In the transportation sector, trucks are a bit like offensive lineman in football: the heftier bodies do the hardest work, but they don’t get the same amount of attention as the smaller and more nimble players. But trucks will need greater recognition for their impact on fuel consumption if goals for signification emissions reductions are to be reached.
Most of the discussion (and efforts) around improving fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is centered on light duty (LD) cars and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ambitious Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirement, while neglecting the first rules for medium and heavy duty (M/HD) truck emissions reductions that the EPA implemented in 2011. M/HD trucks and buses are expected to represent 32.6% of the total fuel consumption in the United States, according to Navigant Research’s report, Transportation Forecast: Global Fuel Consumption. Considering that light trucks (including minivans and SUVs) represent 51% of LD vehicles sold in the United States (according to Automotive News), trucks are the clear majority in the opportunity to reduce emissions.
Energy Consumption in Transportation by Vehicle Type, United States: 2014-2020
(Source: Navigant Research)
The alternative fuel truck options on the market (including electrified, natural gas, and propane vehicles) are insignificant in comparison to the numerous alternative car choices. According to Navigant Research’s report, Transportation Forecast: Medium and Heavy Duty Vehicles, alternative vehicles (which also include buses) are expected to represent just 3.3% of all new large vehicle sales in 2014.
Because of the surge in fuel production and the low price, natural gas vehicle development and sales have the greatest momentum among alternative fuel trucks. Global truck and bus manufacturer MAN will be adding compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks to its offerings, while GM is adding a CNG bi-fuel option for its 2015 Silverado and Sierra pickup trucks. Westport recently launched an enhanced spark-ignited (ESI) natural gas system that the company claims offers a 10% improvement in power and torque over a baseline diesel engine. For the conversions market, Skygo Fuel Systems now offers a bi-fuel system that continuously blends natural gas and diesel based on performance requirements.
Natural gas has the advantage over full electrification in the truck market, as it can provide similar driving range to diesel without being weighed down by batteries, and the bi-fuel option provides a safeguard if a natural gas refueling station isn’t conveniently accessible.
A significant draw for electrification of utility vehicles is the ability to provide exportable power. Pacific Gas and Electric, which is one of the largest truck fleet operators in the United States, has partnered with EDI to develop a Class 5 utility truck that can be used to provide temporary power when an outage occurs. Electric power takeoff (ePTO) trucks can operate equipment throughout the day without having to run the diesel engine, which can result in much greater reductions in fuel savings than using battery power when the vehicles are in motion.
The gaping hole in the truck lineup is in the lack of hybrid and plug-in pickup trucks. Truck manufacturers such as Ford are focused on lightweighting via aluminum rather than electrifying the drive train. Nissan created a pickup version of its LEAF battery electric vehicle (BEV) but has no intention of commercializing it.
Tags: Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Smart Transportation Program
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