California readies nation’s first electric truck sales and reporting mandate

electric trucks

Experts urge California fleets to take advantage of clean truck incentives — and to prepare for zero-emission sales, reporting and purchasing requirements

A couple of years ago, the asset and administration manager at Bolthouse Farms took a look at the company’s aging yard fleet and decided that replacing the vehicles with electric trucks would be a smart cost savings move, in addition to the environmental benefits that would come from switching to zero-emissions vehicles. 

So Bolthouse, a company specializing in refrigerated beverages, added five electric yard trucks to its fleet over the past two years, while at the same time purchasing a new diesel equivalent.

Then the number crunching began. Compared to the diesel truck deployed at the same time, the electric yard trucks, manufactured by Orange EV, averaged 75% less downtime due to maintenance and 80% less in repair costs. 

To wit: The diesel truck spent 522 hours in the shop, compared to 134 hours for the electric truck. The diesel model cost $3.93 an hour to operate, compared to 78 cents for the zero-emissions vehicle. Diesel fuel cost $15,750 annually; electric charging costs clocked in at $1,575.

“Those numbers are pretty impressive,” said Nick Chase, Bolthouse’s asset manager. “In the case of Bolthouse Farms, the advantages of electric terminal tractors have been demonstrated.”

Landmark electric truck rule coming down the pike

Chase was one of several speakers who participated in a webinar this week on clean truck incentives and regulations in California’s Central Valley. The seminar, hosted by ACT News and Valley Fleet Support, took place two weeks before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is expected to approve a landmark rule requiring truck manufacturers to sell a certain percent of electric vehicles in California starting in 2024.

That rule, four years in the making, won’t require fleets to purchase electric trucks. But it does include a fleet reporting requirement, and that information will be used to shape a future purchasing requirement matching the OEM sales rule, said Rebecca Schenker, program director for Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, a clean energy and transportation firm. 

The deadline for fleets to comply with the reporting requirement would be April 2021 under the new rule. “The big takeaway for fleets in California is that you’ll have nine months to pull together vehicle and spec operations for California facilities,” Schenker said during the webinar. “So get started now.”

Navigating clean truck incentives

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control district, made up of eight counties in California’s Central Valley, has invested around $2.8 billion in pollution reduction projects over the past two decades, but the region continues to be “severely affected” by transportation emissions, said David Lopez, senior air quality specialist for the district. 

The agency’s clean truck incentive programs, often used in conjunction with state programs, are designed to further reduce commercial vehicle emissions, he said, with a focus on improving air quality for low-income and disadvantaged communities who are disproportionately affected by regional truck pollution. 

California’s tangle of emissions incentives (and regulations) can be difficult to parse.

Lopez unpacked a few of them. He said one of the district’s most successful programs, the clean truck replacement program, recently received $200 million in new funding from California’s cap-and-trade program.

Through that program truck owners who scrap an older truck can receive a 2010 or newer truck at no cost.

Among the “carrots” offered by the district is a truck trade-up incentive for fleets with trucks that are in compliance with California’s Truck and Bus rule but who want to graduate into alternative fuel vehicles. The program offers up to $200,000 for zero-emission class 8 trucks, Lopez said.

The newest program is the electric yard truck replacement program, aimed at replacing old high-polluting diesel units with new zero-emission electrical units. Among the eligibility criteria: The existing truck must be outfitted with a 2009 or older model diesel engine; the new truck must be equipped with a zero-emission electric motor, and it must be put into service prior to old truck’s compliance.

The old truck must be destroyed, Lopez said.

Lowering costs, and emissions

Clean vehicle incentive programs brought down the cost of Bolthouse electric yard trucks such that the initial investment was only slightly higher than that of the diesel truck, according to Chase. And that premium disappeared in light of the maintenance and fuel cost savings. The company also benefits from greater driver satisfaction and sustainability branding, Chase said, as the EV trucks are more comfortable, quieter and less polluting.

Not that there aren’t challenges associated with bringing zero-emissions vehicles into operations.

Electric motors are designed to pull in air to cool the equipment, but that system didn’t work in the humid Bolthouse environment, where water intruded on the electric motor, Chase explained. Within 24 hours of identifying the problem, Orange EV retrofitted motors to push air out, he said, a rapid response time that highlighted the importance of having the manufacturer as a working partner. “You will face challenges that are unique to your application,” he said.

The stick

Whether or not fleets invest in clean trucks now, they will have to comply with the new fleet reporting requirement under the ACT rule, Schenker said. 

“If you had a heavy-duty vehicle and a facility in California in 2019, you probably need to report,” she said, qualifying that the mandate applies only to companies with at least $50 million in nationwide revenues. The report will need to include basic information about each facility: how many trailers are domiciled, the address, plus operating characteristics for all the vehicles. 

Reiterating that CARB will use this reporting to develop a zero-emission fleet purchasing rule, Schenker encouraged carriers to stay informed about workshops related to the rule, to take place this summer. CARB is targeting 2024 as the year when the largest fleets in California will need to do zero-emissions fleet purchasing, she said.

CARB will hold a public hearing and vote on the ACT rule June 25.

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