• Commercial Electric Vehicles
  • Transportation Efficiencies

Transit Agencies Are Positioned to Shape the Commercial EV Market

William Drier
Jul 05, 2018

Commercial EVs (CEVs) have received a lot of attention recently and are a topic of great interest for many fleet owners and managers who are looking to meet sustainability and emissions standards, as well as the reduced costs. Traditional truck manufacturers like Daimler and Navistar, and newcomers Tesla and Thor all have plans for commercial electric trucks. In addition, electric bus manufacturers such as Proterra, Volvo, and BYD are getting more and more new orders as the demand rises for cleaner, sustainable, and lower total cost of ownership transportation options.

CEVs face similar challenges of the passenger EV—the classic chicken and egg of whether vehicles or charging infrastructure will come first? To make the matter more complicated, charging infrastructure for CEVs will be critical for their use case. Since many CEVs will require substantially larger capacity battery packs, new charging infrastructure will be required to provide charging at significantly higher energy levels. The downtime spent charging must be minimized if CEVs are to be a viable alternative over their internal combustion engine counterparts. That being said, what might the future of CEV charging look like?

Charging Standards Key to Unlocking CEV Potential

The commercial vehicle market has lower production volumes than the consumer market. Because of this, proprietary charging infrastructure systems in use today may prove economically challenging for growing the market of CEVs. While proprietary charging standards like Tesla’s Supercharger network, which limits use to only Tesla vehicles, may be feasible, they are not desirable to anyone but the manufacturer. In addition, the use case for CEVs already faces an uphill battle to justify the costs for a higher capacity fast charging infrastructure for use by a vastly smaller quantity of vehicles—even more so if this fleet is divided by requiring different charging hardware.

It’s not hard to imagine a fleet owner evaluating the electric bus market and deciding they would rather wait rather than potentially buy new buses and charging infrastructure that may prove to be incompatible with future purchases. A unified charging standard will unite the overall fleet and strengthen the business case for all CEVs.

Transit Agencies Are Large Enough to Influence the Developing Market

Transit agencies find themselves with a unique opportunity. Having large fleet sizes and motivations to be some of the earliest adopters of CEVs, transit agencies can throw their weight around and direct the evolution of the CEV market through demand for industrywide charging standards.

Bus manufacturers are beginning to move in the right direction. Last year, Proterra announced that all new buses would use open standards moving forward—J3105 for overhead fast charging and CCS for depot charging. Other bus manufacturers have made similar announcements, with Volvo committing to OppCharge, the European alliance for standardized overhead charging.

Josipa Petrunic, CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), highlighted the importance of charging standardization at the TU Detroit conference in early June, as well as CUTRIC’s projects to unite competing manufacturers for the success of the CEV market. As transit agencies develop strategies to electrify their fleets, they should be cognizant that they are shaping the future of CEVs. By demanding their new fleets and charging infrastructure be compatible across multiple manufacturers, agencies are protecting themselves from being abandoned by manufacturers leaving the market and insuring their products are more future-proof as technologies develop and charging capacity inevitably increases.