Daimler Trucks North America will be manufacturing two new models of electric heavy duty trucks at its factory in Portland.

Daimler Trucks North America will be manufacturing two new models of electric heavy duty trucks at its factory in Portland.

Courtesy of Daimler Trucks North America

As electric vehicle technology advances, trucking industry leaders say more and more pickup and delivery trucks will join a growing number of school and transit buses in going electric.

Advocates say that will greatly reduce air pollution in cities as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up the planet.

At a conference on electric vehicles Tuesday in Portland, industry leaders discussed the potential for companies to switch from diesel trucks to electric ones that can drive 200-300 miles on one charge.

Truck manufacturers like Daimler Trucks North America have already started planning for this change in heavy duty truck fleets by introducing electric truck models.

“We can see the future for battery electric right now,” said Rustam Kocher with the e-mobility group at Daimler Trucks North America. “The future is electric.”

Daimler unveiled the eCascadia and eM2 electric trucks last June and announced in April that it will be manufacturing them at its Portland factory by 2021.

Kocher said some of his company’s new electric trucks are already out on the road, though electric trucks are still limited by the range and size of the batteries, so trucks that make shorter trips are a better fit for electrification right now.

“We’re looking at local pick up and delivery food and beverage,” he said. “These are areas we would consider low-hanging fruit for electrification.”

Kocher was one of several panelists in a session on heavy duty electric trucks at this year’s Roadmap electric vehicle conference.

He said as batteries get cheaper, smaller and lighter, it will be easier for companies to make the switch to electric trucks.

He and other panelists agreed the trucking industry will need upgrades to electric infrastructure in order to charge the electric trucks of the future, and that government incentives as well as faster charging options will help get more electric trucks on the road.

Bill Van Amburg with the electric vehicle advocacy group Calstart said governments could create zones where only zero emission trucks would be allowed to deliver goods to encourage more electric truck adoption.

“In all other sectors, greenhouse gases are going down – except transportation, where they’re going up,” he said. “The fastest place they’re going up is commercial vehicles because we have an e-commerce economy right now.”

Julie Furber, a vice president with the Indiana-based engine manufacturing company Cummins, said the trucks that operate under 100 miles a day are more likely to switch to electric first, though internal combustion engine vehicles will persist “for decades to come.”

In the next five to 10 years, she said, more and more urban pickup and delivery vehicles, school and transit buses wand municipal vehicles like emergency vehicles and garbage trucks will go electric.

Samantha Houston, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said electric trucks can greatly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, solving some of the world’s “most pressing problems.”

“Everyone can benefit from eliminating tailpipe pollution – particularly those communities near a lot of truck, bus and heavy duty equipment activity,” she said. “Those communities suffer disproportionate health impacts from air pollution and can benefit most from heavy duty electrification.”