Watch Now

NFI, Penske reach electric-driving milestones with Freightliner test trucks

Both surpass 10,000 miles of freight hauling on battery-powered Class 8 models

The Freightliner eCascadia is rolling up tens of thousands of battery-powered miles. (Photo: Daimler Trucks North America)

The hype surrounding zero-emission electric trucks is evolving into real-world results for two major freight haulers.

Penske Truck Leasing said Dec. 3 it was the first to cross the 10,000-mile threshold. NFI industries told FreightWaves on Dec. 5 it is approaching 14,000 miles on drayage runs between Chico, California, and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Both companies are participating in the Freightliner Electric Innovation Fleet built to test the integration of battery-electric trucks into large-scale fleet operations. They received the trucks in late August.

Reading, Pennsylvania-based Penske is averaging 140-160 miles per shift on dedicated routes to an unidentified Southern California quick-service restaurant chain. It is using two battery-powered Freightliner eCascadias in a relay system to make the most of the available electric charge. 

Penske Logistics has accumulated more than 10,000 miles hauling freight in two Freightliner eCascadias. (Photo: Penske)

It supports the trucks at two of five heavy-duty electric vehicle charging stations in Southern California. NFI has installed five 150kw ABB chargers to support its two trucks in operation. A second infrastructure project is underway in the same warehouse complex as the first. 

Freightliner brand parent Daimler Trucks North America (NASDAQ: DDAIF) is building 20 eCascadias and 10 medium-duty eM2 models in partnership with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which is partially funding the fleet with a nearly $16 million grant. 

“NFI and our drivers are very pleased and satisfied with the operation of the trucks from a reliability standpoint,” said Bill Bliem, senior vice president of fleet services. “Realizing these are demonstration units, we partner with Daimler to identify issues and problems so they can make adjustments or changes to put out the best available vehicle when they go in to production.”

The only issues with the trucks so far have been mechanical, unrelated to the battery system, he said.

No range anxiety

Camden, New Jersey-based NFI is averaging loads of 70,000 pounds on two eCascadias, according to Bliem. The trucks are completing one roundtrip of 130-140 miles with ample range remaining to ease a driver’s concern about being stranded. But the leftover energy is not enough to make two runs a day.

“We are in a unique situation,” Bliem said. “Say you have half a charge remaining. You don’t want to risk that.”

Daimler has not suggested a range between charges for the test trucks. It is continuing to widen battery parameters to increase how far the trucks could travel between charges. NFI’s eCascadias are using 1.7 kilowatts to 2.4 kilowatts per mile for an estimated total range of 200 miles, Bliem said. 

NFI received three more eCascadias this week, has three more coming before the end of December and two in January 2020 for a total of 10. Penske received three additional eCascadias this week and is awaiting five more trucks, spokeswoman Kim Harmsen said. It is getting all 10 of the eM2 trucks. It has received five so far.


In another demonstration program called Volvo LIGHTS, which stands for low-impact green heavy transport solutions, NFI expects to receive the first of four Volvo electric VNR Class 8 trucks before the end of 2019. 

Bliem said he drove one of the electric VNR trucks recently and was impressed with its performance. A total of 23 VNRs are part of Volvo LIGHTS, which involves 16 partners focused on transforming freight operations at NFI and full-service logistics provider Dependable Supply Chain Services. Volvo Group (NASDAQ: VLVLY) and Volvo Trucks North America are the lead partners.

NFI also expects to begin receiving two Kalmar Ottawa Electric T2E Terminal Tractors a week beginning in January. NFI ordered 25 of the tractors powered by lithium-ion battery technology. Penske has a pending order for one of those tractors.

NFI plans to have 35% to 50% of its 2,300 company-owned trucks running on electricity by 2025. It has talked with Chinese-based electric truck maker BYD, Tesla and Nikola Motors about their proposed battery-electric trucks. Getting converted Cascadia and VNR diesel models was quicker than waiting on electric trucks made from the ground up, Bliem said.

By participating in both major demonstrations in California, NFI will be ready to order electric trucks from both Freightliner and Volvo Trucks when commercial production begins in late 2021.

Ike Brown, president of NFI Industries, with one of the electric trucks it is testing, during the ACT Expo in Long Beach, California in April 2019. Photo: (Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

“Our business model continues to be a great fit for e-trucks and we will continue to aggressively pursue that path,” NFI President Ike Brown told FreightWaves.

One Comment

  1. Gearhead 730

    I wouldn’t take their grant new engines with emmisions don’t run are prone to failures.The EPA is costing everyone a lot of money for nothing.Ask them about the change in their attainment zone maps since the inception of heavy diesel emmisions.

Comments are closed.

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.