India is focussing on electrification of its freight transport sector but some misconceptions remain
India has been steadily transitioning towards clean mobility. Apart from shifting to electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers and four-wheelers, the country is also focussing on electrification of its freight transport, especially the 5.5 million trucks that ply on Indian roads at present. And rightly so as the freight transport sector, estimated to be around $160 billion, contributes enormously to PM emissions.
While this transition is important due to its environmental and cost benefits, there are still myths and misconceptions about vehicle’s performance, range among others. In this story, we bust some of the common misconceptions associated with electric trucks.
Myth 1: Electric Trucks Lack Power and Performance
One of the myths surrounding electric trucks is their lack of power and performance compared to their traditional diesel counterparts. However, this notion is changing rapidly. For instance, according to reports, Tesla’s semi e-truck can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 20 seconds while carrying an 80,000-pound load.
If that was not enough, the company claims that with less than 2 kWh per mile of energy consumption, the truck can travel up to 500 miles on a single charge. Similarly, companies like Nikola and Rivian have also introduced e-trucks with state of the art towing capabilities and acceleration, thus dispelling the myth that e-trucks lack power and performance.
Fig 1: Pic courtesy: Volvo trucks
Myth 2: Insufficient Range for Long-Haul Transport
Another common misconception is that e-trucks do not have sufficient range which makes them unsuitable for the vast Indian road network. However, this myth too has been busted as successful examples of trucks with extended ranges have been showcased globally.
For example, the Mercedes-Benz eActros LongHaul boasts a range of up to 500 kilometres on a single charge, making it suitable for long-distance freight operations. If proper charging infrastructure is deployed along major routes, it will also help reduce such range anxiety and ensure seamless journeys.
Myth 3: Charging Infrastructure is Inadequate
The lack of extensive charging infrastructure is often cited as a major roadblock to the adoption of e-trucks. Although it is a valid concern, there are examples globally on how countries have deployed charging infrastructure along freight routes at a rapid pace. India can definitely learn from these examples to speed up the deployment of charging infrastructure.
In the US, a company named Electrify America is building a comprehensive charging network. It plans to offer charging stations every 70 miles on highways. China too has made significant strides in this sector. India can also collaborate with public and private entities to establish a robust charging network for electric trucks.
Myth 4: Electric Trucks Are Economically Unviable
It is often believed that e-trucks are economically not viable. But this misconception is also being challenged, thanks to innovative business models and decreasing battery costs. Although the upfront costs of electric trucks are two to three times more than its diesel counterparts, their operational savings over the long term can offset these expenses.
Many companies, including delivery giant UPS, have reported that their e-trucks have lower maintenance costs and reduced fuel expenses, and this helps in significant savings. Additionally, battery prices have been consistently decreasing, which bodes well for the economic feasibility of electric trucks.
Myth 5: Limited Variety and Customization Options
Many claim that there aren’t many options as far as variety is concerned in e-trucks and they also lack customization options, which makes it difficult to cater to diverse transportation needs. However, the ever evolving e-truck ecosystem at present boasts of an array of models designed for various applications.
For example, the Volvo FL Electric e-truck can adapt to various configurations that makes it suitable in a host of areas, including for urban deliveries, and waste collection. As manufacturers increasingly recognize the need to cater to diverse requirements, they are constantly focussing on expanding customization options.
Fig 2: A digital illustration of Tevva’s 7.5-tonne electric truck. Illustration: Tevva/Getty Images
Myth 6: Environmental Impact of Battery Production
Many question the sustainability of e-trucks due to the environmental impact of battery production. Although battery manufacturing does have an environmental footprint, it is also important to take into account the entire lifecycle impact of a vehicle.
A study published in the journal "Nature Sustainability" found that, even considering the emissions from battery production, electric trucks in Europe have lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel trucks. As battery production processes become more efficient and rely increasingly on renewable energy sources, this concern is gradually falling away.
Around 22 million people are directly engaged in India’s steadily growing freight and logistics sector. Transportation costs are a major driver of India’s overall logistics costs, and in that diesel fuel costs account for the majority.
India is also the world's third-largest net importer of crude oil and petroleum products. According to data from the Oil ministry's Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC), India imported 212.2 million tonnes of crude oil in 2021-22, up from 196.5 million tonnes in the previous year.
Given these scenarios, it is imperative for India to kick-start this transition to move ahead towards the clean mobility path and position itself as a major player in this sector globally.
India recently made two announcements– a unique High Level Ambition Group (HLAG) that will work towards framing a policy towards zero freight emission and the Zero Emission Vehicles Emerging Markets Initiative (ZEV-EMI) and the government's E- FAST (Electric Freight Accelerator for Sustainable Transport) programme to advance the electrification of trucks in India. These are steps in the right direction and will help the country achieve its climate goals and reduce emissions.