ZEV Challenges: Trucking Realities Amid California's Mandate

ZEV Challenges: Trucking Realities Amid California’s Mandate

California, often at the forefront of environmental initiatives, has been making aggressive moves to reduce emissions from diesel-burning trucks in its sprawling supply chain. While the goal is laudable, the journey has presented some unexpected challenges and realities for truck drivers and fleet owners.

The state has already taken a significant step by banning 230,000 pre-2010 trucks from operating within its borders, with only a few exceptions. Furthermore, the rules around the ports are about to get even stricter, starting in January. From that point on, only zero-emission drayage trucks will be eligible for new registrations in the CARB Online System, a requirement for working the ports.

This stringent mandate has led to some surprising short-term consequences. Drayage fleets, the vital cogs in the port logistics machinery, have been stockpiling post-2010-spec diesel trucks. It’s a curious turn of events in response to an environmentally conscious mandate.

Bill Aboudi, the owner of AB Trucking, sums it up, “A lot of people around here are buying diesel trucks. The economy sucks right now, volumes at ports are down 40 percent.” It’s a situation where economic realities clash with environmental aspirations.

Talon Logistics, a small fleet, is one among many that are bolstering their fleets with diesel trucks. They are, as the Wall Street Journal reported, acquiring these fossil fuel burners as if they’re going out of style. This move towards diesel is a testament to the economic pressures that truck drivers and fleet owners face today.

Even larger players like Pacific Drayage Services, with over 300 trucks in their fleet, have been compelled to embrace diesel for short-term growth. President Jim Gillis explained, “We compressed three years of growth into one year with diesel to make sure we had enough assets on the table.” The need to meet customer commitments and operational goals has pushed many fleet owners in this direction.

The reality is that drayage fleets of all sizes find themselves reluctantly crossing this line. They’re racing to explore zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) options while also holding onto their diesel counterparts. It’s not a straightforward transition, and there are several reasons behind this dual approach.

One of the major concerns expressed by Bill Aboudi and echoed by many others in the industry is the practicality of ZEVs for their operations. Aboudi had initially attempted to purchase Nikola EVs, only to see them recalled before he could put them to work. Now, he’s looking to apply those vouchers to Hyundai hydrogen-powered trucks.

However, Aboudi’s experience highlights a fundamental issue – the limited use cases for ZEVs in the trucking industry. As he notes, “They’re great if you’re Frito Lay, but as a common carrier, my customers want to max out at 80,000 pounds.” Unfortunately, ZEVs can’t handle that kind of load.

Weight has emerged as a critical challenge for ZEV adoption. Aboudi points out, “Tare weight is 12,000 pounds higher on ZEV trucks versus diesel trucks.” This means that customers would have to accept a 12,000-pound reduction in their cargo capacity, which is a hard sell in an industry where efficiency and capacity matter greatly.

Jim Gillis of Pacific Drayage Services concurs, noting a payload difference of 6,000 to 7,000 pounds with their battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Some agricultural customers, for example, cube out their boxes at 44,000 pounds and have to reduce their loads to 37,000 to 38,000 pounds to accommodate BEVs. This kind of compromise can be a tough pill to swallow for both fleet owners and their clients.

While BEVs like Tesla’s Semi have found success in specific applications, such as within Pepsico’s self-contained logistics ecosystem, not all trucking operations have the luxury of operating in a closed loop. Bill Aboudi emphasizes this point, saying, “I want to be able to make my money anywhere, especially when it’s slow.”

The issue of weight restrictions is not lost on ZEV advocates. Efforts are underway to raise the weight limits for ZEVs beyond the 80,000-pound threshold. Several pieces of legislation in Congress propose pilot programs to accommodate trucks up to 91,000 pounds. However, trucking groups largely oppose these initiatives, citing concerns related to safety and infrastructure maintenance.

Aboudi also highlights a curious discrepancy, stating that ZEVs currently running in and out of the ports may be exceeding the weight limits, even though no one is willing to admit it. This underscores the complexity of the transition to ZEVs in the real-world trucking environment.

For now, Aboudi’s focus remains on adding two more post-2010 diesel trucks to his fleet before the year’s end. “They have to be after 2010, with enough miles on them,” he explains. This strategy is not about resisting change; it’s about navigating the transition strategically.

Last year, Aboudi encountered an electric vehicle salesperson who expressed concern that he was trying to avoid the mandate by stocking up on diesel trucks. However, Aboudi’s response was insightful, “That’s not what the mandate says. Actually, it’s bad for you that they’re mandating this so hard. People are getting pushed into buying diesel trucks.”

In conclusion, California’s aggressive ZEV mandate is undoubtedly a well-intentioned step toward a greener future. However, the road to zero-emission trucks is proving to be more challenging than anticipated for truck drivers and fleet owners. The weight restrictions, cargo capacity limitations, and practicality issues are real obstacles that need to be addressed for a smoother transition.

While the industry recognizes the importance of reducing emissions and embracing cleaner technologies, it’s crucial to ensure that these transitions are both economically viable and operationally feasible. The path to a more sustainable future may require a balance between environmental goals and the practical needs of trucking professionals. As we move forward, it’s essential to listen to the voices of those on the front lines, like Bill Aboudi, who are navigating these changes and seeking solutions that work for both their businesses and the environment.

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