The Medium- and Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicle Market: Plugging into the Future Part I

September 30, 2021 | | Policy

Electric vehicles (EVs) are the future! You have probably seen that headline before. The last decade has seen all-electric and plug-in hybrid EVs from many automakers become part of the mainstream market. One cannot help but wonder, where do medium- and heavy-duty EVs stand in the transition to electrification? That is the question this post aims to answer. Our second post will focus on the unique charging needs of medium- and heavy-duty EVs.

Key takeaways:

  • Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles contribute a disproportionately high share of US transportation sector emissions.
  • The medium- and heavy-duty segment has traditionally been challenging to electrify because of its high energy requirements.
  • Growing medium- and heavy-duty models on the market, a continued decline in battery prices, and increased support from policy makers are starting to bring medium- and heavy-duty EVs into the mainstream.

Improved battery technology has led to more affordable EVs that offer better performance. At the same time, increased awareness about the role of transportation emissions in climate change has created a more favorable policy landscape for electrification. The industry’s changing economics have allowed automakers to venture out of the light-duty market into commercial markets. As previewed in our earlier post, The Future of Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicles: Closer Than You Think, electrification is underway for transit buses, school buses, and delivery vans.

Note: GPI defines medium-duty vehicles as Class 2b-6 and heavy-duty vehicles as Class 7 and 8 for the purpose of this post.

The medium- and heavy-duty vehicle emissions problem

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up only 10 percent of on-road vehicles in the US, yet they contribute 28 percent of global warming emissions from on-road vehicles in the country. These include climate change-causing greenhouse gases as well as ozone-forming oxides of nitrogen emissions and health-harming fine particulates.

A variety of factors like higher load capacity, more demanding duty cycles, and higher vehicle miles traveled contribute to a disproportionately high share of emissions from this segment.

Black, Indigenous, and people of color and low-income communities often live close to roads, highways, ports, and other commercial traffic hubs. The proximity to medium- and heavy-duty corridors and the fact that these communities rely on public transportation make them particularly vulnerable to the health-harming emissions from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. According to a study by Lara Clark, Dylan Millet, and Julian Marshall, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities are exposed to 37 percent more transportation-related air pollution than white residents.

Electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles can reduce transportation carbon emissions and improve air quality for disadvantaged communities that live along high-traffic corridors.

Medium- and heavy-duty EV market status

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are the next big frontier in transportation electrification. Electrification has been slower in this segment because of its higher energy needs. These vehicles are heavier than their light-duty counterparts, pull heavier loads, and often have much tougher duty cycles.

The energy usage required for medium- and heavy-duty EVs can range from 0.5 kWh to 5.2 kWh per mile compared to 0.2 to 0.4 kWh per mile for light-duty EVs. Additionally, these vehicles require bigger battery packs, which increases cost and charge times.

Several manufacturers, including BYD, Daimler, and Ford, are gearing up to produce and deploy medium- and heavy-duty EVs after making announcements last year. Furthermore, CALSTART’s Zero-Emission Technology Inventory suggests that the North American market will have 54 different manufacturers offering more than 100 models by 2022. Increased model availability in the market tends to be followed by higher EV sales.

As with light-duty EVs, early announcements and prototypes in the medium- and heavy-duty sector also came from new entrants like Arrival, Rivian, and Tesla. Soon after the announcements, these manufacturers received large orders from companies like Amazon and UPS to reduce their climate impact.

Established manufacturers and auto part suppliers like Daimler, Volvo, Peterbilt, and Cummins soon followed with their announcements and commitments:

  • Daimler has been experimenting with medium- and heavy-duty EVs for the past few years. The company partnered with Proterra to deliver the country’s first electric school bus called the “Jouley.” There are at least 50 Jouley buses in operation, and hundreds more have been ordered. Daimler also has medium-duty electric box trucks and walk-in vans on the market and will soon release its electric Cascadia Class 8 semi-truck.
  • Volvo has reportedly started producing electric trucks in the US and will introduce them later this year. When the new models launch, Volvo Trucks will have six medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks, giving it the most extensive model lineup in the industry.
  • Peterbilt—already delivering its Model 220EV delivery truck—has also started taking orders for its Model 579EV8 semi-truck.
  • Cummins has started providing school bus, transit bus, and truck manufacturers with electric powertrains, making it possible for many traditional medium- and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers to offer electric variants. (Note: GPI is pleased to have a board member who works for Cummins).

In addition to electric school buses and electric delivery trucks, the transit bus segment has also been ripe for electrification. Transit operators across the US have adopted almost 3,000 electric transit buses thanks to state incentives like vouchers, grants, and exemptions. Most of the electric transit buses on US roads have been produced domestically by New Flyer and Proterra.

While the US is scaling up, its numbers pale compared to China’s electric transit bus penetration. According to Jason Margolis’ article in The World, China represents more than 99 percent of the world’s electric transit bus market. China has more than 400,000 electric buses due to aggressive policies that provide heavy incentives to electric bus manufacturers and buyers.

Projections for the medium- and heavy-duty EV market

The US market for medium- and heavy-duty EVs is likely to follow the Chinese market trajectory. Growth is projected to occur based on more medium- and heavy-duty models, a continued decline in battery prices, and increased support from policymakers.

California is leading the growth of the medium- and heavy-duty EV market. Last year, it announced its Advanced Clean Trucks regulation, which mandates manufacturers to sell a percentage of zero-emission trucks as part of their sales every year after 2024.

Other states are also showing interest in supporting widespread electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management brought together fifteen states and the District of Columbia to sign a Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding with a goal of 30 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Regulations for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Commercial Trucks & Buses, a proposal to revise existing standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty vehicles in model year 2027 and set new, more stringent standards for model years 2028 through 2032. The regulations would require the electrification of 25 percent of new long-haul trucks by 2032, 35 percent of new short-haul regional tractors, and 50 percent of vocational vehicles.

Medium- and heavy-duty EVs are also taking center stage in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed the US Senate in August. The proposal includes $579 billion in new spending:

  • including $7.5 billion for EV infrastructure to build a national network of EV chargers along highways, rural, and disadvantaged communities​
  • $7.5 billion for medium- and heavy-duty EVs like electric school buses and electric transit buses

The bill also creates programs and authorizes funding for states and local governments to adopt low- and zero-emission vehicles.

If signed into law, the bill will help solve one of the main barriers to higher medium- and heavy-duty EV adoption—EV charging infrastructure. The bill includes not only funding for new EV charging stations but also ensures that they are “non-proprietary charging connectors” and have “open access to payment methods that are available to all members of the public.” These provisions will go a long way in making future charging infrastructure investments more inclusive to all EV types, including medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

States that provide a favorable environment will continue to see medium- and heavy-duty EV markets and manufacturing grow and benefit their economies. However, it is important to note that this EV segment has unique charging needs that will require dedicated infrastructure investments. Policymakers must understand and address the charging infrastructure challenges associated with medium- and heavy-duty EVs to help this segment grow.

Stay tuned to Plugging into the Future Part II to learn more about the unique charging needs of medium- and heavy-duty EVs and how they are being addressed.

Learn More

Craving more information about medium- and heavy-duty EVs in the meantime? Watch the M series that was offered by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute during the spring and summer of 2021.