LONG BEACH, Calif. — Schneider National Inc. liked its experience with one Freightliner eCascadia so much that it has ordered 50 of the battery-electric trucks, the biggest single purchase of the zero-tailpipe-emission tractors to date.
The Green Bay, Wisconsin-based for-hire carrier is getting a sweet deal.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC) are paying most of the $27 million cost of the Joint Electric Truck Scaling Initiative (JETSI). Announced Tuesday at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, it is the largest commercial deployment of battery-electric trucks to date.
The money for 100 electric trucks — 80 Freightliner eCascadias and 20 Volvo VNR Electrics — comes from CARB’s California Climate Investments Initiative and the CEC’s Clean Transportation Program. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) is contributing $5.43 million.
NFI Industries is getting the balance of the vehicles: 30 eCascadias and the 20 VNR Electric trucks.
Schneider (NYSE: SNDR) is putting in $8.7 million, Rob Reich, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, told FreightWaves. Altogether, Schneider and other corporate partners are ponying up a little more than $41 million for the trucks and 50 electric chargers and other infrastructure.
“Incentives do drive this thing right now,” Reich said. “You look at the cost of the truck as well as the cost of the infrastructure, and that’s the great thing about this program. It really allows us to determine how battery-electric vehicles are going to operate on a larger [scale].”
The latest California partnership with Daimler and Volvo is significant because the new trucks to be delivered in 2022 will operate in and around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where 20% of Southern California’s particulate matter emissions are generated.
Hundreds of idling diesel-powered trucks belch pollution while waiting to pick up intermodal containers, creating breathing hazards for nearby communities. Near-silent electric trucks have no tailpipe emissions.
Rules of the game
Under the JETSI agreement, Schneider will dedicate the trucks to moving intermodal containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to final customers and return customer containers to the ports.
“Because of the density of customers here, you can do that 75- to 100-mile load that’s quite repetitive and that really fits the nature of how these trucks operate,” Reich said.
Jumping from a demonstration with a single eCascadia to operating 50 of them has a lot to do with Schneider’s long-standing relationship with Daimler. About 95% of Schneider’s 9,500 Class 8 trucks are Cascadias, Reich said.
“[The eCascadia] performed as advertised. So that made us comfortable,” Reich said. “And the driver feedback was outstanding.”
The limited range of electric trucks makes them ideal for drayage, regional haul, and pickup and delivery. Until a breakthrough in energy density of batteries arrives, they won’t replace diesel in over-the-road hauling.
All options open
Schneider is looking at all options for decarbonizing its fleet by 7.5% by 2025 and 60% by 2035, goals that will require more than just battery-powered trucks. A greater role for natural gas, a natural gas-electric hybrid like Hyliion Holdings is displaying at the ACT Expo and hydrogen fuel cells are all possibilities, Reich said.
“You look at some of the regulatory hurdles that everybody’s going to have to meet in 2024,” he said. “Natural gas could be part of the solution to move you along that path.”
Schneider and NFI are both members of a Hypertruck Innovation Council that Hyliion created in April.
“That could be a potential solution,” Reich said. “We’re interested in getting a closer relationship with them and see how that plays out.”
NFI bulks up on electrics
NFI is more familiar with the eCascadia, having accumulated 500,000 miles of drayage runs in 10 of them over the past two years, according to Bill Bliem, NFI senior vice president of fleet services.
Separately, NFI will add 10 VNR Electrics from a grant by the Environmental Protection Agency and the SCAQMD. The 70-truck grant was announced in October.
The 60 trucks will allow NFI to convert its entire drayage fleet to zero-emission trucks by the end of 2023. NFI and Schneider will install a total of 50 electric chargers between them.