July 19, 2019

Truckers at Port of Oakland expand trials of electric vehicles

Truckers at Port of Oakland expand trials of electric vehicles

Battery-powered truck vendor BYD North America to deliver two class-eight tractors by October.

By DC Velocity Staff

Third party logistics provider (3PL) GSC Logistics is expanding its use of electric trucks at the Port of Oakland, announcing plans today to add two battery-powered rigs to haul cargo on highways in addition to the electric vehicle it now uses to move containers around the port.

Oakland, Calif.-based GSC, which is the port's largest trucker, said it wants to test whether zero-emission tractors can haul cargo containers over highways in the company's ongoing efforts to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

GSC, which hauls the equivalent of 120,000 20-foot-containers annually through Oakland, began electric truck testing 18 months ago. "Our first tractor is fine moving containers around the Port...it does the job," GSC Director of Transportation Brandon Taylor said in a release. "Now we want to test these new trucks on the road - the manufacturer says they can haul fully loaded containers 55 miles per hour up a steep grade."

The company will use state grants to help acquire two 13-ton electric trucks, both with twin 241-horsepower battery-driven motors and 125-mile range per battery charge.

GSC will acquire those two trucks by October from Los Angeles-based BYD North America, a firm that calls itself the world's largest manufacturer of electric vehicles and batteries and whose name is an acronym for Build Your Dreams. Publically traded BYD says its largest public shareholder is Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company run by billionaire investor Warren Buffet, which owns an eight percent stake in the company.

To date, BYD has sold more than 45,000 battery-electric buses, as well as other vehicles including: high-efficiency automobiles, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, electric forklifts, SkyRail (monorail), energy storage, and solar power generation. The company has also sold an all-electric drayage truck to BNSF Railway Co. in a plan to reduce emissions by replacing diesel vehicles with electric and hybrid-electric alternatives.

The results of GSC's expanded trial of battery-powered tractors could factor in Oakland's stated quest for zero-emission cargo handling, the port said. Four companies already operate electric tractors near the port—including GSC, Impact Transportation, Oakland Maritime Support Services, and ConGlobal—and together they could be running as many as 20 battery-powered trucks hauling containers by year-end.

While those pilots have been delivering promising results, the project has a long way to go. The port hopes to eventually replace the 6,000 diesel tractors hauling containers with emission-free electric trucks.

Many other logistics and transportation providers share similar goals, prompting new vehicle launches in the past year from electric truck manufacturers such as Tesla, Daimler, Volvo, and Thor. Buyers of those battery-powered vehicles include many of the country's largest fleets, including UPS Inc., FedEx Corp., PepsiCo Inc., Schneider, Sysco, and Penske.

Despite that growing momentum for the new technology, the electric truck industry won't be able to claim a more substantial portion of the nation's cargo vehicles until the industry finds solutions to challenges such as bringing costs down, enabling trucks to go further on a single charge, and building a broader battery-charging infrastructure, GSC's Taylor said. "The technology and capability of electric tractors is moving fast," said Taylor. "But the ability of a truck owner-operator to buy an electric truck and have the electrical infrastructure to support it may be years away."

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