Electric trucks, buses not ready for prime time

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Electric trucks, buses not ready for prime time

With fossil fuel vehicles increasingly in the crosshairs of regulatory agencies around the globe, commercial automakers are accelerating their development of electric trucks and buses, but the emerging technology still faces hurdles.

And particularly for truckers and bus drivers, whose work is time-sensitive and often requires driving longer distances, the existing electric options are limited.

Many European commercial automakers are already introducing electric trucks and buses as Europe and other major markets tighten restrictions on emissions.

The European Union plans to lower its allowable carbon dioxide emissions for commercial vehicles to 30 percent of the current level by 2030. Commercial automakers have been steadily trying to reduce emissions levels from their fossil fuel vehicles but say the new regulatory standard simply isn’t going to work.

MAN Truck & Bus unveiled its purely electric 15-ton truck, the CitE, during the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2018, a model that boasts a maximum output of 290 kilowatts and a 6-ton load capacity. The truck tops out at 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour, which is enough for urban transport.

Mercedes-Benz Trucks is preparing to mass-produce an 18.25-ton model, the eActros, which can be fully charged within two hours. And Volvo Trucks now offers an electric version of its commercial truck FL, which officially started sales last year.

Korean commercial automakers are also in the race as well. Last month, five local electric vehicle companies gathered in Gunsan, North Jeolla, to officially launch the electric vehicle cluster.

Edison Motors and four other companies plan to begin producing electric trucks and buses within this year at Gunsan, a city that has suffered economically in the wake of GM Korea and Hyundai Heavy Industries pulling out.

They have announced plans to invest more than 400 billion won ($338 million) through 2022 to produce 177,000 units of electric vehicles, with the lineup consisting of electric buses, trucks, delivery vehicles and golf carts.

But experts aren’t so sure whether electric trucks will be the product of choice for companies and drivers alike.

Many commercial automakers are aiming for refuel times of less than two hours, which is prohibitively longer than the 10 minutes it takes for most truck and bus drivers to fill up with conventional fuel.

For that reason, they say that electric versions are more suited for inner-city deliveries.

Some also believe that hydrogen fuel-cell versions could be the way to go for large-size trucks in the future. Those vehicles can travel longer distances than electric ones, making the emerging technology especially desirable for deliveries between cities.

To tackle that expected demand, Hyundai Motor announced Sunday it plans to launch hydrogen fuel-cell trucks by 2023. The company is working with the Yeosu Gwangyang Port Authority to make the new technology commercially viable.

Under the agreement, Hyundai Motor will develop two hydrogen fuel-cell trucks by 2023 and 10 more product options a year later. The port authority will construct hydrogen recharging stations on its territory.

Hyundai expects the proposed fuel-cell truck to be able to travel about 320 kilometers per charge.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]

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