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December 19, 2019 12:15 PM, EST

CARB Board Hears Public Comment on Plan for Electric Truck Future

CARB BoardTrucks on Interstate 905 in San Diego. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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Just when will heavy-duty electric trucks be ready for prime time, and when will motor carriers purchase them?

Those are questions that California environmental regulators are attempting to answer in their quest to move forward with an aggressive plan that would require truck manufacturers to begin selling a certain percentage of the zero-emission vehicles as soon as 2024.

CARB’s proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation, presented by staff to the California Air Resources Board earlier this month, calls for 3% of Classes 7-8 trucks sold by large truck manufacturers to be zero-emission vehicles for model 2024, and 15% by 2030. Manufacturers of other truck segments, ranging from refuse trucks to step vans, also would be required to sell their trucks in various percentages beginning in 2024.

The proposal also would require carriers with gross revenues greater than $50 million or that own more than 100 vehicles greater than 8,500 pounds that operate facilities in California to report their vehicle activity. The one-time reporting would need to be completed by April 1, 2021, and would include characteristics of vehicles domiciled or assigned to the facilities.

The board could decide on a final ACT rule next year, but based on comments from the public, truckers, environmentalists, disadvantaged community residents and even CARB board members, the issue is volatile. Commenters at the Dec. 12 hearing generally ranged from those who believe the plan was attempting to deploy the new technology too fast, to those criticizing it for not moving fast enough.

Mary Nichols

Nichols

“Our goal here is to transform the transportation system. It’s not just to meet a target,” CARB board Chairman Mary Nichols said. “We need to move as fast as we can without screwing things up. This is tough stuff. If it were easy, it would have been done by now.”

Indeed, the degree of difficulty in converting the trucking industry from diesel to electric — the state has a goal of 100% by 2045 — is high.

“We support zero-emissions vehicles,” Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, told the board at the five-hour-plus public hearing that brought 100 commenters to the podium. “But designing a program based on a naked sales mandate is fundamentally flawed. Trucks are not cars.”

Mandel suggested that for a successful rollout of electric vehicles, CARB begin with those trucking segments that are more readily suited to the technology, not heavy longhaul trucks but rather buses and step vans.

“There’s a great deal of intrigue when it comes to electric trucks, but not a lot of experience,” said Mike Tunnell, California-based director of environmental research for American Trucking Associations. “There’s hope and anticipation that these vehicles will be able to stand up to the daily demands of the industry in terms of range, durability and reliability.”

But Tunnell said that, so far, companies are mostly only evaluating prototypes.

Mike Tunnell, California-based director of energy and environmental affairs for American Trucking Associations

Tunnell

“We are just beginning the stages of understanding the challenges and opportunities that this technology presents,” he said.

“Let me be clear: Volvo is committed to bringing battery-electric vehicles to market, and we are aligned with CARB’s goals in this regulation,” said Dawn Fenton, director of sustainability and public affairs for Volvo Group North America. “Our concern is that the Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation as currently drafted will undermine the realization of these goals and negatively impact California’s economic and environmental well-being, as well as our own investments.”

Fenton said Volvo requests that the board direct senior CARB staff to work with industry and other stakeholders to develop a “more focused approach” over the coming months to ensure that all elements of a successful program are addressed.

“The Volvo group has taken a leap of faith by investing hundreds of millions of dollars to bring these zero-emission vehicles to market,” Fenton said. “We are asking fleets to jump with us. But we both need the supporting winds from CARB to fill our parachutes and create a safe landing for all stakeholders.”

Hector De La Torre, a member of the CARB board and former member of the California State Assembly, cautioned that the agency needs more information before it pushes electric trucks in certain categories.

“I agree that we need to be as aggressive as we can be, but I think the key is availability,” De La Torre said. “From what I’m hearing, it won’t be until the mid-2020s that commercial trucks will be available. I’m talking longhaul [Class] 7s and 8s. So we’re not there yet with those, clearly.”

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