Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Electric Trucks Limitations Worry Road Haulage Operators When Buying New Freight Vehicles

Advances Seem to Have Slowed Whilst Fleets are Assessed Over Time
Shipping News Feature

UK - WORLDWIDE – How efficient are electric trucks? With the threat of conventional fuel prices spiralling ever upward and growing pressures to reduce pollution, we decided it was time to take a look at how the new generation of electric vehicles was actually performing on the road as opposed to in the manufacturer’s brochures and on line videos. The development of ‘new fuel’ road haulage vehicles as opposed to passenger runabouts is currently often more of an advertising feature for the larger freight carriers and supermarket chains than a practical reality for a truck driver.

Up to a year ago the Handy Shipping Guide was flooded with the latest developments being claimed by a rash of manufacturers yet of late the input can be said to be more of a trickle. This seems to be because once the basic concept has been turned into a practical working model there is only so much more that can be done with the design. If battery technology takes a giant sudden leap, all current models will become effectively devalued to an alarming extent and, as yet no such advance has been announced.

We decided to speak to someone who drives an electric van every working day from the company’s base at Thurrock around different routes around Essex and into the City of London, where such vehicles avoid paying the congestion charge, normally £10 per day, and will freely travel within the emission zone. After confessing that she had once ‘run out of fuel’ it was apparent that, even if used for comparatively local work the main problems all stemmed from battery life.

The main complaint (amongst others) was the fact that any manufacturer’s estimate of mileage achievable usually made no mention of the fact that radio, fan or, God forbid heater, would drastically affect the range of the truck. Each driver needed to either be intensively trained to ensure they understood the limitations of the vehicle and did not accept work that would cause the dreaded slowing to a stop at some point short of their final destination. Speaking to our electrically powered contact it became clear that a driver ignorant of the foibles of the system could cause endless problems.

The situation currently (no pun intended) is that, whilst ideal for a set routine run, around for example a big city and the sort of work a retail services contract might entail, for more general haulage use where vehicles have traditionally been called upon to vary payload and destination, the uncertainty of performance and the limited ranges on offer, will mean few general hauliers, or indeed express couriers, will take a chance on what is a substantial investment.

Even with batteries being guaranteed to offer eight years use or even more whilst delivering acceptable percentage performances many operators will wait and see what other technologies are developed in the coming decade. The installation of charging points around London will doubtless boost the uptake for electrically powered vehicles but these are likely to be mainly private cars with a small proportion of car based and slightly larger vans except in individual cases such as local authorities who will often be the proving ground for bigger trucks.

Photo: The innovative E-Truck from Elecscoot.