By Dr. Gary Deel, JD
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
Two years ago in 2017, Elon Musk’s electric car company, Tesla Motors, unveiled its prototype for the Tesla Semi truck. This electric vehicle is reportedly entering production phases now, and Tesla has already received a healthy number of orders for the vehicle from commercial freight carriers.
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Last month, Musk unveiled the Tesla Cybertruck, the company’s first pickup truck and one of the first electric pickups designed for mass market consumption. Musk demonstrated the superior power of the Tesla pickup by chaining it back-to-back with a Ford F-150 pickup and setting them both loose.
The Tesla Cybertruck pulled the Ford uphill like it wasn’t even there. For mechanical engineers, this was no surprise, but it’s worth explaining why.
Electric Motors Offer Superior Torque
Electric motors have some tremendous advantages over internal combustion engines, including being quieter, lower maintenance, cheaper to operate, better for the environment, and more energy-efficient. But the quality that makes them most appealing for trucks is their linear torque curve at lower speeds.
The science behind torque goes beyond the scope of this brief discussion. For those interested in going deeper, I recommend this handy explanation. But for our purposes, suffice it to say that torque is a measure of a vehicle’s pulling power.
In regular gasoline or diesel, engines, a torque appears as something like an inverted parabola. The torque climbs until the engine speed reaches a point where there is maximum force on the pistons, and then it dies down again as the physics of internal combustion limit its efficiency.
By contrast, in electric motors, the torque curve at lower speeds, which typically include most normal driving speeds, is linear, meaning that electric motors provide maximum torque right from the moment a vehicle begins to move. It’s only at high speeds that torque begins to drop as a product of electrical resistance (known as back-EMF).
Why does this matter so much for trucks? Succinctly, because trucks are all about pulling power. It’s about how much weight can you carry or tow, and how efficiently. In this regard, there is simply no comparison between electric motors and internal combustion engines. So look for the electric truck market to grow healthily in the years ahead.
The Future of Electric Trucks
According to APU transportation and logistics management faculty member Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth, “Overall, the electric truck market for 2020 is trending for significant growth.” In 2019, 180,000 electric trucks were sold. Over the next five years, annual sales of electric vehicles are predicted to rise to 1.2 million.
There are many forecasts for electric trucks and other electric vehicles. One analysis expects that over the next five years, there will be 36 million electric vehicles on the road.
The Many Supply Chain Impacts of Electric Trucks
Above and beyond superior pulling power, one of the other advantages of electric trucks is that electric trucks reduce fuel and maintenance costs.
However, remember that fuel and maintenance activities are part of a very complex supply chain and logistics operation that stretches globally. A reduction in fuel could potentially affect businesses that rely on all aspects of the fuel supply chain, from raw source to production to delivery and storage.
Another part of the electric trucking industry is growth in battery sales. By 2025, the market for batteries for electric trucks is predicted to rise to 1.2 million.
The impact of increased battery production and the lower demand for gasoline or diesel fuel may be the news headline over the next five years. These parts of the logistics and supply chain, and their impacts on efficiency, are being researched for both fuel and electric vehicles.
Another pro of electric vehicles is the lack of tailpipe pollution. Since these vehicles have no internal combustion, they impact the logistics and supply chain in regards to the carbon emissions.
Dr. Hedgepeth points out, “The impact of electric trucks for home, farm or office use seems viable. However, within the commercial or professional trucking industry, the forecasts are not as positive.”
“The trucking industry sees electric trucks increasing for short-haul trips, but not for long-haul runs of over 500 miles. The analysis for this trend stretches from five to 10 years from now.
But this issue of the short or long-haul electric truck is more than the cost of operations and impacts on many supply chains. The electric truck is part of a political debate, an ongoing analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and the manufacturing standards that build these electric trucks.”
Electric trucks, especially compared with big diesel-powered 18-wheelers, are quieter, require less maintenance, are better for the environment and are more energy-efficient. These electric vehicles are the future, according to many experts. Electric cars, trucks and city buses are all part of a disruptive technology. There is already an increased awareness of the political and regulatory requirements for the manufacture and use of these electric vehicles.
The sale of electric vehicles for home use and for professional transportation use is on the rise. Will you be replacing your gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle with one of these electric vehicles? Only time will tell.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a JD in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. He teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.