When most folks think of the electrification of transportation, they naturally think about electric cars. And all those new models coming out — from Ford's Mach-e to Volkswagen's ID.4 — are super exciting.
But of equal importance is all those other vehicles big and small that aren't carrying passengers on commutes or to the local Starbucks, but that are toiling behind the scenes. Vehicles such as the big rigs that carry goods across state lines, vans that drop off packages at your front door, garbage trucks that pick up our waste or the forklifts that move pallets across the floor in warehouses.
Electrifying these commercial vehicles will be potentially even more important than passenger vehicles for reducing carbon emissions and for cleaning up local air pollution. There are also more incentives for fleet managers to adopt these battery-powered vehicles, because in a growing amount of cases, electric vehicles can save companies money over using diesel power.
Battery-powered commercial vehicles also highlight the power of the lithium-ion battery in a unique way. The technology — at its cheapest and most powerful state in history — can offer various configurations, whether that's moving a huge semi-truck or propelling a compact cargo bike.
Tesla's Model Y is cool. But electrifying the long tail of commercial transportation is just as awesome. (If you want to learn more about the electrification of transportation, make sure to register for VERGE Electrify, an online event May 25 and 26 focused on the electrification of everything).
Here are five battery-powered commercial vehicles I'm excited about.
Electric tractors: Yep, those diesel-powered tractors plowing farms across America could be powered by batteries one day. A startup called Solectrac is making what it calls the first commercially available electric tractor, which can run (quietly and cleanly) for three to six hours on a single charge and can be charged in under four hours.
The company just delivered one of its e-tractors to musician Jack Johnson to be used on a farm on the north shore of Oahu.
Electric delivery and cargo vans: The electrification of last-mile delivery vans is tipping this year as big consumer-facing logistics brands such as UPS, Amazon, FedEx and DHL look to clean up their operations. Across the globe, this type of vehicle can save companies significant money on operating costs, including diesel fuel costs, maintenance costs and the costs of replacing brakes.
This class of vehicles also can be tweaked for midsize and small-business owners to move goods around town, whether that's a flower shop or a bakery. Scooter company Spin announced this week that it's electrifying the vans that pick up and charge its scooter networks.
Electric big rigs: While battery-powered electric semi trucks are still in the early stages of development, they're making major strides and garnering increased attention. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency is running a program this year looking at the real-world operations of 13 electric trucks. Last week, the Department of Energy announced $100 million in funding for clean truck projects through its SuperTruck 3 program.
Tesla is delivering its first electric Semi's to customers including PepsiCo later this year.
Electric garbage trucks: No matter where you live, being awoken at 5 a.m. by a garbage truck idling outside of your home is a common occurrence. But not when they're battery-powered. Electric garbage trucks are just beginning to hit the streets of cities and can collect the contents of trash cans much more quietly than diesel-powered ones.
The sanitation department of Los Angeles and New York are moving aggressively to adopt electric garbage trucks made by companies such as Mack Truck, BYD, Lion Electric, Daimler and Peterbilt.
Electric bucket trucks: Whenever your local utility has to drive out to a power pole or line and fix some kind of hardware, utility workers jump into the humble bucket truck. Utilities such as ConEdison are buying electric bucket trucks for a few reasons: They're quiet and better for the drivers, they can save money on diesel costs and they help utilities learn more about working with fleets on electric charging projects.