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Kenworth begins taking orders for Class 8 electric truck

Small volume but a crowded field debuting models in 2021

Kenworth has opened the order books for its Class 8 battery-electric truck. (Photo: Kenworth)

Kenworth will launch its first-ever Class 8 battery-electric truck in the U.S. and Canada in 2021, joining other major truck makers producing zero-emission heavy-duty models.

The volume of orders across the industry likely will be small as fleets measure the total cost of ownership against the higher up-front purchase price of an electric truck. With thousands of fewer parts, maintenance costs will be lower. The price of electricity to power the batteries could be cheaper over time than diesel fuel.

The major societal benefit is the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from smog-forming particulates. Battery-powered trucks do not have tailpipes or burn oil in operation.

“The new Kenworth T680E provides our customers with a true, zero-emissions solution that will help to achieve their own green program objectives, while leveraging the excellent performance, reliability and cab comfort of our current T680 on-highway flagship model,” Kevin Baney, general manager and PACCAR vice president, said in a press release.

Under the hood

The T680E is available as a day cab tractor or straight truck in a 6×4 axle configuration designed for pickup and delivery applications. That allows it to return to base for nighttime charging when electricity rates are typically lower. 

The T680E has an estimated operating range of 150 miles, depending on application. It uses a CCS1 direct current (DC) fast charger to charge the batteries in about 3.3 hours. 

The base powertrain provides 536 continuous horsepower. Up to 670 horsepower is available with 1,623 pound feet of torque. The two-speed integrated transmission allows a top speed of 70 mph. Meritor’s TransPower high/low voltage power electronics replace a diesel engine.

Meritor (NYSE: MTOR) also provides the electric powertrain for Peterbilt’s Model 579EV Class 8 truck. It features a 264 kilowatt-hour TransPower energy storage subsystem driven by a 430-horsepower Meritor Blue-Horizon midship motor drive subsystem. It can travel about 133 miles on a single charge and recharge in an hour with a fast-charging system.   

Kenworth and Peterbilt Motors are PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) brands in North America. The two have about 60 heavy- and medium-duty electric trucks in testing, including a Model 579EV with Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN).

Competitive landscape

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) has 26 Freightliner eCascadia electric trucks in testing with a variety of fleets. The largest concentrations are with NFI Industries and Penske Truck Leasing. Volvo Trucks North America is in the process of deploying 23 Class 8 electrics for testing through the Volvo LIGHTS program in Southern California.

Chinese-owned BYD has 21 Class 8 electrics going into test use in 2021. Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) is expected to launch its electric semi next year after several delays. Japan’s Hino Trucks plans test models of its hydrogen fuel cell electric truck next year in partnership with parent company Toyota Motor Corp.

None of the early battery-electric models are intended for long-haul use. Fuel cell trucks from Hyundai and Nikola Motors (NASDAQ: NKLA) could travel farther without a hydrogen fill-up. But they are also expected to initially be used on regional routes as a fueling infrastructure develops.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.