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California releases nation’s first electric truck manufacturing standard

Independent trucking group calls the rule “unrealistic”; environmental coalition says it doesn’t go far enough.

Raising the stakes on its green trucking agenda, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) released an ambitious new zero-emissions truck manufacturing standard today that would require half of all medium and heavy-duty truck sales in California to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

The proposed regulation, years in the making, drew a predictable chorus of critics, with independent trucking groups saying it will impose burdensome costs and environmental groups arguing the targets aren’t strict enough to help meet state greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

“A 50% transformation is unrealistic in the next decade,” said Joe Rajkovacz, government affairs director for the Western States Trucking Associations.

“While we’ve been aware that environmentalists desire this type of transformation…there are practical issues such as there is absolutely nothing available in the marketplace currently proven to meet the performance requirements of the industry,” Rajkovacz added.

The Advanced Clean Truck rule, if adopted by the Board next Spring, would require truck manufacturers to sell zero-emission trucks as an increasing percentage of their annual California sales from 2024 to 2030.  

In 2024, zero-emission truck/chassis sales would need to be 7% of Class 4 to Class 8 straight trucks sales and 3% of all other truck sales. By 2030, zero-emission truck/chassis sales would need to be 50% of Class 4-8 straight trucks sales and 15% of all other truck sales. 

That standard doesn’t go nearly far enough to wean the state off diesel-powered transportation, clean energy advocates argue.

Based on those requirements, only 4% of the nearly two million trucks on California’s roads today would be electric by 2030, said Jimmy O’Dea, senior vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).  

UCS is a member of Electric Trucks Now, a community-based campaign that is calling on CARB to strengthen the rule by requiring at least 15% of the trucks on the road to be zero emission by 2030.   

“Over a dozen manufacturers have vehicles that meet this standard,” said O’Dea in a statement. “The electric car market was less mature when the state set an ambitious zero-emission passenger vehicle standard. To spur adoption and cut emissions, we must do the same for trucks.”

The group has amassed 8,200 letters in support of the stricter standard, to be submitted when CARB opens the rule for public comment later this week.

Although today marked the official release of the proposed regulation, the Board has held several stakeholder workshops over the past two years and the targets were widely anticipated.

Small but mighty

The new rulemaking is expected to accelerate California’s push to electrify transportation. Although electric truck sales are still a tiny fraction of the market, the race to get more alternative fuel trucks on the road is heating up – fast.  

In October alone, major retailers and manufacturers  including PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch, announced new developments connected to Southern California electric truck demonstration projects. Daimler Trucks North America and Volvo Trucks are both working on electric truck programs.

Battery-electric and hydrogen-electric truck startups Tesla and Nikola are also releasing zero emissions vehicles.

“Clearly manufacturers are working in this direction – it’s  not the flavor of the week,” said Steve Tam, vice president of ACT Research, a firm that provides insights for the commercial vehicle, transportation and freight sectors. 

Requiring half of all truck sales to be emissions-free in 10 years, much less 15% of all other trucks “is a very aggressive goal,” Tam acknowledged. “Tractor trailers? Yikes! But  I don’t want to say it’s not possible.”

In an email to FreightWaves, John Mies, a corporate communications lead for Volvo, said the manufacturer  is “confident in [its] ability” to meet CARB’s timeline for having a competitive electric truck on the market.

But Mies said the ultimate success of the rule won’t hinge on truck availability. Instead, “it will depend to a large degree on having sufficient purchasing incentives in place in the early days of market adoption, and on ensuring that the necessary charging infrastructure is funded and in place.”

The transition to zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles, Mies emphasized, “will require a complete paradigm shift.”


Several CARB funding programs are available to support regulatory mandates. The Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project provides sales rebates to offset the upfront cost of new technologies. 

Rajkovacz isn’t optimistic about subsidies making a significant dent in the costs associated with the new rule. “The past track record of CARB financial assistance typically discouraged small businesses from applying for grant money,” he said. “The cost of the new emerging technologies won’t be cheap.”

A diesel-powered Class 8 truck runs around $125,000. The Tesla Semi, by contrast, costs around $150,000 for the 300-mile range version and $180,000 for the 500-mile range truck. 

Those costs are expected to decline as batteries become less expensive. 

Another issue is that truck buyers would be less willing to upgrade or buy new in the next decade if they know they could not keep a vehicle for the duration of its lifecycle, Rajkovacz said.

Greenhouse gas emissions targets

California is implementing the zero emissions targets to help the state meet its climate-change objectives. Those goals call for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. 

Trucks and buses make up just 7% of vehicles on the road in California, but 20% of global warming emissions from the transportation sector. A recent review of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions showed that transportation emissions continued to rise even as emissions from other sectors declined.

Reporting requirements

In addition to the sales targets, the proposed rule would require fleets with 100 or more trucks to report about their existing fleet operations. Employers, retailers and manufacturers would also be bound by reporting requirements.

Chris Shimoda, vice president of government affairs for the California Trucking Association (CTA), said the group is currently relating concerns to CARB about the burdens to carriers from the reporting side of the rule. He declined comment on the sales targets, saying he was reviewing the new regulation.

The Board has held several workshops with stakeholders over the past year to discuss the proposed regulation.

Aspiration vs. achievement

Even if the Advanced Clean Truck rule is adopted, the state won’t necessarily meet its stated goals or timelines, Tam noted. 

“It took 40 years for diesel to become dominant fuel,” he said. “These shifts don’t happen overnight.” 

The Board will hold a hearing on the rule in early December, and a final vote will take place in Spring 2020.

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Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]