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Truck Tech: Electric incentives edition

California vouchers; Walmart's trucking sustainability and Kodiak Robotics' simple swap

The supply is running low. But getting in on California’s free money for electric truck purchases is still doable. Also, Walmart lays out its plan for sustainable over-the-road trucking. And Kodiak Robotics shows the ease of maintaining autonomous tech on its fourth-generation truck.

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There’s a voucher for that

It’s no secret that a Class 8 electric truck can cost three times as much up front as a diesel-powered tractor. California and states adopting its Advanced Clean Trucks regulation know that incentivizing those purchases is important to getting beyond single-digit purchases.

California set aside so much money under its Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Program (HVIP) this year that it almost equaled the total for the past seven years. The HVIP program works. It directly funded more than 60% of the 738 zero-emission trucks on the road in California as of January. Average discount: 20%.

U.S. map showing state-by-state numerical breakdown of zero tailpipe emission trucks and buses.
California far and away leads in the number of electric trucks in use. Part of the reason is the enormous amount of incentive money available. The figures are through December 2021. (Image: Calstart)

The Golden State released $430 million on March 30 covering standard vouchers and special pools for public transit buses, school buses and Class 8 tractors used in drayage. As of Thursday, about $31 million remained in standard vouchers plus $15 million dedicated for fleets of 10 or fewer trucks.

HVIP adds special spiffs

An earmark for drayage early adopters added  25% — $30,000 — to the standard $120,000 voucher for a Class 8 truck. That subprogram is fully subscribed. But standard vouchers are available for drayage trucks moving to and from California ports.

We know one of the recipients of the drayage grants was truck-as-a-service startup WattEV.

WattEV hit the HVIP annual cap by leasing 50 Volvo VNR electric Class 8 daycabs. They will reside in communities the state considers disadvantaged because of air pollution from idling trucks waiting to get into ports.Those grants qualify for an additional 15% spiff, bringing the vouchers to $168,000 per truck.

A  green Volvo VNR Electric truck driving on a tree-lined road.
Truck-as-a-service startup WattEV hit the cap in HVIP vouchers by ordering 50 Volvo VNR Electric daycabs. The total incentive for each truck was $168,000, nearly half the purchase price of the Class 8 zero-tailpipe-emission tractor. (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

Clean transportation nonprofit Calstart administers HVIP for the California Air Resources Board. The money doled out mostly comes from pollution fines collected in cap-and-trade programs. And that money serves as a carrot to offset strict regulations to clean up mobile pollution, HVIP is a big carrot to encourage transition to electric and other zero-tailpipe-emission alternatives.

At least 21 states use money from the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” emissions cheating settlement to help get cleaner trucks on their roads.

HVIP doubles hydrogen truck grants

The number of HVIP-qualified hydrogen vehicles is growing. And HVIP doubles the standard $120,000 incentive to buy down their cost.

This week, CARB added fuel cell trucking startup Hyzon Motors to the list of eligible products for HVIP money. Hyzon is retrofitting diesel trucks with fuel cells, a faster approach to getting fuel cells on the road than building new trucks.

Hyzon equipped a 2022 Freightliner Cascadia with its fuel cell system. Total Transportation Services Inc. tested the truck for a month in late 2021, running in regular service in and around the Port of Long Beach.

A light blue "repowered Freightliner Cascadia retrofitted with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell system by Hyzon Motors.
A repowered Freightliner Cascadia converted by Hyzon Motors to run on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Hyzon this week was added to the HVIP voucher eligibility list. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Cummins Inc. is working directly with Freightliner owner Daimler Truck North America to equip new Cascadia chassis with fuel cells in the next few years.

Next in line

Hyundai should be next to join the fuel cell electric truck registry when it imports 30 of its Xcient trucks to the U.S. in 2023. Around the same time, Nikola should have its Tre FCET ready for consideration.

Nikola’s battery-electric Tre is one of eight Class 8 models that can generate the standard $120,000 voucher. The Tre racked up 134 voucher requests through April. Other manufacturers decline to share how many vouchers resulted in purchase orders for their trucks. Restaurant food distributor Sysco must be in line after ordering 800 eCascadia daycabs through 2026.

