In early April, David Gurrola Jr. got behind the wheel of an electric semi and took it for a spin.
The southern San Diego–based trucker liked the way it looked and he liked the way it drove — the hulking vehicle accelerated smoothly like a car, he said. He was impressed.
But at this point, buying an electric truck makes no sense for Gurrola, a driver and small-business owner with two trucks and one employee. The cost of an electric truck, even with federal tax incentives, is out of reach, he said.
Even if he could afford one, there are few places for a driver like him to charge an electric truck, and the limited range he can drive on a single charge — maybe a couple of hundred miles — wouldn’t work for his daily trips to the Port of Long Beach. “Round trip from San Diego for me, it’s 234 miles,” he said. “That means on one trip, somewhere coming back south to San Diego, I have to find a charging station just to get enough power to get back home.”
And the two loads he’s currently running per day? “That becomes absolutely impossible with an electric truck,” he said. “That would make a huge impact on my business. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a business for me anymore. It would literally cut my revenue in half.”
Whether or not they make business sense for truckers like Gurrola, new California Air Resources Board, or CARB, regulations will begin forcing Golden State trucking companies big and small to add only electric trucks to their fleets starting in January, all part of a statewide mandate to slash greenhouse gases and to fight climate change.
The regulations are targeted at larger fleets — those with 50 or more trucks or that have $50 million or more in gross annual revenues — as well as at any firms or independent truckers who do drayage work in the state’s major seaports and rail yards. Starting January 1, those businesses will only be allowed to add zero-emission trucks to their fleets. Diesel trucks registered with the state by December 31 can be grandfathered in for a while.
By 2035, all trucks entering the California seaports and intermodal rail yards must be zero-emission vehicles, according to the regulations.
California leaders have pointed at the new rules, as well as similar regulations aimed at truck manufacturers, as critical in their commitment to protect the communities near the ports from pollution and to combat climate change. “The future happens here first, and California is once again showing the world what real climate action looks like,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in April.
California regulators insist that zero-emission tractors are already available and capable of meeting most regional and local trucking needs, and that reduced fuel costs and lowered maintenance costs for electric trucks will save fleets money in the long run.
Count Gurrola as skeptical.
“It’s completely, totally impractical,” Gurrola said of the requirements, a sentiment shared by other truckers, business leaders, and industry advocates who spoke with National Review.
They argue that the up-front costs of electric trucks and charging equipment are too steep, particularly for small firms and independent drivers. They say that the technology is too new to rely on, and the limited range of the electric trucks won’t work for companies whose drivers travel long distances. And they doubt that the state will be able to ramp up the charging infrastructure fast enough; a massive effort that will not only require building enough high-powered chargers but also ensuring that they’re strategically installed in the right places and that there is enough capacity during peak charging times.
There were fewer than 300 electric trucks on California roads last year. Under the regulations, there will need to be more than half a million by 2035.
“I’ve been working on air-board regulations for close to 13 years now. I’ve never seen a rule where there will probably be nearly zero precent compliance because it’s just not possible to figure out a way around some of these intractable issues around the technology,” said Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of government affairs with the California Trucking Association.
“Something’s going to have to give,” he said. “I don’t know at what point that is going to be. But CARB just putting their head down and expecting a miracle to happen, it’s not a way to be responsible in setting policies like this.”
If the rules are unachievable for the average trucker, he said, “they might as well be saying, ‘Hey, build a spaceship and go to Mars.’”
Jeff Cox, president and co-owner of Madera-based Best Drayage in Northern California said that electric trucks make no sense yet for his business, which runs over 100 trucks a day hauling agricultural products into the Port of Oakland. While the state claims that most drayage trucks drive fewer than 60 miles per day, virtually all of Best Drayage’s drivers, and the independent drivers who work with them, drive more than 300 miles per day, farther than they can go on a single charge.
“What I need is a truck on one charge that can do a round trip, 500 miles. And that doesn’t exist,” Cox said. In addition, he said, “we need public charging stations right off the highway.” He added, “The land alone is an issue. Where is this going to be? Will it be conveniently located? Will it be enough? . . . And then what happens when everybody is charging at the same time?”
While fueling a diesel truck can take a half hour to an hour, Cox said, charging an electric truck can keep it idle for several critical hours at a time. Add in time to load the trucks, to drive a few hundred miles, to wait in line at the port, and to unload, and “it’s impossible,” Cox said.
“What they’re doing is saying, basically, this is going to be a 20-hour workday,” he said.
California’s energy commission has estimated that to meet demand imposed by the new regulations, it will need more than 150,000 new charges dedicated to trucks by 2030. That’s the equivalent of installing 300 to 500 chargers per week, Shimoda said.
And it’s not like just throwing in a few new electric-car chargers at the mall. The energy required to charge electric trucks, and to charge them fast, is immense, and can put intense strain on the electrical grid and the individual electrical circuits. In many cases, building out the infrastructure behind the scenes will involve building new roadside substations, which can take years and is the equivalent of siting large factories, Shimoda said.
“We think we know charging because of cars. It’s a significantly different engineering problem at the end of the day,” Shimoda said.
Shimoda said he believes the state should have started with final-mile and e-commerce delivery trucks — the trucks that drive the shortest distances and that start from and return to the same location, where they can be plugged in overnight to slower-speed chargers, protecting the grid.
He noted that many independent truckers likely won’t have a home base with a charger.
“I’ve got owner-operators in my town who park at the apartment that they live in. And they park on the street outside the apartment. How do you accommodate that sort of use?” he said. “You’re not going to call your landlord and say, ‘I need a 350 kilowatt DC fast charger.’ They’re not going to do that. Neither is the utility for that matter.”
“They are going to need some sort of retail charging, your classic gas-station model,” he added.
Gurrola, the San Diego trucker, said there are a couple of public charging stations about ten miles from his home near the southern border. But, he said, truckers can’t just plug in and leave their trucks overnight.
“You can imagine, if I had one of those [electric] trucks, I’d have to drive ten miles down to the border, sit there for about two hours to get a full charge, and then drive all the way back to L.A.,” Gurrola said.
Shimoda said anyone buying an electric truck — either to add to their fleet or because they need to replace a truck that breaks down or becomes obsolete — should come in with no expectation that the charging infrastructure will be built out in the near future.
“There is no exemption from the rule if you are waiting for the Pilot Flying J centers of the world to make charging available. You’re just supposed to buy a truck and hope that someone creates charging infrastructure,” he said.
That, he added, could make it hard for an owner operator to get financing for a new truck.