Big trucks are big (obviously), sometimes noisy, get 6 mpg hauling 80,000 pounds), and occasionally cut you off — just not as much as we cut them off. And they’re changing, to be more fuel-efficient, pollute less, and get the goods to far flung customers at lower cost. All that was on display this week at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show (NACV) in Atlanta.
Truckers are under the gun to pollute less, especially since most Class 6 (60,000 pounds of truck and cargo) to Class 8 (80,000 pounds max, truck, trailer and load) trucks run on diesel, which is seen as being tougher on the environment than gasoline engines. Most diesel trucks now use low-sulfur fuel and treat the exhaust with a urea formulation called diesel exhaust fluid, same as diesel pickup trucks and the few remaining diesel cars use. But changes are coming, as trucks shift from turbo-diesel big engines to hybrids to natural gas, battery electric, or hydrogen fuel cell electric.
Here’s our take on the best tracks of NACV.
The traditional powerplant for a big truck is a big engine such as the Cummins X15 turbo-diesel. The impetus for change in trucks comes from the West Coast, especially the Los Angeles basin, especially truck-centric places such as the Port of Long Beach. Ships are required to use shore power, or electric lines from onshore, when in port. The port’s Clean Trucks Program in 2012 banned older, high-polluting drayage trucks, the ones that make port to warehouse runs. As of October 2018, trucks registering to use the port had to be model year 2014 or new.
Outside the US, truckers are or will be restricted from entering large cities unless they meet stiff clean air and/or fuel economy standards. So it’s not just passenger cars under pressure to be cleaner, it’s also commercial trucks, and it’s also – in California – things like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and charcoal barbecues with restrictions. Small as one lawn mower or one can of charcoal-starter fluid seems, the collective impact is significant in densely populated states. The two-stroke engine designs used by many products are ferociously bad for both the environment and your lungs. A single leaf-blower emits more particulate pollution than a car.
The big no-show of the NACV show was the Tesla Semi battery-electric truck, with a claimed range of 300-500 miles depending on how much battery you buy. The Semi got a Hollywood-style launch in November 2017 and a prototype was spotted on a California street in early 2018. At the launch, Tesla talked about deliveries in 2019, and here we are seven weeks from 2020, with – surprise – no shipping Tesla Semis. Back in April 2019, Tesla reset the date to 2020.
Perhaps tellingly, there was significant action at NACV with hydrogen fuel-cell electric trucks, highlighted by the futuristic Hyundai HDC-6 Neptune. Despite infrastructure issues, truckers may be sensing that’s surmountable. What’s harder to resolve is what lithium-ion batteries weigh, possibly 20,000 of the truck’s 80,000-pound capacity. Plus motors. A diesel engine, transmission, drivetrain, and 250 gallons of clean-diesel fuel good for 2,000 miles weighs less half that.
This was the second biennial North American Commercial Vehicles show and it drew 470-plus exhibitors versus 439 at the 2017 show in Atlanta, organizers said.
- Hyundai Makes the Case for Fuel Cell Trucks With Gorgeous HDC-6 Neptune
- Tesla Semi: 500-Mile Range, Cheaper Than Diesel, Quick to Charge
- Amazon Buys 100,000 Electric Trucks from Rivian (Total EV SUVs, Pickups Built to Date: 0)