How trucks are changing for the long haul

Forget the Volt, the Leaf, the Prius, even the Tesla. An entirely different transportation revolution is happening when it comes to big rigs.

In recent years, commercial truck fleets have begun changing course, steering toward next-gen technologies that embrace electric, hybrid-electric, and other fuels instead of petro-based diesel, and innovative drive-train technologies. It’s a development that’s born partly of concerns about carbon emissions and other pollutants, but increasingly about mitigating the risk that comes from volatile and unpredictable fuel prices.

Compared to the slick ad campaigns being run by Nissan, Toyota, Chevy, and other auto makers, the greening of trucks is decidedly non-sexy -- unless you're fleet manager. But commerical trucks are a key part of the energy mix: while they represent only about 5 percent of on-road vehicles in the United States, they account for about 20 percent of fuel consumption.

A major driver is the search for alternatives to diesel. “It used to be that diesel was the only option for a fleet manager,” says John Boesel, president and CEO of Calstart, a membership group dedicated to the growth of a clean transportation technologies. “As a result, fleet managers did not have a lot of motivation to understand how all of their vehicles were actually being used. Now there are different alternative fuels and different drive trains emerging.”

Boesel stopped by the GreenBiz office last week to talk about vehicles, VERGE, and his group’s upcoming conference on high-efficiency trucks. One of the interesting things about the September 18-20 event, the 12th annual HTUF Conference and Expo, isn’t just the display of big, shiny vehicles in the parking lot. It’s a user forum, focusing not just on who’s buying the trucks, but who’s driving them, and how.

Here’s a brief video of my conversation with Boesel, part of GreenBiz’s “Counter Culture” series.



Today’s next-gen medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles fall into several categories, including hybrid-electrics, all-electrics, plug-in hybrids, and hydraulic hybrids. They range from delivery vans to utility “bucket trucks” commonly used by utility companies. The latest versions can travel to a work site on conventional fuel, then operate on battery power for several hours to operate lifts and tools, thereby eliminating idling emissions in local neighborhoods.

Next page: Driving down risk