Big Rig Drivers Switching to Electric, Cities Ponder Life after Cars

May 2, 2020

New York Times:

Volvo Trucks North America announced this year that it would test 23 of its VNR battery-electric heavy-duty trucks in and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Washington-based truck maker Kenworth is already there, operating the beginnings of Project Portal, a 10-truck fleet of semis powered with hydrogen fuel cells. And Daimler Trucks North America is making deliveries in 20 of its preproduction eCascadias with two partner companies, Penske Truck Leasing and NFI.

“We want them quicker than the manufacturers can produce them,” said NFI’s president, Ike Brown. NFI, a freight hauler based in New Jersey, has been operating 10 eCascadias between the port complex, the country’s busiest, and its warehouse in Chino, 50 miles inland.

Mr. Brown’s company makes regional deliveries using a fleet of 4,500 mostly diesel trucks. With a defined daily route of about 250 miles, and trucks that return to the same place every night to recharge, electric trucks “just make sense,” Mr. Brown said.

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks are responsible for about 8 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Electrics not only reduce tailpipe emissions to zero, they cost less to operate. With fewer moving parts, they are also easier to maintain.

Electric trucks do, however, cost more to buy upfront. While most manufacturers have yet to set pricing, the longer a truck’s range, the more batteries it needs and the more it will cost. Tesla plans to sell its 300-mile-range Semi for $150,000 and 500-mile Semi for $180,000. The price of a new diesel tractor and trailer is about $150,000.

“Our goal is to get them within 10 percent of what a diesel would cost, so fleets can see the return on investment of reduced fuel and maintenance cost within two to three years,” said Dakota Semler, a co-founder of Xos Trucks in North Hollywood, Calif. The company plans to go into production with its ET-One electric semi next year.

Already, Xos is making smaller, medium-duty electric trucks for the armored car company Loomis and UPS.

“We’re further along in medium-duty with potential real-world solutions than we are in the heavy-duty side just because it’s an easier problem to solve,” said Scott Phillippi, senior director of maintenance and engineering at UPS. “The range isn’t quite so strenuous.”

UPS, which is based in Atlanta, operates 80,000 trucks globally. About 100 of its medium-duty box trucks are currently electric, but none of its 21,000 semis have made the switch. Yet.

UPS placed an order for 125 Tesla Semis two days after Elon Musk sent a pair of them speeding across the tarmac at a small airport adjacent to his company’s Southern California design headquarters in late 2017.



As global lockdowns keep most people at home, congestion-riddled, pollution-choked streets around the world have transformed into empty, eerily silent spaces. The most conspicuous absentee is the car, as personal vehicles remain parked in driveways and side streets.

This lack of cars has contributed to a sudden drop in emissions of carbon dioxide, pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. Its effect on oil prices has been not so much a drop as an implosion. Some cities have temporarily turned emptier streets into walking and cycling-only zones to enable socially distanced exercise. Meanwhile, Milan – the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak – announced it would transform 35km (21.7 miles) of its streets for cycling post-lockdown. Could this pandemic, a global emergency, actually catalyse an ongoing movement towards cleaner air – and might Milan’s scheme form a blueprint for cities that have repeatedly tried to tackle the domination of the car?

The pandemic’s impact on the environment has been staggering. Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are heading for a record 5.5-5.7% annual drop. From mid-January to mid-February, China’s carbon emissions fell by around 25%. In Delhi, a city with often the worst air quality in the world, pollution caused by PM2.5s reduced by roughly 75% as traffic congestion dropped by 59%. A 70% reduction in toxic nitrogen oxides was reported in Paris, while satellite imagery showed nitrogen dioxide levels in Milan fell by about 40%. In the UK, road travel has decreased by as much as 73% and in London, toxic emissions at major roads and junctions fell by almost 50%.

Although car use has decreased, so has public transport use. Services have been reduced, the need for travel has declined, and a public fear of using it has grown, now that proximity to strangers has become synonymous with infection risk. Some Chinese cities, including Wuhan – where the coronavirus outbreak began – shut down public transport entirely to reduce risk of contagion. The urban mobility app Moovit reported that public transport ridership has dropped on average by 78% worldwide, with Milan and Rome, for example, seeing a decrease of 89%.

Where car, bus and train journeys have been dwindling, bicycles have been picking up the slack. As a form of isolated transport that doubles as exercise – that is much easier given the wealth of empty streets – cycling has become more appealing in a number of cities. In March, use of bike-share systems increased by roughly 150% in Beijing and 67% in New York, where cycling on main thoroughfares increased by 52%. Meanwhile, cycling traffic increased by 151% on trails in Philadelphia and in April Dundee saw cycling traffic increase by 94%.

Some fascinating history here –

New York Times:

This week the mayor announced that he would indeed set aside up 100 miles of road in phases, the first 40 miles over the next month. Though many of the details have yet to be finalized, the police will monitor closings in some capacity. Advocates for livable streets have had a hard time understanding why the police would be so critical to the venture given that other cities like Oakland, Calif., have largely managed to ban traffic from select locations with barricades and signs.

Crises of the kind we are experiencing require nimble and innovative thinking, the willingness to break with frameworks of the past. The slow implementation of a measure that seems at once relatively simple and destined to provide so much good, offers one more example of the bureaucratic inertia that has distinguished management of the corona outbreak at so many different levels of government. If we can’t quickly summon cars off the street — and only some of them and just provisionally — at a time when no one is going anywhere, how can we expect the city to brilliantly and flexibly reimagine itself once the pandemic is over?

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, public-health catastrophes managed to inaugurate the wholesale re-engineering of societies. Ingenuity was the hallmark of a time in which public health was intricately linked to urban planning and design. The continued eruptions of cholera and other diseases ultimately brought about transformative infrastructural changes to deliver clean air and water to places marked by filth, stench, pestilence.

