Last month, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer Trevor Pawl outlined what the future of commercial vehicles looks like in a LinkedIn article shared to his network. He provided insight on the importance of commercial fleets to our economy, and the push for them to become fully electric and to create a cleaner, more sustainable environment. Some of the key points Trevor highlighted in his article:

Climate change has intensified our desire for a future with zero emissions as COVID-19-related supply shocks have intensified our desire for faster, automated supply chains.

Medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks will usher in this new era of mobility.

One of the first executive orders announced by the Biden administration was to replace 645,000 federal fleet vehicles with American-made EVs. A great initiative, both for carbon neutrality and U.S. manufacturing job creation, but most experts predict this fleet overhaul will take years before completion.

The USPS recently announced an overhaul of its fleet – the first in three decades – will begin with 10 percent of the fleet being electric vs. internal combustion engine vehicles before fully transitioning to all electric down the line.

For fleet owners and electrification-focused supply chains, transitioning fleets to electric is an enormous, layered commercial opportunity. Strong public-private partnerships are imperative to these efforts and are the mechanism by which fleet electrification is successful.

The focus on medium-duty fleet electrification is strategic as it will have the greatest near-term impact on air quality in the most affected areas of the country. And it will drive demand for advanced battery technologies. This will lead to innovations that will lower EV component manufacturing costs and bring about EV price parity (which is the largest barrier to EV adoption).

As far as work vehicles, light-duty truck transition can guide efforts with medium-duty. ~60% of F-150 pickup buyers, many of whom use their vehicles for business, chose more fuel-efficient V-6 engines in 2020 if given the opportunity. This is evidence that the industry and targeted programming can convert small business owners.

For heavy-duty trucks, much like airplanes, they will be harder to electrify. In a recent blog post, Bill Gates points out that “the problem is that batteries are big and heavy. The more weight you’re trying to move, the more batteries you need to power the vehicle. But the more batteries you use, the more weight you add—and the more power you need. Even with big breakthroughs in battery technology, electric vehicles will probably never be a practical solution for things like 18-wheelers, cargo ships, and passenger jets. Electricity works when you need to cover short distances, but we need a different solution for heavy, long-haul vehicles.”

However, all is not lost in these heavy-duty situations. There are solutions that can leveraged. Michigan-based Remora has created hardware-based technology that captures the carbon emissions from a semi-truck and sells the captured carbon dioxide to concrete producers and other end users. Through a reimbursement model, truck owners earn new revenue while meeting their climate commitments. Remora’s device retrofits onto existing trucks, mounting between the truck and its trailer, attaching to its tailpipes, and capturing at least 80% of its carbon emissions.

Autonomous capabilities for long and short-haul trucking continue to gain momentum and funding.

Shipping innovations are changing how smart infrastructure will impact state economies. Autonomous technology alone is expected to reduce logistics costs by 47% by 2030.

Widespread adoption of self-driving trucks will likely require “autonomous truck ports” (ATPs) located near major interstate exits where local human drivers bring trailers from factories or warehouses. And then swap the trailers over to autonomous tractors for long stretches of highway driving.

One of the biggest concerns with increased automation in trucking is job displacement. It is our responsibility to ensure the right policy frameworks and training programs are in place for the 21st century trucking workforce. Any funded public-private partnership cannot only focus on deploying autonomous technology as swiftly as possible. The autonomous movement of goods needs to focus on two critical aspects.

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