses entering the fleet are ZEVs by 2040, we need durable, long-term policies. This includes new vehicle performance standards, such as California’s Advanced Clean Truck program, innovative financing approaches to help fund the transition, investments in charging infrastructure, development of smart electricity pricing structures, and programs that prioritize near-term ZEV deployments in frontline communities.

Industry leadership is also critical. With the breadth and diversity of zero-emission solutions available and coming to market, it’s time for fleets to launch more deployments and make firm commitments on a transition to zero-emission fleets. Utilities also need to recognize the readiness of zero-emission trucks and buses, and their potential as grid assets. Investors, too should step forward to deploy capital that will help accelerate the fleet transition.

The arrival of zero-emission trucks and buses provides us with a unique opportunity to build a better, cleaner, more prosperous future. Manufacturers across North America are investing billions of dollars to develop these vehicles. Increasing the production and uptake of these vehicles can provide good jobs while improving health outcomes for millions. We need to seize this opportunity.

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