Dec 4, 2020 - Economy

Clean trucks are paving the road to the electric vehicle era

Electric truck

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The electric vehicle revolution is underway, led by the un-sexiest of plug-in models: the commercial truck.

Why it matters: Growing demand for cleaner trucks means 2021 will be a pivotal year for electric vehicles — just not the kind you might have expected.

Driving the news: With transportation now the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, governments and corporations are embracing new sustainability goals.

  • Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. this summer announced a plan to require all new trucks, vans and buses in their states be electric by 2050.

The impact of the pandemic is adding to the urgency: E-commerce has exploded while people have been staying home, putting more polluting trucks on the road.

  • "Amazon could become the world's single biggest entity for emissions" — aside from China's coal plants, the firm's automotive analyst Adam Jonas told attendees at an online conference Thursday.
  • That's why the giant retailer's sweeping climate change strategy includes an aggressive plan to deploy 100,000 electric delivery trucks by 2030, he noted.

What's happening: Leading truck manufacturers are rolling out a bevy of electric models ranging from local delivery trucks and beverage haulers to garbage trucks and long-haul semi-trucks.

  • The latest is Volvo's new VNR electric model, a regional hauler with a range of up to 150 miles that can be recharged in a little over an hour. Launched Thursday after two years of pilot tests, it will go into production early next year in Virginia.
  • Freightliner, Tesla and China's BYD are among other companies bringing electric big rigs to market in the next year or so.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, Ford just introduced its E-Transit cargo van, which goes on sale late next year, and GM is reportedly planning an electric delivery van, too.
  • A slew of startups are also rushing into the electric truck space, including Rivian, Arrival and Nikola.

One company that hasn't gotten much attention until now is Lion Electric, which got its start selling electric school buses and has 300 already on the road.

  • The Canadian company has been around since 2008 — about as long as Tesla — and just announced plans to go public via reverse merger with Northern Genesis Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
  • After the deal, which gives it access to $500 million in new capital, Lion will be worth an estimated $1.9 billion.
  • The company has a multi-year purchase agreement with an unnamed customer to buy up to 2,500 electric trucks between now and 2025. As part of the deal, Lion issued the customer a warrant to buy just under 20% of the company.
  • The first 10 trucks are going to Amazon. It also has orders from CN and Waste Connections, among others.
  • The trucks will be manufactured at Lion's Canadian facility, which can produce up to 2,500 per year, but with funds raised through the SPAC deal, Lion plans to open a much larger factory in the U.S.

The bottom line: Consumers might still be reticent about electric cars, but the momentum for electric trucks is growing.

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