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Last month the mayor of London announced that he would be allocating £123,306 to support plans to loan electric vans and lorries to businesses in Croydon town centre. This plan (which is designed to reduce pollution in the area) is not revolutionary, but does demonstrate an ongoing desire to shift towards electric alternatives to traditional vehicles. But what should you expect from electric lorries, and will we ever see them being widely used in the supply chain?

Why electric?

Electric and hybrid cars are well established in the automotive industry with notable examples like the Toyota Prius surpassing 9 million cumulative units sold worldwide last year. Lorries however, are not as easily converted to electric mainly due to their size. Batteries have always been the sticking point. Up until recently to power a long distance freight truck, the battery needed would be either too heavy for the truck to move or would be so large that there wouldn't be enough room for freight. Both scenarios are completely impractical for businesses.

Nevertheless, development into electric or hybrid lorries continues to move at pace. The business case for these types of vehicles is clear with lorries like the 'Nikola One' (scheduled for release in 2020) claiming to be able to deliver two to three times better fuel economy than their diesel counterparts. With increased pressure from governments to reduce emissions in supply chains, it's unsurprising that this technology is gaining a lot of interest.

What is the technology currently able to achieve?

The manufacturers of electric lorries make some bold claims about what they are able to achieve. Daimler's test truck is said to have achieved an average fuel economy of 12.2 miles per gallon in an independent test, while Mercedes - Benz's 'eTruck' claims to have a single charge range of 124 miles. Of course, these figures were achieved in a test environment and the impact of real road conditions with congestion and other external factors could have a significant impact on performance.

What is the downside?

Electric lorries may save money in fuel, but they are far more expensive to purchase outright. For example the 'eTruck' mentioned above is $110,000 (£87,802) more expensive than its diesel equivalent. In the long run, the expectation is cost saving would be achieved through burning less fuel, but this would only be the case if the truck's battery doesn't need replacing. If it does, the cost for a new battery would be over £50,000.

What's next?

The technology needs more development before it could be rolled out effectively in the supply chain. It is also important to note that even when the technology is better, your entire fleet wouldn't go electric overnight. Smaller vans would probably be the first vehicles to switch while the larger articulated lorries are some way off.

However, electric lorries won't be a technology we can ignore for long. With fuel prices set to steadily rise and increased pressure from governments to cut emissions, it makes sense for electric vehicles to become more common. For now it is up to the manufacturers to keep developing the technology and back up their ambitious claims.