Year in Review & A Look Ahead
By Marek Krasuski
Trucking is an industry that, by its dynamic nature, attracts changes in everything from new truck builds to a plethora of rules and regulations that keep the industry in a hyper-vigilant state, always prepared for another policy mandate or product innovation.
One of the most significant changes affecting the industry in 2017 has been the ELD mandate scheduled for implementation on December 18th. ELDs are electronic solutions that make easier and more accurate the recording of Hours of Service (HOS) and Record of Duty Status (RODS). When a Driver uses an ELD as soon as he logs into a vehicle his day begins and so does his RODS! The engine data and the driver’s RODS are then recorded and uploaded to the carrier. Electronic logs, proponents say, draw attention to the fact that these are essentially the same as paper logs, just more efficient for both the driver and the carrier to keep track of their H.O.S. compliance.
For now the mandate applies only to carriers operating in the US, but companies are well advised to prepare for the implementation in Canada at some future date. Aside from eventual adoption of ELDs in Canada, there are those who recommend ELD implementation purely for their operational benefits. Dan Malloy, Fleet Safety & Compliance Specialist for Mobilizz, highlights some of them. “I might be so bold as to suggest that everyone needs an ELD as the benefits of such a system far outweigh the costs. A proper system can also greatly improve efficiencies in such things as fuel consumption, dispatching, and maintenance. Many add-ins are available to allow carriers to monitor everything from hours-of-service to sending the nearest vehicle to a customer’s location quickly. Just because a portion of the trucking industry is being forced into using electronic logs shouldn’t stop others from investigating how an ELD can improve these and other practices for everyone.” Malloy calls attention to other benefits as well. “The biggest reason is that ELD usage will keep people alive. The FMCSA suggests that each year deaths associated with commercial vehicle crashes will be reduced by 26 when ELDs come into effect,” Malloy concludes.
Politics is always a bedfellow of business, and the election of Donald Trump has intensified the relationship. The US Administration’s resolve to renegotiate terms of trade this year, and possibly trash existing trade agreements, has galvanized trucking groups in the US, Canada and Mexico who this year came together to advocate on behalf of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). A joint statement by the national trucking associations of these three countries highlights the significant economic benefits flowing from the trade agreement and the importance to improve it so as to enhance the free flow of trade. The joint statement says, “We strongly encourage our governments to update NAFTA to keep North America competitive internationally. In this endeavor, making border crossings and rules governing international commercial transportation more efficient is a crucial element that will only help our industries make North America stronger. We look forward to working with our governments to achieve a better NAFTA.”
Based on product innovation in 2017, predictions for the year ahead and beyond point to a surge in the growth of electric vehicles in the medium duty vocational market. Brand name companies are already investing heavily in electric trucks for regional deliveries with vehicles that have a range of up to 100 miles on a single charge and capable of haul loads up to 16,000 pounds. While medium duty electric trucks in the US total about 1,000 today, a relatively small number, sales are predicted to rise to the level where E-Trucks will command 25 percent of the regional haul market in applications under 100 miles per day.
AMP Electric Vehicles was a relative upstart that began producing electric passenger vehicles. It has since shifted its attention to the production of commercial vehicles under the Workhorse brand and formally changed its name from AMP to Workhorse Group Incorporated.
Tests are currently underway and will continue into 2018 for Workhorse’ new lightweight N-Gen electric delivery vans in select American cities. Workhorse already supplies FedEx and UPS with delivery vehicles and hopes to capture a larger market share with electric vehicles free from the tightening regulations restricting carbon dioxide and soot emissions. The N-Gen delivery vans have a lightweight carbon frame weighing 5,000 lbs. lighter than comparable vehicles and have a load space of 500 cubic feet. The ticket price for the N-Gen is higher than conventional diesel trucks but the company says payback is assured in less than three years thanks to the accumulation of gas and fuel savings.
Standing alongside the N-Gen is the Workhorse E-Gen delivery vehicle with extended range. Workhorse customers laud the quietness of the units, particularly important for early morning deliveries in residential neighbourhoods, comparable power capabilities, and financial returns. Indeed, the company says Workhorse electric trucks have demonstrated potential to deliver more than $150,000 in total cost of ownership savings per truck. These savings accrue from 400% improvement in fuel efficiency and 60% or greater reduction in maintenance expense. Workhorse notes this “ground-breaking technology gives companies the ability to improve fuel efficiency from 5.5 MPG to more than 26 MPGe and to significantly lower fleet maintenance, redefining the economics of the package delivery business.”
With the promise of zero emissions, elimination of fuel, and PR benefits that come with environmentally sustainable vehicles, it’s no surprise that other manufacturers are investing in green vehicles for the urban delivery market.
Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Electric Truck matches load capacity and performance to its internal combustion engine-powered counterparts. The outstanding features of the Mercedes-Benz Electric Truck, Daimler says, include its drive with electrically powered rear axle and electric motors directly adjacent to the wheel hubs. Their maximum output is 2 x 125 kW, while torque is 2 x 500 Nm. The standard version of the axle has already proven itself in buses. Costs to recharge batteries can be reduced by plugging in when rates are lowest, and using a stationary battery storage unit. Daimler also has its long range sites on the launch of an entire line of electric trucks as battery technology improves. Indeed, it has ramped up its product offering with the distribution in the USA of the eCanter electrically powered delivery truck by its Mitsubishi Fuso unit. Daimler is limiting production to about 500 vehicles for the next two years. The thinking is to wait that long until battery technology yields longer charges. Currently the eCanter has a range of 100 kilometers. UPS and several non profits in the US will receive a total of eight electric eCanters in anticipation of larger production volumes. The company says the eCanter delivers an impressive output of 185 KW and powerful torque, has a comfortable interior equipped with ergonomic seating, and a modular HV battery pack and synchronous e-motor.
Elsewhere, Navistar and Volkswagen have teamed up to introduce an electric medium duty truck aimed at urban delivery customers to the North American market by 2019. The collaboration is partly in response to the looming possibility that some cities may start banning diesel powered trucks.
Whoever builds medium duty electric trucks customers can count on a hefty selling price, significantly higher than diesel alternatives. Whether the cost factor can be overcome to make E Trucks a practical reality anytime soon remains to be seen. However, the case for E Trucks is compelling. They override any concerns regarding emissions mandates from policy makers, they present Carriers as green friendly, their performance and payload compare to diesel trucks, and are roughly 50 percent more efficient to operate than diesels.
Finally, a word about emissions – a topic never far removed from industry concerns. The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized new greenhouse gas (GHG) and fuel economy for medium and heavy duty vehicles which will be fully phased in beginning in 2018. The rules are complicated and extensive and differ according to vehicle type such as vocational vehicles, combination tractors, and heavy duty pick-ups and vans. With full implementation the standards for combination tractors will reach between 9 and 23 percent reduction in emissions and fuel consumption compared to 2010 levels.
As 2017 draws to a close expect 2018 to deliver its share of challenges and opportunities in a dynamic industry defined by transitions.☚