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Truck Tech: California electric dreams edition

California backs electrification for small fleets; Amazon's cloud attracts new customers, and Peterbilt brings AR to the service bay

California does its bit for small fleets looking to electrify; Amazon Web Services makes cloud storage for automotive autonomy a thing; and Peterbilt takes immersive reality to the service bay. And yes, we have changed our name.

Beginning this week, Truck Talk is now Truck Tech, a title that better describes the newsletter’s content. We still offer perspective, context and commentary on the trucking ecosystem and its evolution through autonomous, connectivity and electrification technologies.  

Looking out for the little guy

Making the switch from diesel to electric power is a big decision because even if the payback from the higher upfront cost is relatively quick, paying up to twice as much for a new truck is still a big deal.

That is especially true if your fleet is small and you don’t have staff to write grants, talk to utilities about charging and cover the myriad of other tasks needed to switch to battery power.

Now comes Calstart, the nonprofit barrier buster to clean up truck transportation through adoption of zero-emission technologies nationally and internationally.

Niki Okuk, a former trucker who manages increasingly bigger piles of money to incentivize fleets to transition to electric trucks, is looking out for the little guy, defined as a fleet with one to 11 trucks. 

Her goal is to help small fleets get their share of California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Program, best known as HVIP, and a companion effort called Clean Off-Road Equipment Incentive Voucher Program, known as CORE. Both are initiatives of the California Air Resources Board, which shifts money from pollution fines into spiffs for clean transport.

“We definitely want to make HVIP more accessible to small fleets,” Okuk told me this week. “But I think what we’re realizing about why maybe these smaller companies have not applied for HVIP vouchers is because they don’t have the staff to really think about this process.”

Calstart’s “Transforming Trucks, Transforming Communities,” is a virtual resource hub to get small commercial truck fleet owners and owner operators the information they need to make smart decisions about zero-emissions vehicles. It includes a total cost of ownership calculator, a funding finder and infrastructure planning tools.

Vouchers: Going, going, gone

Not surprisingly, 83 large fleets of 100 or more vehicles secured the bulk of 2,016 vouchers of up to $120,000 for a Class 8 vehicle. A bigger incentive was available if the truck was planned for drayage use in California’s smoggy ports where diesel trucks sit idling for hours, spewing particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollutants.

Like tickets for a popular concert, when HVIP opens for business — as it did three times in the past year — the incentives go quickly. The first $160 million tranche in June was gone in four hours. A second pot of about $12 million disappeared in 15 minutes in August. A final $62 million at the end of October took 10 minutes to be snapped up.

“We definitely want to make HVIP more accessible to small fleets. But I think what we’re realizing about why maybe these smaller companies have not applied for HVIP vouchers is because they don’t have the staff to really think about this process.

Niki Okuk, deputy director, calstart

There were 102 medium-size fleets with 11 to 99 vehicles getting the discounts. Just 41 small fleets, with 11 or fewer trucks, got in on the action.

Volvo Trucks North America, which is selling the VNR Electric Class 8 daycab, took the top spot in requests at 225, followed by Freightliner with 192. The Daimler Trucks North America unit offers the Class 8 eCascadia and Class 6 eM2 straight trucks. 

Top 10 fleet-requested manufacturers for HVIP incentives

Volvo Trucks North America225
Daimler Trucks North America192
BYD Motors Inc.186
Lion Electric Co. USA173
Blue Bird169
SEA Electric LLC147
Lightning Systems139
New Flyer of America111
Motiv Power Systems Inc.103
Source: Calstart/California Air Resources Board
The Volvo VNR Electric topped all requests for discount vouchers in 2021. (Photo: Volvo)

Size matters

Okuk knows from once having a four-truck operation that bigger fleets get preference. She acknowledges that it makes business sense.

“Dealers and OEMs tend to be incentivized to work harder on sales of 10, 15 or 20 trucks at a time than the guy that’s going to buy one truck once,” she said.

