This undercover trend is electrifying trucks

semi truck trailer electric hookup
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A closeup of a semi truck trailer electric hookup.

An overlooked trend in retail is providing a tailwind for using electric trucks to deliver goods. 

Here's what's happening: Retailers and shippers that move e-commerce goods are moving their distribution centers closer to their customers in urban and suburban areas. They're doing this partly because customers want a wider variety of goods delivered much more quickly.

As a result, more goods are being delivered by what the logistics industry calls "regional haul," or basically trucks that haul goods within a 300-mile radius. These trucks have more condensed and predictable delivery routes compared to long-haul trucking (those semi-trucks with sleeper cabs that run across state lines), but a wider range than plain ol' last-mile delivery (those UPS delivery vans outside your front door).

Truck drivers also increasingly ask for more predictable lives where they can return home most nights and not be out on the road for days, as they would if they were driving long-haul trucks. Regional trucking can help provide that nicer lifestyle, and the trucking industry, which has long coped with driver scarcity, needs to be more creative to attract and retain drivers.

This confluence of events means that the rise of regional trucking is an awesome opportunity for electrification. Today's electric trucks will have a much easier time running within a 300-mile range and returning regularly to a distribution center for charging.

regional truck

A recent report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency found that regional hauling operations are "fertile ground for alternate fueled vehicles because by their very nature they make it easier for fueling infrastructure for vehicles that use an energy source other than gasoline or diesel fuel to be installed."

In a world largely designed around fossil fuels, it's refreshing to see a future trend evolving to align with battery-powered vehicles, instead of setting up more roadblocks to scale electric trucks. Now we just need more appropriate and cost-effective regional electric trucks from the big and small manufacturers. 

NACFE lists out 10 trends that are leading to the greater use of regional trucks:

  1. Driver hiring and retention
  2. Vehicle automation
  3. Vehicle specification
  4. Data collection and mining
  5. Growth in GPS-based asset tracking
  6. Growth in e-commerce
  7. Push toward immediate delivery
  8. Advances in hybrid, EV and low-carbon trucking tech
  9. Innovations in load matching
  10. Increased use of long combination vehicles

As we addressed in a webinar last month, shipping emissions are the big hidden environmental cost of on-demand e-commerce. They're even more hidden than that stack of cardboard boxes piling up in the corner near your front door. Shipping emissions are also just really complicated to trim.

As EDF's Aileen Nowlan writes on GreenBiz this week: "What happens behind-the-scenes to get a package delivered to your door is taking a toll on our planet and our health." She points out that freight is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases as well as a major source of local air pollution. 

Oracle's chief sustainability officer, Jon Chorley, writes in a recent whitepaper: "To meet the two-day or even one-day shipping expectations that infrastructure requires more distribution centers, more short-haul deliveries, more packaging, and all of that generates more emissions." 

We'll be exploring this topic and others like it at VERGE 19 (our summer savings rate ends Friday, and if you register before then you save 35 percent).