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A Tesla Semi heavy-duty electric truck. Photo courtesy of Tesla.

Clean Transport

Tesla Tells EPA To Tighten Heavy-Duty Truck Emissions Standards: “The Time For Doing So Is Now”

The EPA standard emissions rule needs to be stronger, according to Tesla. To neglect to do so, they say, would fail to put the heavy duty sector on a path to full electrification.

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Tesla is pushing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize significantly stricter heavy-duty emissions limits than originally proposed in April. The all-electric vehicle manufacturer insists that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are being electrified much faster than had been previously thought possible, so a federal endorsement to reduce emissions can lead to bigger climate pollution cuts.

The current EPA proposal on emissions standards is not extensive enough, according to Tesla, and actually should be as rigorous as California’s truck emissions regulations. Moreover, they say the current ability to apply credits to ease compliance should be eliminated. Indeed, the EPA should “actively embrace a more rapid transition to (battery electric vehicles),” and Tesla insists “the time for doing so is now.”

The American Trucking Associations, an industry group, said in comments that the EPA proposal is already too aggressive and “relies on technology that is at early-stage and lacks the real-world demonstrated maturity compared to proven internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) technologies.”

How accurate is that assessment? Is heavy-duty vehicle electrification too new and raw to be dependable?

The EPA rule needs to be tightened, according to Tesla, and to neglect to do so would fail to put the heavy-duty sector on a path to full electrification. The EPA needs to accelerate efforts to reduce US emissions or “would not meet the legal benchmark of the Clean Air Act to protect the nation’s public health and welfare,” the company added.

Under the current proposal, the EPA estimates that 50% of new vocational vehicles like buses and garbage trucks could be EVs by 2032. So, too, could 35% of new short-haul freight tractors and 25% of new long-haul freight tractors. Medium-duty vehicle rules are projected to cut emissions by 44% over 2026 requirements. The EPA says its heavy-duty proposal would result in net benefits ranging from $180 billion to $320 billion and is projected to avoid 1.8 billion tons of CO2 through 2055.

Efforts to Electrify Heavy-Duty Vehicles

A number of electric pickup trucks are teasing the EV market in 2023: the Chevy Silverado EV (refundable reservation of $100), GMC Sierra Denali EV (check back in 2024), Ram 1500 Revolution (reserve your spot), and Ford F-150 Lightning (order online). Tesla’s Cybertruck has been spotted on roads during testing but may also be experiencing some distinct design issues. We’ll see.

The Toyota Pickup EV has been announced, as have been the Volkswagen Scout, Canoo Pickup, Hercules Alpha, EdisonFuture EF1-T, Alpha Wolf, Atlis (Nxu) XT, Neuron EV T.One, and Radar RD6. Consumer demand is pushing vehicle makers to spur on their R&D for these popular-sized vehicles.

Of course, the shift to electrification for heavy-duty vehicles relies on much more than consumer demand. The trucking industry is a critical part of the US economy, transporting 71.6% of goods totaling $10.4 trillion. These trucks also emitted 7% of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020; even gradual electrification across the sector could provide significant climate pollution benefits.

The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of a truck determines its class. GVWR is a vehicle’s maximum weight, which includes payload capacity (i.e., passengers and cargo). Essentially, GVWR is the maximum amount of weight a vehicle can safely handle. Heavy-duty Class 8 trucks have the heaviest GVWR, while light-duty Class 1 trucks have the lightest. Major fleets have committed to transitioning at least 30% of their new heavy-duty truck purchases to zero-emission vehicles, including electric models, by 2030.

That objective makes some fleet insiders shudder, however, due to high upfront costs and the ancillary need to build up charging infrastructure.

Each short- and long-haul trucking company depends on their vehicles having adequate energy to reach their destinations. Actual vehicle range depends on the loaded vehicle weight, duty cycle, aerodynamics and drivetrain efficiency, as well as environmental factors such as temperature.

The US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) are infusing funds that may assuage some industry concerns and lead to larger selections of makes and models, advancements in charging infrastructure, and updated industry fiscal paradigms.

Meanwhile, it’s not just the US that is struggling to reconcile itself to the need to transition to heavy-duty vehicle electrification. Electric truck sales remain a low share of the truck market across most major economies.

In 2022, nearly 66,000 electric buses and 60,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold worldwide, representing about 4.5% of all bus sales and 1.2% of truck sales worldwide. China continues to dominate production and sales of electric trucks and buses. In 2022, 54,000 new electric buses and an estimated 52,000 electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold in China, representing 18% and 4% of total bus and truck sales, respectively, in China and about 80% and 85% of global electric bus and electric medium/heavy-duty truck sales, respectively. In addition, many of the buses and trucks being sold in Latin America, North America, and Europe are Chinese brands.

Just under 2,000 electric trucks were sold across the entire European Union in 2022. Sales shares generally remain well under 1% in medium- and heavy-duty segments, with major shipping logistics companies running demonstrations of electric trucks in regional and long-haul electric operations. Within Europe, the sales share for electric buses was highest in Finland, where electric buses made up two-thirds of bus sales in 2022. In Norway and the Netherlands, they made up nearly half of the sales. Denmark came in at nearly one-third, while sales shares were also relatively high in Sweden, Switzerland, and Israel.

Slow Gains in Heavy-Duty Vehicle Electrification

Truck manufacturers are increasingly gaining confidence in supplying larger, heavier zero-emission models with greater payloads. The majority (over 90%) of the already available medium-duty and heavy-duty truck models are battery electric; 12 models of fuel cell heavy-duty trucks are currently available — and another 8 are due to become available in 2023–2024.

In December, Tesla initiated deliveries of its Semi, although production numbers are reportedly small at this point. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that the company does not expect to produce its Semi electric trucks in large volume until sometime next year because of the need to ensure sufficient battery supply. Tesla is currently working with Japanese company Panasonic, its longtime partner, as well as South Korea’s LG Energy Solution, the second or third largest battery supplier in the world.

Most European and North American electric bus and truck makers rely heavily on Asian battery makers. Given their dominance in lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery chemistries, China’s CATL produces the vast majority of batteries for trucks.

However, spurred on by industrial policies — the European Union’s Green Industrial Plan and the United States’ IRA — truck makers have already begun to build or are announcing investments in new production facilities for heavy-duty battery packs. Volvo’s 2.7 GWh plant is an example; it opened in Sweden in 2022. Truck makers have also entered collaborations with major cell makers, seeking to secure further opportunities for vertical integration.

Tesla cited its Tesla Semi production in making the case for tougher emissions rules, noting it anticipates production levels of a Class 8 Day Cab tractor at 50,000 per year, with significant production volumes beginning in late 2024.

“Reaching the 50,000 annual production level would amount to 20% of all annual sales in (model year) 2027,” Tesla reported. “This means Tesla’s production goal alone would far exceed the 5% EV sales deployment EPA anticipates in 2027.”

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Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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