Buses and trucks are ready for electrification, but policies are needed to propel the industry

Asaf Nagler
Asaf Nagler

Asaf Nagler works at the intersection of government, technology, transportation, energy, and entrepreneurship and is currently Senior Director of Government Relations at ABB, a global leader in electrification and automation technology. At ABB, Asaf leads federal and state policy and market development activities across a range of issues and technologies, from transportation electrification and smart grid to robotics and workforce development.

Asaf Nagler
February 1, 2021

Electrified medium and heavy-duty vehicles include a diverse set of vehicles and are lynchpins of our economy. Buses help Americans move within metropolitan regions and between cities. Medium-duty trucks deliver packages to homes and enable plumbers, electricians, and contractors to serve their customers. Heavy-duty trucks carry goods from ports and manufacturers and pick up our trash and recycling. Electrifying these vehicles will reduce emissions and can deliver costs savings to businesses and taxpayers alike for years to come. They also provide a better driver experience, with reduced noise and vibration and no exhaust. Despite this trifecta of benefits, barriers to mass adoption remain. Public policies can help overcome these barriers and put the country on a path to save consumers money, reduce emissions, and support domestic transportation manufacturing.

Electrifying medium and heavy-duty vehicles can have an outsized impact on the transportation sector’s transition to zero emissions. These vehicles account for over 20% of transportation emissions and their emissions have been growing over the past six years, whereas light duty vehicle emissions have remained flat. And because their owners are businesses, deployment of these vehicles can scale much faster than cars. By getting to scale quickly, Federal support for these vehicles can lead to faster cost reductions in batteries, chargers, installation, business models, and more, which will then spill over across the transportation sector.

Policies should reflect the fact that not all of these vehicle types are at the same stop on their electrification journey. Buses are the furthest along with transit agencies and school districts deploying electric buses for some time now; due, in part, to existing Federal programs (Federal Transportation Administrations “Lo/No” Program and EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Program).

Operators, bus manufacturers, and charging providers have built the experience, knowledge, and domestic manufacturing capacity to usher in a 100% zero-emission future. For example, ABB Inc has deployed hundreds of transit bus chargers totaling over 40 megawatts (MW) of electric fueling capacity across 30 transit agencies. Many of these chargers power buses produced by fellow ZETA member, Proterra, which has sold over 1,000 electric buses. Federal leadership is needed to enable a 100% zero-emission bus future; the Clean School Bus Act and the Green Bus Act will do just that.

Regional delivery and service trucks, with short travel distances and a tendency to return to the same place at night to charge, represent the next wave of trucks on the electrification journey, but they face upfront cost barriers and limited availability of electric models. While some large fleet owners have made commitments to go electric, many have not and the cost hurdles for smaller businesses to go electric remain. Federal support to defray the incremental cost of going electric, like a 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC), will bring these vehicles within reach, speed up development of multiple vehicle models, and then accelerate deployment in a transportation segment that is on the cusp of true progress.

Other heavy-duty trucks, like refuse trucks and class-8 trucks, colloquially known as “tractor-trailers,” are on the next frontier of the electric journey. Manufacturers are quickly developing and deploying them across the US, but many still remain in the pilot stage. ZETA members ABB Inc and Edison International’s electric utility Southern California Edison deployed 175-kilowatt (kW) high-power chargers to charge class-8 trucks at Edison’s Irwindale facility. Policies like a 30% ITC and suspending the 12% federal excise tax on zero emission trucks can move these trucks beyond pilot stage and send a long-term signal, catalyzing private investment.

As we move toward an electric truck and bus future, we cannot overlook the climate and emissions impact of removing polluting vehicles from service, particularly in cities and disadvantaged communities where emissions and associated health impacts are on the rise. To combat emissions creep, the Federal government should provide a bonus incentive to truck and bus owners who, in addition to purchasing a zero-emission vehicle, remove from service their older polluting vehicles. Transitioning to medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles will alleviate the disproportionate emissions impact on frontline communities that breathe in 66% more mobile-source air pollution – an important step toward environmental justice.

Medium and heavy-duty vehicles form the backbone of our economy and are ready for electrification, which will reduce costs for taxpayers and consumers while eliminating emissions from a sector where they are on the rise and provide drivers a better experience. While barriers to mass adoption exist, Federal policies can help industry overcome them and set the country on a course to a cleaner and more affordable transportation future.

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About ZETA

National policies to support 100% electric vehicle sales.

The Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA) is a federal coalition focused on advocating for 100% EV sales. Enacting policies that drive EV adoption will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, secure American global EV manufacturing dominance, drastically improve public health, and significantly reduce carbon pollution.