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Kenworth sees orders for electric trucks triple in 3 months

Paccar Inc. subsidiary shows off production versions, wowing customers

Kenworth says orders for its medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks have tripled in the last three months. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Editor’s note: Clarifies relationships on charging, infrastructure and grant-writing support in 14th graf

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Orders for Kenworth Truck Co. medium- and heavy-duty battery-electric trucks have tripled in the past 90 days as fleets take advantage of incentives to offset the upfront cost and add zero-emission capacity ahead of coming sales quota regulations.

The electric versions of the Class 6 cabover K270 and conventional Class 8 T680 daycab and demonstration hydrogen-powered fuel cell T680 built with Toyota Motor Corp., were offered to the media for literal around-the-block rides and drives at the Paccar Innovation Center on Thursday.

About 30 Kenworth customers got the same PowerPoint presentation followed by in-vehicle experience on Wednesday. 

‘Orders from every region in the country’

“We’ve quoted electric vehicles in 44 states,” Hank Johnson, Kenworth general sales manager for vocational and medium-duty trucks, told FreightWaves. “We’ve taken orders from every region of the country and most of Canada.”

Media attention and the adoption of California’s Advanced Clean Truck rule by five other states, so far, created curiosity followed by a sense of urgency when the rule’s sales quotes for zero-emission trucks became known.

“We’ve quoted electric vehicles in 44 states. We’ve taken orders from every region of the country and most of Canada.”

Hank Johnson, Kenworth general sales manager for vocational and medium-duty trucks

“When we started this, we focused on the West Coast where the significant grant money resided,” Johnson said. “But to our surprise, there has definitely been a lot more activity outside of those states than we originally anticipated.”

The order numbers are still small — in the dozens — as fleets determine the best routes to run zero-emission trucks, how to account for chargers and the sometimes pricey infrastructure investment to get the power they need to their door.

“What they are typically doing is [managing] the truck through different applications, through different routes,” Johnson said. “They’re going to try to figure out which one works better for them, and then it will become a permanent piece of their fleet, and the next truck, assuming the performance is good, will stay in the fleet.”

Though payback comes quickly in electric-versus-diesel fuel savings and maintenance costs project to be 30% lower, infrastructure expenses can be a wild card.

“It literally could depend on what was the infrastructure underneath the ground to your site. Did you just put it in five years ago and it’s all up to code and there’s excess capacity for you to add a charger, then the investment on the infrastructure there could be low,” according to Johnson.

“But if you’ve been somewhere down near a port for 70 years and nobody has [put] a new transformer in, that could be significant. It really does depend on what you come to the market with.”

Lots of competition

Kenworth trails its Paccar (NASDAQ: PCAR) sibling Peterbilt Motors division by about 18 months in producing electric trucks interspersed with conventional diesel models. Rivals Daimler Trucks North America and Volvo Trucks North America as well as Traton SE’s Navistar International are ramping up their electric truck sales. 

Watch now: Electric truck orders moving higher. Here comes Covenant.

Startup battery-electric truck maker Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) received approval Thursday to join California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), qualifying it among manufacturers whose Class 8 electric trucks are eligible for vouchers of up to $120,000 off a single truck. Kenworth and Peterbilt qualified for HVIP in September 2020.

Kenworth is doing far more than selling handfuls of trucks. It is working with infrastructure partners Schneider Electric and EnTech Solutions to offer advice to customers on charging infrastructure. Paccar Parts is providing charging stations. Kenworth is also offering grant-writing help to save customers money on the higher up-front cost of electric trucks. 

One for one

Several states that offer grants to offset the cost of buying electric trucks require the purchaser to retire an older, dirtier truck to get the money. So, the desire to add capacity in an ongoing hot freight market doesn’t always work out. The grant writer makes suggestions to states, such as allowing a single-axle truck to be taken out of service instead of a tandem-axle model.

“What we’ve found with some customers is they have old trucks that they just haven’t disposed of that they’re not using,” Johnson said. “Those are easier to dispose of because you’re not taking a working asset off the road.”

The lead time to get delivery of an electric is about half as long as a diesel as supply chain disruptions continue to plague manufacturers.

While the profit margins are negligible to nonexistent for electric trucks today, a manufacturer like Kenworth books significantly higher revenue from an electric truck compared to a diesel. Selling chargers, and eventually parts, for electric trucks is a lucrative avenue to greater earnings.

Ride-and-drive impressions

A commercial driver’s license was required to drive the T680e as well as a fuel cell-equipped T680 that was pulled from demonstration duty in the Port of Los Angeles. Passenger seat rides in both revealed conversation-holding quietness that a rumbling diesel engine typically drowns out.

The fuel cell truck had an annoying whine from the massive air compressor upon startup. But the noise disappeared once the truck was in operation. The T680e was remarkably quiet in the cab with off-the-line quickness from its four-speed transmission. Engine brake-like slowing from a hypersensitive regenerative braking system allowed foot-free slowing.

Behind the wheel of the Class 6 K270e, adapted from Paccar’s european DAF unit, straight-line acceleration was impressive — zero to 45 mph in a few seconds. Not ludicrous in a Tesla electric car way but with a 26,000-pound payload, it had ample giddyup. The regen braking effect on slowing almost made it feel as if the truck could come to a stop on its own.

It nearly did, but a final tap on the brake was needed to bring the truck to a stop.

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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.