But the numbers of small truck fleets and individual operators are growing exponentially. Drivers who might have leased with a carrier or driven for hire are seeking their own authority to get in on record spot rates that show few signs of easing as the broken supply chain convulses.

“Something like 50% of trucks in California are represented by these small fleets,” Okuk said. “If you count less than 20 trucks as a small fleet, it’s 75%.”

The American Trucking Associations reports that in 2020, 91.5% of fleets operated six or fewer trucks, and 97.4% operated fewer than 20.

A bigger pie

California is dramatically increasing the size of the incentive pie in 2022 to $1.5 billion, which is more than all previous incentive plans combined. The federal Jobs Act included $2.5 billion for electric infrastructure and the California Energy Commission has another $50 million.

CARB is requiring 9% of new trucks to have zero emissions in 2024, a date that is driving urgency among truck manufacturers, crimped in production capacity because of the semiconductor shortage and other supply chain glitches. 

“With a lot of the OEMs right now, electric trucks are available faster than diesel trucks,” Okuk said. “We’ve had a few reporting they can deliver [electric] trucks in six months as opposed to diesels” with backlogs of a year. “These manufacturers very recently came under the Advanced Clean Truck rule in California. So they are definitely building them to get them in hand.”

Cloudy outlook

Torc Robotics, the independent autonomous trucking subsidiary of Daimler Truck, was the first to bring in Amazon Web Services to process data gathered by its self-driving trucks. It was a big win for AWS against competitors like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and the IBM Cloud.

This week, AWS stepped out with IoT FleetWise, a new service it touts as easier and cheaper for automakers to collect, transform and transfer vehicle data to the cloud in near-real time. AWS IoT FleetWise lets automakers collect and organize data in any format present in their vehicles regardless of  make, model or options, then standardize the data format for analysis in the cloud.

By the end of the week, AWS had signed Aurora Technology, which is developing autonomous cars and trucks; and it was the seemingly obvious choice for Rivian, the electric pickup truck maker that is building 100,000 delivery vans for Amazon.

AR in the service bay

Augmented reality in the service bay is expanding at Peterbilt Motors. The manufacturer, a subsidiary of Paccar Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) expects to have 200 Apple iPad-based AR systems in its dealership service departments by March.

Peterbilt’s ARTech is aimed at improved service and better uptime. It uses 3D and augmented-reality views of chassis-specific Peterbilt trucks to match technical documentation and diagrams to what the tech sees in 3D.

“This technology spans the gap between 2D technical data trapped on paper or on screens and the real vehicle in the service bay.”

Peterbilt General Manager Jason Skoog

“This technology provides technicians a type of X-ray vision to help improve diagnostic and repair times,” said Peyton Harrell,  Peterbilt director of dealer development. “Dealerships using ARTech in their service bays have reported a 15-20% improvement in service repair times.”

Said Peterbilt General Manager Jason Skoog: “This technology spans the gap between 2D technical data trapped on paper or on screens and the real vehicle in the service bay.”

Peterbilt plans to have augmented reality available in 200 dealership service departments by March. (Photo: Peterbilt)

Best of the rest …

Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) founder Trevor Milton continues his sell-off of company stock, dumping about 3.3 million shares early this week at about $10.20 a share, good for about $33.6 million. Milton has now disposed of $317 million worth of his stake since his July 29 indictment on three federal fraud charges. At 12%, he remains the company’s biggest shareholder.

Cummins Inc. is taking up residence  in the California Fuel Cell Partnership building in West Sacramento. Cummins (NYSE: CMI) opened its Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powertrain Integration Center, a signal of its commitment to scaling a U.S. green hydrogen economy. Cummins is focusing on proton membrane exchange fuel cell technology at the new center. It is seen as the best application for commercial trucks.

Curious about who’s who in vehicle electrification? FreightWaves has compiled a directory of electric vehicle companies. Please let us know who is missing.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Sign up here to get Truck Tech in your email on Fridays.


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.