HVIP has lots of rules but saves lots of money

‘The HVIP has lots of rules. It gives dealers three tries to pass a test that covers program do’s and don’ts. Most OEMs offer grant-writing help to get HVIP vouchers.

Except for certain school buses, HVIP does not require scrapping older — presumably more  polluting — trucks. Of course, those trucks are being regulated off the state’s roads around 2040. So, effectively, it is pushing fleets to take its smokier, sootier trucks elsewhere.

The state of New York offers purchase vouchers of up to $185,000 on a new electric truck — Nikola’s Tre qualified this week — but it requires disposing of an older, dirtier truck.

Walmart’s zero-emissions blueprint

Like the variety in its stores, the nation’s largest retailer has a little something for everyone in the zero-emissions trucking space.

Fernando Cortes, Walmart’s senior vice president of transportation, laid out the company’s plans in a blog post this week, unpacking how the company plans to eliminate mobile emissions across its global operations by 2040.

Walmart already is partnering with Cruise Automation to pilot its autonomous small crossovers; with Gatik on Class 6 autonomous trucks; with General Motors subsidiary BrightDrop for electric delivery vans.

Going for the big trucks

Now Walmart is addressing the bigger vehicles that have a greater environmental impact.

Blue and yellow illustration of Walmart use of battery-electric and natural gas trucks.
Walmart is looking at natural gas and electricity to clean up the environmental footprint of its over-the-road trucking fleet.
(Image: Walmart)

Walmart operates one of the largest private trucking fleets in the U.S., made up of 12,000 drivers, 10,000 tractors and 80,000 trailers covering 1.1 billion miles every year. The equipment owned and controlled by the company accounts for 24% of its direct greenhouse (GHG) emissions.

The retailer is evaluating renewable natural gas and battery-electric power for its over-the-road trucks and electric power for refrigerated trailers. Hydrogen is getting a look for yard trucks that move trailers around in its lots. 

Naming names

Walmart is testing zero-emissions electric yard trucks like Autocar’s all-electric terminal tractor at its distribution centers. They provide a nearly 50% reduction in emissions compared to diesel trucks. Using renewable energy sources like wind and solar could boost that to 100%, Cortes wrote.

Starting in 2023, Walmart will be the first customer for a 15-liter natural gas engine from Cummins Inc., adding them to a few trucks. The 15-liter was introduced in China but ticketed for production in Jamestown, New York, because customers expressed interest. 

The engine is expected to deliver the same power and torque as its diesel counterpart but with significantly lower emissions. It weighs and costs less, too. 

Walmart is working with Chevron to supply compressed natural gas linked to renewable natural gas that can negate emissions because it is based on methane captured from dairy animals and other biological sources.

Electric-powered refers

Walmart conducted a two-month test with Thermo King with a refrigerated trailer running on 100% electricity until the batteries are drained. At that point, the cooling units switched to diesel power. Walmart ran 18 routes hauling groceries between a distribution center in Shafter, California, and area stores with electricity powering the trailers 83% of the time.

Later this summer, Walmart will test Freightliner’s  eCascadia battery-electric daycab and Nikola’s Tre BEV out of a distribution center in Fontana, California. The trucks will pick up loads from suppliers and deliver them to a consolidation center in the area.

The mere mention of Nikola being in the Walmart mix moved the electric truck startup’s stock significantly higher on Wednesday.

Autonomous simplicity

Kodiak Robotics locates radars and cameras — critical vision systems for autonomous trucks — within the fourth-generation Level 4 design. The mirror modules — Kodiak calls them sensor pods — are thicker and boxier than typical 50-inch side mirrors required by law. But they are aesthetically pleasing. 

One of the hallmarks is the ease of swapping out one or both sensor pods in case something goes wrong. Kodiak compares it to changing a tire, which is no fun but pretty simple if you know what you’re doing. Take a look at why Kodiak claims no special technician training is needed to swap out a module.

Watch now: Swapping a tech-infused mirror pod on a Kodiak autonomous truck

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading.


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.