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PACCAR moves deliberately on electric and driverless trucks

When customers ask, Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF in Europe will have them

PACCAR says it will have medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks when customers are ready or regulations require, but it is not rushing them to market. (Photo: Flickr/Truck PR)

PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) isn’t rushing electric trucks to market. But it says its Kenworth, Peterbilt and European DAF brands will sell them at the right time.

“Our goal is to make sure that we’re in a position to provide our customers the lowest-operating-cost vehicles whenever the market is ready, when there’s infrastructure, when there’s regulation and when the technology is ready,” CEO Preston Feight said Tuesday.

“It’s [the] early days, and we feel like we’re really on top of it, and we’re focused on a plan that is actionable and buildable,” he said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call with analysts who asked several questions about battery and fuel cell electrification. 

Though PACCAR takes a long view of hydrogen fuel cells, the company is more of a leader than a laggard in both battery and fuel cell electric powertrains.

“To date, we have deployed over 60 battery-electric, hybrid and hydrogen-powered trucks,” Feight said. Port operations, refuse hauling and regional delivery are the best markets for the zero-tailpipe-emission trucks, he added.

Long view of fuel cells

Kenworth recently completed a project with Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), building 10 heavy-duty Kenworth T680s equipped with twin fuel cell stacks designed for Toyota Mirai passenger cars. Some are in use with customers in the Port of Los Angeles.

In addition to the expense of hydrogen fuel cells, Freight points to the cost of hydrogen fuel as a barrier to market.

“Hydrogen is $12 or $13 per kilogram,” he said. “For it to be really efficient from a commercialization standpoint, it needs to be in the $2- or $3-per-kilogram range.

“There needs to be infrastructure put in place as well. And then the cost of fuel cells needs to come down,” Feight said. “We see that as a five- to 10-year kind of a window. We think there’s a lot of long-term promise for hydrogen, but it’s long-term promise.”

By contrast, startup Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) plans Class 8 fuel cell truck production in 2023 at a new plant in Coolidge, Arizona. It plans to break ground Thursday. Nikola is also working on a network of hydrogen fueling stations as part of its plan to offer trucks, hydrogen fuel and maintenance in an all-inclusive seven-year lease.

Battery-electric trucks for sale in 2021

On the battery-electric side, Kenworth and Peterbilt will build medium-duties for sale or lease in 2021. Both rely on Dana Inc. (NYSE: DAN) for electric propulsion systems. Peterbilt started with Transportation Power Inc., now part of Meritor Inc. (NYSE: MTOR) Meritor is providing electric systems for larger trucks for both brands.

PACCAR’s three-pronged strategy for electric vehicles is technology mastery, distribution through its existing dealer network, and flexible manufacturing that allows electric trucks to be on the same production line as diesel models.

“The price point at this stage of the development will be higher than diesel,” Feight said. “But I think people are interested in seeing what that technology feels like in their fleets. 

“And then obviously, we have regulations coming in the 2024, 2025 time frame where some markets will need the electric vehicles. And so that’s what’s going to bring some gradual increase in demand.”

Driverless trucks when time and cost right

Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV) is working with autonomous startup TuSimple to launch a driverless Class 8 truck in 2024. The move advances the accepted industry timeline by one to five years.

“It’s a great technology,” Feight said. “We have strong partnerships with a lot of autonomous vehicle companies. If you look around at the space, you’ll see that a vast majority of the vehicles that are operating in L4 modes in trial are Peterbilts and Kenworths and DAFs.”

To his point, autonomous startup Aurora Innovation on Monday showed a Level 4 system installed in a Peterbilt 579 model that it plans to test in Texas. 

Without fanfare, Kenworth showed a Level 4 autonomous truck at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in January.

“We’ll watch that technology and when it’s ready, we’ll bring it to our customers,” Feight said.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Related articles:

PACCAR aligns Kenworth and Peterbilt electrification system suppliers

Peterbilt will begin limited electric truck sales in late 2020

CES2020: Kenworth collaborates with Dana on medium-duty electric truck

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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.