When discussing how to think about the future of commercial vehicles, it’s pretty clear that whatever we thought about commercial vehicles in the past is about to change—dramatically. Whether we’re talking about new technologies, new powertrains, new fuels, or new legislation and regulations, everything is going through a drastic transformation. And it will continue to evolve and change, so it behooves us to look at what’s coming down the pike.

For years, the commercial vehicle market didn’t change much, which has been great for business owners regarding total cost of ownership (TCO) forecasting. They’ve been able to project TCO reasonably accurately, and with telematics, which has been around for quite a few years, they’ve been predicting service and maintenance schedules. But we are entering a new era.

“Environmentalism, climate consciousness, climate change, greenhouse gasses, CO2 emissions and carbon offsets, energy dependence, these ideas have already become part of our social fabric,” explains Gregory Skinner, Vice President, Strategic Insights at Escalent. “These terms are on everybody’s tongue and social conscience. We need to embrace this because it is not going away. In fact, it’s just ramping up.”


The Zero-Emissions Proposition

According to Skinner, government predictions for the adoption rate of zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) in the commercial market will grow from one-tenth of one percent in 2021 to more than 18% by 2030. That projection is based on mandates alone. Take market and peer influences into account, and that number could be significantly higher.

Charging infrastructure

“The AFDC government body [reports that there] are 53,000 level two and DC fast chargers out there in the market right now,” says Skinner. “We’re going to need significantly more [charging stations], but that’s not a small number [and the infrastructure market] is gaining traction.”

Transitional chaos

“I go to [quite a few] conferences, expos, and symposia, and we listen to the chatter and what’s happening in trade media. And the prediction right now, or the word on the street, is… chaos. Everybody’s saying ‘This is so chaotic we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what’s happening, how is [the commercial zero-emissions] market possibly going to grow?’”

Yes, more commercial ZEVs are becoming available all the time. And yes, more charging stations are coming online all the time. But by all appearances, more of both are needed to meet looming deadlines and subsequent demand. To say nothing of power grid and battery supply questions.

Adoption reservations

Another fly in the ZEV adoption ointment is that with technology changing so quickly, many business owners are taking a wait-and-see approach to investing.

Larger organizations may also be reluctant to invest in building out infrastructure until it’s clear which technology will be the most prevalent. In other words, which technology will provide the quickest and best ROI.

But is there a better way to think about the tsunami of disruption?

Room For Alt-Fuel Diversity

“We can anticipate the future to be a mixed fuel world,” says Skinner. “Meaning you can’t possibly have just one solution for every application.”

Indeed, EV, fuel cell electric, hydrogen ICE, CNG, RNG, and propane are all perfectly viable, clean, and financially sensible, depending on the application. Apparently, that is a growing consensus within the industry itself.

“It’s interesting that at events like the ACT Expo or Work Truck Week, this is probably the first year ever where I’ve heard speakers say that it’s not just about electric,” revealed Skinner. “It is a bunch of different solutions that end users will be able to pick and choose from.”

Fortunately, there’s a virtuous cycle where change drives innovation, spawning various ideas and solutions. And with that comes competition, which is always a good thing as competition leads to lower prices and more variety and options.

Access the full playlist of all of the presentations/panel discussions from the Commercial Vehicle Business Summit Spring 2023.