Rare air: Kenworth and Peterbilt electric trucks take on Pikes Peak

Learning more coming down the mountain than going up

Kenworth and Peterbilt showed off real-world capability in driving battery-electric and hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric trucks to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. But a more meaningful lesson came in descending the mountain.

The Kenworth T680 fuel cell electric vehicle and a battery-electric Peterbilt Model 579EV became the first Class 8 zero-emissions vehicles to negotiate grades between 7% and 10% that are part of the 12.42-mile Pikes Peak International Hill Climb course.

The PACCAR Inc. brands (NASDAQ: PCAR) covered 156 twisting turns and switchbacks while ascending the mountain.

“Conquering Pikes Peak demonstrates PACCAR’s leadership in fuel cell and commercial vehicle electrification,” Kyle Quinn, PACCAR chief technology officer, said in a press release.

Peterbilt has 22 Model 579EVs in testing with more 50,000 total miles. The Model 579EV’s regenerative braking allowed its battery packs to recharge while descending from the peak, extending its 150-mile range on a single charge.

Marketing motivation?

Kenworth and Peterbilt are taking orders for medium- and heavy-duty battery-electric models that will be delivered in 2021. 

That does not include the fuel cell T680. It is a demonstration vehicle built with Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) using fuel cell stacks from the Toyota Mirai fuel cell passenger car. Toyota and Kenworth are collaborating on 10 of the trucks that will be placed in operation at the Port of Los Angeles over the next few months.

But customers can order the T680E battery-electric Class 8 model and medium-duty Kenworth K270E and K370E battery-electric vehicles.

PACCAR claims that having the first battery-electric Class 8 truck to climb to the top of Pikes Peak “is further validation of all the real-world miles Peterbilt has accumulated across our entire EV test fleet” and demonstrates its readiness to sell the trucks to customers next year.

One analyst questioned the motivation behind the climb.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” Guidehouse Insights principal analyst Sam Abuelsamid told FreightWaves. “Why would there be any assumption that it couldn’t make it to the top of Pikes Peak? There’s nothing particularly earth-shattering about that. When they can run one of these trucks from Arizona to Pikes Peak on a single charge, I’ll be impressed.”

ACT Expo kicks off with unveiling of Toyota and Kenworth fuel cell trucks

Kenworth, Peterbilt electric trucks qualify for California rebates

Kenworth begins taking orders for Class 8 electric truck

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

One Comment

  1. Andrew Lund is right, hydrogen trucks “provide technical solutions that other technologies cannot meet in the long run.” So why bother with battery trucks in the interim when we will end up with hydrogen trucks anyway. Why make it a two-step transition when we can make it a one-step transition and go directly to hydrogen. And stop worrying about hydrogen filling stations. They will come soon enough — when hydrogen trucks and hydrogen cars come. Besides, gas filling stations didn’t come overnight either.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.