The Paris that Georges-Eugène Haussmann famously conceived — a city of wide boulevards, parks, fountains — arose in response to a cholera outbreak that had moved the French government to demolish medieval buildings where illness was thought to spread too easily.

In this country, by the 1870s, the seven founding members of the American Public Health Association included an architect and a housing specialist. Frederick Law Olmsted was already a celebrated landscape architect when he became secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross, where he oversaw a medical network that aided wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

The ongoing health emergencies of the period were deeply personal for him. Olmsted’s first child had died of cholera. Both his brother and stepson were lost to tuber­culosis. The urban parks movement, led by Olmsted, was built on the notion that green space was the respiratory apparatus for any urban environment, the prerequisite for expectations of sound collective health.

Later, the advance of Modernist architecture was grounded in some of the same assumptions about the curative properties of light and air. The flat roofs, terraces, balconies, huge windows — the lean clinical aesthetic borrowed to a great extent from the design of sanitariums where tuberculosis patients were sent for treatment.

Twenty years earlier, Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect whose legacy is best observed in the unadorned apartment tower, looked to a future where cities were distinguished by a kind of stylized hygiene. “There are no more dirty, dark corners,” he wrote.“Everything is shown as it is. Then comes inner cleanliness.”

What New York will look like — how and under what circumstances we will come to feel “clean” — remains the great uncertainty. Disaster brings the opportunity for reinvention, but how enthusiastically will we embrace it? The two major cataclysms to afflict 21st century New York — 9/11 and then a decade later, Hurricane Sandy — similarly occasioned chances to abandon anachronistic approaches to the development of public and private space; were those chances squandered?


17 Responses to “Big Rig Drivers Switching to Electric, Cities Ponder Life after Cars”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    On frequently used highways, this here would make sense too:


    • Sir Charles Says:

      Wow! I must have hit the wrong key. So here the article:

      => eHighway project kicks off in Germany

    • doldrom Says:

      Seems like a great idea.

      Where I live many of the main highways already parallel electrified railways, and often the trucks have to keep left, making the right lane trucks only (in practice). It would be easy to cross the entire country with overhead power lines added to a few major highways (5-6, <2000km), requiring only a 100-150km battery range for non-stop service covering the entire country.

      The trucks would be charging while driving!

      Bonus is the reduction of noise pollution which is a serious problem in urban areas.

    • redskylite Says:

      Stanford University on the cas too . . . .

      Though it won’t be implemented any time soon.

      Let’s hope we last long enough to see it in action.

      “Engineers have demonstrated a practical way to use magnetism to transmit electricity wirelessly to recharge electric cars, robots or even drones. The technology could be scaled up to power electric cars as they drive over highways, robots on factory floors and drones hovering over rooftops.”

  2. Mark Mev Says:

    Off topic.
    When I click on a article at, sometimes (randomly) the new article flashes and then virus alert pages take over. I usually close that tab, go back to and click on the new article. Sometimes the virus alert page happens again, but most times I just get the page. I’m running Safari on a mac.

    Does this happen to anyone else or is it me and my computer?

    • MorinMoss Says:

      “Does this happen to anyone else or is it me and my computer?”
      In the near-decade I’ve been coming to Climate Crocks, that has never happened to me, a Windows user of Firefox, Chrome and Opera.
      Only issues I can ever recall is not being able to post a comment despite being logged in or needing several tries and not being able to vote a comment up or down.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Never seen that. I also never use the major antivirus programs – that’s where I would bet the problem is.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        The major antivirus programs I have used on my PC in the past—-Norton and McAfee–didn’t get it done. Webroot has worked well for the last three years.

        • Mark Mev Says:

          Thanks everyone for commenting. Don’t have Norton on my mac for over a year and just made sure that I had deleted it. I’ll look into Webroot because it is still happening randomly.

  3. redskylite Says:

    After a strict 4 week lockdown in my neck of the woods has been relaxed relaxed, the record low in measurable air pollution has sadly vanished, levels have gone up in higher than normal as heavy motorway and local traffic resumes.

    bring on those electric trucks.

    Coronavirus: Auckland traffic pollution soars under Covid-19 alert level 3

    “Following the country’s move to alert level 3, Auckland’s traffic pollution has soared to levels higher than before the city was in a coronavirus lockdown, a Niwa scientist has revealed.

    At the end of March, Auckland’s nitrogen oxide levels saw a steep drop off, by as much as 90 per cent at times, for the first time in more than a decade.

    But scientific analysis of nitrogen oxide levels caused by road traffic exhaust shows levels in the past three days has exceeded readings leading up to March 26 when the country was effectively closed.

  4. […] via Big Rig Drivers Switching to Electric, Cities Ponder Life after Cars | Climate Denial Crock of the W… […]

  5. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    While UPS will further reduce its emissions on its big highway trucks, the local delivery trucks, which “idle” at both intersection and curb stops throughout their routes, has to be a bigger win in terms of reducing completely wasted energy.

  6. MorinMoss Says:

    I don’t understand why Tesla chose to develop an electric Semi instead of a Tesla Bus. Higher selling price and higher margin with a MUCH smaller battery pack and no need to deploy the as-yet unrevealed MegaCharger stations along thousands of miles of highway.
    At the Semi unveiling event, Elon promised 7 cents US per kWh electricity to charge these behemoths. There’s no way I can see for him to deliver on that promise.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Tesla will be getting into the electricity business. Already has applied to do so in UK.

      This robotaxi thing? He’s serious about it. And they will be in that business, so producing his own juice will save a lot of money. They already have a solar panel division. Interesting to see if he also partners with a wind company.

  7. doldrom Says:

    There are studies linking NO² to all the areas with the highest covid cfr’s.

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