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The Electrification of Trucking Is Coming And Thank God

Semitrucks going fully electric is a huge win for the planet

Leo Shvedsky
August 23 2021

The writing is on the wall and the next big phase in automation is electricity. With Tesla and every other major car brand shifting toward plug-in electric engines, and the government infrastructure leaning toward recharge stations the days of the gasoline -
and the viability of the hydrogen engine - are numbered. But this will not just affect your commute or family road trip, it will have major ramifications on the trucking industry as well. And that could be a good thing.  

Trucks and tractor-trailers are the undisputed lifeblood of the supply chain and the economy in general. In 2019 alone, trucks moved nearly 80% of all freight in the U.S. That utterly dwarves the next largest mover -- rail -- which moved just a little over 10%. With these kinds of numbers, it is not difficult to imagine the kind of paradigm shift it will be for the economy and the planet when all trucks become electrified. So, how will it happen? Slowly but surely.  

It is already beginning in the background of everyday life. Recently, a beverage distributor in New York purchased five new Volvo VNR trucks and will press them into service. Additionally, an electric truck manufacturer in China is providing twenty-seven trucks to a Southern California freight company under the largess of a grant by California air quality regulators.  

If this sort of trend keeps pace, most trucking can be electrified by 2040. This would be an incredible boon for the planet. The average semitruck engine is a 13-liter 500 horsepower behemoth. Compare that to the economy sedan’s 1.4-liter 130 horsepower crumb of an engine and you start to get an idea of the scale with which you are dealing.  

The semi’s engine produces a little over 161 grams of CO2 per ton-miles, that is how much carbon dioxide a semi produces carrying one ton of cargo for one mile (compare that to under 400 grams for the 1.4 liter regardless of how much cargo). This translates to roughly 3,236,000 grams (3.4 metric tons) of CO2 produced over 1,000 miles of carrying 20 tons of cargo. That is average, and that is happening for 80% of all freight every year.   

The math is grim but imagine the kind of difference it would make if that came down to zero. 

There are even more sunshine and rainbows for the electrification of trucks. Approximately 9%, or 350,000, of all truck drivers are owner-operators. This means that they own the rigs they drive and they contract their hauls. They are not dependent or wholly beholden to anyone but themselves. The catch being that they have to shell out their own money to buy and operate the truck.

The Tesla Semi 

The average price of a new diesel semi is a $165,000, and the average price of a lower-end Tesla semi is $150,000. That means that the pool of owner operators might grow, and maybe they can demand more money from freight operators. 

All in all, as with cars, the electrification of trucks just makes sense. 



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