Trucking Faces ‘Peak Complexity’ on Road to a Greener Future

ACT Expo Wraps Up in Las Vegas
ACT Expo crowd
ACT Expo attendees check out commercial vehicles powered by a variety of low- and zero-emission technologies on display at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Seth Clevenger/Transport Topics)

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LAS VEGAS — On the road toward a more environmentally sustainable future, the trucking industry is encountering an unprecedented level of complexity driven by an expanding menu of powertrain options, infrastructure challenges and overlapping emissions regulations.

At the same time, however, truck manufacturers, suppliers, fleet operators and other industry stakeholders are ramping up their efforts to meet these challenges with technologies ranging from combustion engines powered by cleaner and renewable fuels to battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions.

This continued commitment to developing and commercializing low-emission and zero-emission technologies was on display at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, held May 20-23 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“We need to act now. We have already been waiting too long,” Volvo Trucks President Roger Alm said during the event’s opening keynote. “Together we can move forward. Together we can decarbonize this industry. Together we can shape the world we live in.”

Roger Alm

“We need a massive amount of charging stations, and we need them now,” Volvo Trucks President Roger Alm tells ACT Expo 2024 attendees. (Seth Clevenger/Transport Topics)

During the course of the show, leaders from various truck makers, suppliers and fleet operators voiced differing opinions on the best strategies and technologies for reducing carbon emissions, but in general, most agreed that the road ahead will not always be a smooth one.

A panel discussion featuring top executives from five of the six market-leading Class 8 truck brands in North America highlighted both the massive industry investments in zero-emission technologies and the staying power of the internal combustion engine.

Jason Skoog, general manager at Peterbilt Motors Co., said the diesel engine will remain trucking’s primary powertrain for quite some time.

“The diesel business is not dead, and it’s going to have a very long tail on top of it,” he said.

Along the way, profits from diesel truck sales are funding the ongoing development and rollout of zero-emission vehicles.

“The diesel business is paying for all of this, quite honestly,” said John O’Leary, CEO of Daimler Truck North America. “Obviously it would be great to get further up that adoption curve with zero-emission, but at this point in time, 99% of the trucks sold are diesels. It’s paying for all of this and we will gladly reinvest that into the future, but without that there’s no ability to reinvest in the future.”

Battery-electric models are on the market and moving freight today, but still represent just a small sliver of new commercial truck sales in an industry where diesel remains dominant. The pace of adoption for battery-electric trucks has been held back by factors such as vehicle cost, range and payload limitations and, above all, the scarcity of charging infrastructure and questions about the readiness of the electrical grid.

Nonetheless, many manufacturers and suppliers continue to see electrification as one of the most promising technology pathways to not only reduce the industry’s carbon footprint but also unlock operational improvements.

“The future can be clean, it can be lower cost, and frankly, it can be awesome,” said Dan Priestley, senior manager for the Tesla Semi. Like many other truck manufacturing leaders, Priestley emphasized the need for industry collaboration to realize the potential of electric commercial vehicles.

“Fleets, come at us with your enthusiasm,” he said. “Share your route networks. Work with us so that we can figure out how we can best match our product and electrification into your operations.”

Meanwhile, investments in hydrogen fuel cell technology continue to expand.

Honda FCEV

Carmaker Honda showcases a Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell concept truck at ACT Expo 2024 in Las Vegas. (Seth Clevenger/Transport Topics) 

Carmaker Honda signaled its interest in bringing its fuel cell technology to the commercial truck market by exhibiting a Class 8 fuel cell electric concept truck at the show.

Other companies also have been lining up to supply the trucking industry with fuel cell systems, including Cummins, Bosch, Toyota, Hyundai, Nikola Corp., Hyzon, Symbio and Cellcentric, a joint venture of Daimler Truck and Volvo Trucks.

Fleet operators are currently navigating a period of “peak complexity” amid a slew of new emissions regulations combined with the growing pains of multiple new technology introductions, according to the State of Sustainable Fleets 2024 market brief released by ACT Expo’s organizer, clean transportation consulting firm GNA, a TRC company.

“Yet at the same time we see this perfect combination of investments and innovation to make fleets more sustainable today with available, often drop-in solutions, while laying the groundwork for even greater sustainable transformation of the fleet industry tomorrow,” said Nate Springer, vice president of market development at TRC.


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The market brief found that renewable diesel consumption increased 68% last year and renewable natural gas producers opened more than 150 new facilities.

The continued development of autonomous trucks also featured prominently at ACT Expo. 

DTNA and its Torc Robotics subsidiary combined autonomous driving technology with a battery-electric powertrain in its Autonomous eCascadia demonstrator truck.

Volvo Trucks unveiled the Volvo VNL Autonomous, its first production-ready driverless truck outfitted with Aurora Innovation’s virtual driver, while self-driving technology developer Plus showcased its autonomous driving system equipped on Hyundai’s Xcient hydrogen fuel cell tractor.

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