Truck OEM execs gather to talk electrification

Truck OEM execs gather to talk electrification

An EV roundtable brought competitors from across the industry together to discuss their common decarbonization goals.

It’s very rare to find most of the major competitors in the American heavy-duty trucking space all together in one place, but that unique event is exactly what happened at ACT Expo on May 21, as an EV roundtable brought competitors from across the industry together to discuss their common decarbonization goals.

Moderated by Art Vallely, president of Penske Truck Leasing, the roundtable included the following trucking executives:

  • Peter Voorhoeve, president, Volvo Trucks North America
  • Mathias Carlbaum, president and chief executive officer, Navistar
  • John O’Leary, president and chief executive officer, Daimler Truck North America
  • Jonathan Randall, president, Mack Trucks
  • Jason Skoog, general manager, Peterbilt and PACCAR vice president

The executives were very frank about the state of electric trucks in the marketplace.

“I would tell you four years ago when we launched, our first foray into it was the refuse truck. We believe that is the perfect application for battery electric. Our optimism and exuberance was way ahead of the market’s willingness to accept that technology and adopt it,” Randall said. “Now we’ve made strides there for sure and there’s more and more interest in the technology, but I would say that we forecasted a more steep adoption curve than what we see.”

“I think from a creation point of view, we’ve gone really far,” Vorhooeve said. “I think we’ve learned a lot: that going to zero emission needs is not only about the truck, it is also about the offering. I think we all do that. We help our customers to get there. Are we where we want to be? I quite frankly don’t know. But what we want do is make a zero emission offering that’s sustainable.”

Skoog had a simple message for fleets: “You can’t wait.”

He went on: “If you’re not trying what’s available today, you’re going to be behind the adoption curve. And so my advice for anyone is at least try. You’ve got understand ‘how can I make infrastructure set up, how can I make this work in my application?’ Because this is reality, it’s not going away, and I think it makes it incumbent upon everybody that’s running a fleet to simply try.”

Hydrogen discussion

Hydrogen was a particular focus on the panel.

“If hydrogen’s going to be a solution,” said Skoog, “then we’ve got to have more of that infrastructure done now. It’s almost like a Field of Dreams moment: ‘If you build it they will come.’ You have to have that infrastructure out there. Otherwise, it can be the best technology out there and if a hydrogen device is really great, but you can’t fuel it, it’s not going to win, it’s not going to be an option.”

Vorhooeve agreed. “I think we can actually learn a little bit from what we’ve seen in battery vehicles. Now we know that we cannot first develop the vehicle then later the charging infrastructure; we need it right now.”

As for how hydrogen fits into the market, “I don’t think that one technology will push out the other technology,” he said. “It’ll coexist and ultimately go through to the zero-emission future.”

The OEM leaders were confident in their ability to produce capable hydrogen-powered trucks.

“We’ll have the trucks,” said O’Leary. “That’s actually I think the easier part of the equation—although my engineers and yours might shoot me on the spot saying that,” he joked. “But ultimately that’s a solvable challenge. We definitely have to get infrastructure out there so that when the truck’s ready to go, you’ll be happy to buy them and able to fuel them.”

Carlbaum agreed, saying that when it comes to developing the trucks, “it’s not that complicated,” which like O’Leary’s line drew laughs from the ACT Expo crowd.

PACT and cooperation

The OEMs also spoke about PACT, which stands for Powering America’s Commercial Transportation and is a group of industry leaders that advocates for the construction of more heavy-duty charging infrastructure.

Vallely asked about how competitors were able to come together for this common goal.

“It’s a very open mindset,” Carlbaum said, “and it would have been unthinkable five, six years ago. It’s kind of a common practice day to set this foundation together through different partnerships.”

They may be competitors, but as O’Leary put it, “this is a bigger mission; this is more important.”

Catch up with all the news from ACT Expo here.

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