Electric, Hydrogen, and Battery-Powered Trucks, Oh My!

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Hear ye, hear ye: the trucks of the future are finally on their way.

(Spoiler alert: Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Doc and Marty, these futuristic trucks do not fly. I know…we’re disappointed, too.)

Here’s the scoop: The trucks of the future may not fly, but they also aren’t confined to traditional fuel options. That’s right – alternative fuels are no longer a pipe dream or a “maybe someday” for the industry. Actually, some of them are, dare we say it…going mainstream. As some of you may recall, California is even enacting laws to ensure that all trucks make the switch to alternative fuel by 2035, and other states are looking to follow suit.

But what are these trucks that rely on the mythical alternative fuels, and how will they really change life at your shop?

Let’s take a look.

WHY DO WE NEED ALTERNATIVE FUELS, ANYWAY?

The push for new fuel is largely driven by the desire to cut emissions and therefore reduce pollution. There are also a number of benefits (and some drawbacks) to these new fuels, as described in CCJ Digital. Some of these pros and cons include:

PROS

Reduction in ownership costs, as electricity is fairly cheap.
Greater innovation throughout the industry as manufacturers experiment with engines and power sources.
Lots of power; drivers are reporting that many electric trucks go zoom!

CONS

The infrastructure isn’t there yet. We’ll need to build a lot of charging stations.
The trucks themselves are more expensive. You might spend less over the course of the vehicle’s life, but you will shell out more cash to begin with.

Repairs are a whole new ballgame. As the new technology rolls out and becomes common, techs and shops will need to educate themselves and get ready to work on these vehicles.

And that’s just scratching on the surface.

As noted above, states like California are trying to legislate their way to new fuels. While there has been some pushback from the industry, most manufacturers and numerous fleets have committed to producing alternative fuel vehicles.

THE FUEL OF THE FUTURE

There are many alternative fuels out there, but we’re going to focus on the four that are getting a lot of attention.

Electric: You’ve probably heard the most about electric vehicles. They come in a few flavors; some are electric-only, while others have a hybrid setup of electric diesel components. The electric-only options have a set range of miles they can usually reach before they need to be plugged in and recharged (or, alternatively, some may come with a traditional fuel engine to switch over to). We generally have the technology to make these happen; the problems are a) getting more mileage out of each charge, and b) setting up charging stations across the country.

Some of the manufacturers building these electric beauties include Tesla, Thor, and Volvo.

Hydrogen: The proposed hydrogen-powered trucks would emit water vapor and would be very, very quiet. Hydrogen fuel would be converted into electricity, which would then be pumped into the battery powering the engine. Hydrogen faces the same problem as electric: besides needing more development, there’s also a lack of refueling infrastructure.

Companies building or experimenting with hydrogen trucks include Nikola and Toyota.

Biodiesel & Renewable Diesel: Runs like diesel, but it’s made from something besides dinosaur bones. Renewable diesel may be made from algae, for example, while biodiesel may be developed from cooking or vegetable oil.

Some of the manufacturers tinkering with biodiesel include GMC, Hino, and Isuzu.

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG): While they’re not as powerful as diesel-fueled semis, LNG-powered vehicles theoretically burn cleaner, and thus don’t propel as much waste into the atmosphere. The fuel is also cheaper, though you’ll need more of it to obtain the range of a standard diesel truck. Research continues; companies like Cummins Westport continue to build LNG engines.

THE FUEL OF THE FUTURE NEEDS THE SHOP OF THE FUTURE

One thing is for sure about these new technologies: you and your techs will need new skill sets to maintain and repair them. Not only will you address entirely new components; you’ll also have to address how existing components change as they integrate with the new ones.

So how can your shop stay ahead? Here are a couple of tips that we can confidently share even now, before the majority of these new vehicles are on the road.

Update certifications and know who is trained to work on what.

It should go without saying that your crew will need to learn how to work on new components. Depending on how quickly new vehicles are phased in, you might be looking at sending a tech or two back to school at a time to ensure they’re fully trained up on these vehicles. As time goes on and the industry continues to transition over, you may find yourself needing to keep track of which of your techs are qualified to work on, say, a new hydrogen truck and which are diesel-only.

Devote at least one bay to electric-only vehicles.

Fleet Equipment Mag brings up an important issue: with new equipment comes new safety gear. Get the appropriate high-voltage signs, masks, and tools, and consider setting aside one bay for electric vehicles only. That way, all necessary equipment is kept in one place, and the techs who are working on the newer vehicles won’t have to lose valuable working time by wandering around the shop in search of the right tools (or roll a charger from bay to bay, which can be dangerous).

INTO THE FUTURE WE GO

It’s true: we don’t have the flying cars and trucks promised to us by Back to the Future. But we do have a growing number of alternative propulsion methods that will eventually be more efficient and better for the environment than our current diesel lineup. And the new lineup will continue to change and expand as technology advances and manufacturers try new things.

No matter what direction the industry ends up taking, repair shops just like yours will be a critical component to keeping heavy-duty vehicles on the road, in the field, or occasionally on the water. Make sure you’re ready to take on the duties of maintaining and repairing alternative fuel vehicles by running a tight ship from the start. Fullbay can help you do just that, leaving you with more time to obtain the right training and certifications to work on these new trucks. Try out our free demo today – we’ll see you in the future!

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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