Tesla and Nikola have both announced zero-emission semi trucks. The Tesla Semi will be battery electric, while Nikola is planning three models powered by hydrogen fuel cells. But the time they arrive, established truck makers may have already launched rival vehicles.
PACCAR, which includes the DAF, Peterbilt, and Kenworth truck brands, has already deployed over 60 battery-electric, hybrid, and fuel-cell prototypes in real-world use, and is working on a strategy for larger-scale deployment of zero-emission vehicles, CEO Preston Feight said in an interview with Trucks.com published Monday.
Some of those vehicles, such as a battery-electric DAF garbage truck and two Peterbilt cargo-truck models, are smaller than the semi trucks Tesla and Nikola plan to build.
But Peterbilt also has experience with Toyota using a heavy-duty all-electric semi running on energy from a fuel-cell, but it has said that the same propulsion components can be used for a battery-electric model.
That flexibility will be incorporated into manufacturing plans for future production models, Feight said. PACCAR plans to start production of battery-electric trucks next year at existing factories, and will sell these vehicles through its existing dealership network, he said.
2019 Project Portal Truck--Kenworth/PACCAR
In addition to PACCAR, Freightliner has already built electric semi trucks for a fleet test. Volvo Trucks (a separate entity from the automaker) has said it will bring electric trucks to North America as well.
This is very different than what Tesla faced on the car side when the Model S arrived—to a market in which it was literally the only long-range electric car.
Tesla announced last week that it will build the Semi in Texas, while Nikola broke ground last week on an Arizona plant that is due to build hydrogen fuel-cell semis in a couple of years.
As PACCAR CEO Feight mentioned, truck makers are hyper-focused on cost of ownership, which is the key consideration for commercial vehicles. Tesla was able to fill a niche in passenger cars that was ignored by established automakers, but what can it and Nikola offer that existing truck makers don't?