California moving from car emissions to a bigger problem—big trucks
The California Air Resources Board (CARB), that most demonized of government agencies, has finally realized that it’s done all that it can practically do with regular, civilian-owned cars.
Now it’s time for trucks.
Cummins has sold over 200 electric trucks (like this one)
A full tenth of greenhouse gas emissions in California come from trucks, along with carcinogenic particulates and, at one point, soot. What’s more, trucks have an oversized impact on poor neighborhoods, worsening the health of children who are least able to do something about it. CARB’s response is, belatedly, to start working on commercial trucks, according to Governing.
Many car lovers claim that pollution controls are so effective now that air is cleaner when it leaves the car than when it goes in; but asthma hospitalizations and emergency-room use is nearly twice in areas with large amounts of trucking as elsewhere, and the effects are worse in areas of California where people live in a “basin,” where air can be trapped for days.
Their plan is not to clean up diesel further, (as Japan has in certain regions, making nearly all diesel engines illegal); it’s to replace diesel with electricity. The plan is fairly mild, with the goal of changing just 4% of the fleet by 2030. That might happen anyway, since Amazon plans to move over to Rivian electric delivery trucks. More conventional companies have also been looking at replacing diesels, including one known for diesel engines above all else: Cummins. The first fully electric heavy truck powertrain was shown not by Tesla, but by Cummins, which has also developed natural gas powered engines for heavy vehicles.
While electric trucks are likely impractical for “long-haul” shipping, which is trucking over long distances, a vast amount of trucking is “short-haul,” which gives trucks time to rest between runs. Short-haul trucking includes all those Class 4-Class 8 trucks that supply supermarkets every day, not to mention the lighter Class 1-3 trucks that move parcels and mail around.
California’s rules are relatively light. They want to start phasing in the rules in 2022, with mandates on commercial vehicle makers starting in 2024, but these should be fairly minimal. Experts claim that the cost of an electric tractor (currently $400,000) will drop to $160,000 by 2024, versus a diesel at $125,000 today. Diesels are far more expensive to run, with single-digit fuel economy, requirements for urea-based exhaust treatment fluid, and more maintenance. By then, utilities will have built a large charging network.
The Union for Concerned Scientists thinks the state can and should do more, starting with a 15%, rather than a 4%, mandate. The UCS noted that UPS and Federal Express have ordered a thousand electric vehicles each, and Amazon has ordered a full hundred thousand. That said, the trucking industry has been conservative, and CARB may believe that an easy mandate will create less opposition than a more effective one. What’s more, creating some demand is likely to send prices down and create choices more quickly, which should create a larger market for electric trucks. Indeed, if the price of electric trucks plus six months’ running costs drops below that of diesel trucks plus six months’ running costs, CARB may not need any regulations at all. Perhaps they’re just kickstarting the process.
Clark Westfield grew up fixing up and driving past-their-prime American cars, including various GM and Mopar V8s. He has ghostwritten auto news for the last few years, lives in Farmingdale, New York, and can be reached at +1.516-531-4021.