As the Biden administration attempts a hard turn toward electrifying transportation, small, independent owner-operators — who represent the vast majority of trucks on the road — fear that the cost of moving in that direction could put them out of business.
But commercial drivers participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Super Truck program geared toward reducing emissions are trying to convince them otherwise.
“Early on when we had emission-system truck rollouts, a lot of smaller fleets and owner-operators took it on the chin out in the field,” Joel Morrow, a driver for Norwalk, Ohio-based Ploger Transportation, explained during a virtual presentation sponsored by DOE on Thursday announcing the start of SuperTruck 3.
“But as we bring these high-risk, high-reward technologies into the marketplace, we’re [using SuperTruck initiatives] to validate them to make sure that when they come out, your average one-truck owner-operator can have some confidence that the truck’s going to perform and it’s not going to be in the shop. He’s not going to have to reverse-engineer everything and try to fix things. I would hope this program will get a lot of support, especially from that blue-collar, grassroots group that makes up the majority of the trucking industry.”
According to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, owner-operators usually own one or two trucks, with the average price for a new truck costing over $140,000 and the cost for a used truck roughly $60,000.
Clark Reed, a driver for Hudson, Illinois-based Nussbaum Transportation, said during the presentation that “managing your technologies” is important in moving from an old to a new truck.
“You can get in the truck and drive it, or you can get in the truck and manage it and drive it,” Reed said. “All these technologies — adaptive cruise control, lane-assist — you can complain about it or you can learn to use it to your advantage to save fuel, keep yourself safer, keep the environment cleaner. Learn how to manage the truck, don’t just drive it.”
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy launched the first SuperTruck initiative in 2009 to encourage truck manufacturers to improve heavy-duty freight efficiency by 50%. SuperTruck 2, launched in 2016, sought to double that efficiency, with Volvo, Daimler Trucks North America, Cummins/Peterbilt and Navistar [NYSE: NAV] among the companies participating.
The goal of SuperTruck 3, which will receive $162 million ($100 million for heavy-duty trucks) in federal funds over four years, is to electrify freight trucking and last-mile delivery, as well as expand electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure.
“Getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 means we must aggressively cut down the largest source of emissions: the transportation sector,” commented Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “DOE’s first two SuperTruck initiatives led the biggest truck makers in the American semi market to take massive leaps in fuel efficiency. This new funding triples down on that progress with a push towards electrifying trucks of all sizes, along with efforts to expand EV charging access and develop low-emission car engines.”
Mike Roeth, executive director for the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, a nonprofit that aims to double freight efficiency, predicted that while clean fuels will be one of the alternatives to slashing truck emissions, “we expect over these next decades battery electric trucks and hydrogen fuel cells will be the predominant ones as we enter into the 2040-2050 carbon-free transportation era.”
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