"The Economics Just Don't Work": Demand For Electric Semis Plunges Due To High Costs

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, May 17, 2024 - 11:20 PM

For the last year, we've been writing extensively about how high costs and low demand have made EVs uneconomical - and, as a result, unpopular to produce - for the auto industry.

It turns out unionized employees extorting you on labor costs while the government mandates you produce a money-losing product isn't a combination that leads to prosperity and profit. Go figure. 

Now, it isn't just car manufacturers that are balking from the idea of all electric vehicles: the trucking industry, once expected to eventually make the shift to all electric as well, is seeing tepid demand for new rigs, according to a new Wall Street Journal article

“The economics just don’t work for most companies,” Robert Sanchez, the chief executive of Ryder, said earlier this month. 

Ryder’s experience highlights the difficulties state and federal governments encounter in encouraging truckers to transition from polluting diesel rigs to zero-emissions vehicles, the report says.

It also indicates that significant improvements in battery weight, range, and charging times are necessary for battery-electric trucks to effectively compete with diesel rigs in the cost-sensitive freight industry.

Rakesh Aneja, head of eMobility at Daimler Truck North America, told Wall Street Journal: “Quite frankly, demand has not been as strong as what we would like.”

Aneja said orders for its Freightliner eCascadia battery-electric semi truck are about the same this year as they were in 2023. 

Battery-electric trucks are about three times more expensive than diesel rigs, the Journal notes. And while federal and state programs help offset purchase costs, significant hurdles remain due to high operating costs and setup challenges.

Truckers find these electric trucks difficult and costly to run, with installation of on-site charging facilities taking years. These trucks travel less than half the distance of diesel rigs per charge and require several hours to recharge.

Ryder launched a service a year ago to assist companies in setting up and maintaining battery-powered fleets. So far, it has sold only 60 vehicles, mostly light-duty trucks. Three companies use five battery-electric heavy-duty trucks, but only within yards for shuttling trailers.

Sanchez noted that unlike individual electric car buyers, companies will only switch to battery-electric trucks when they can compete with diesel on operational costs.

The cost of changing a fleet over is also expensive. Using data from 13,000 vehicles, Ryder analyzed the annual operating expenses of battery-electric commercial trucks and found they are significantly higher than those of diesel rigs. The analysis, assuming existing fast-charging infrastructure, considered costs like vehicle purchase, maintenance, labor, and fuel.

Ryder found that light-duty battery-electric vans increase annual operating costs by several percentage points, with the gap widening for heavier trucks. Operating battery-electric big rigs costs about twice as much annually as diesel trucks.

In California, converting a fleet of 25 commercial vehicles, including 10 heavy-duty trucks, from diesel to battery power would raise annual operating costs by 56%, or $3.4 million. In Georgia, the increase would be 67%, or $3.7 million. Ryder stated that these higher costs would add 0.5% to 1% to inflation.

The American Trucking Associations said of the U.S. EPA's new rules mandating more BEV semi truck sales by the end of the decade: “Considering that 96% of U.S. trucking companies operate 10 or fewer trucks, these mandates are simply cost-prohibitive for most truckers.”