UC Berkeley report on electric trucks for urban freight: it is a feasible!

Truck traffic today is generating congestion and is responsible for a disproportionate share of transport externalities. For example, while trucks may only represent a small share of the traffic in urban areas, they generate more than half of overall emissions for specific contaminants.

One of the approaches to contend with these issues is to promote the use of new technologies and alternative fuel pathways. The California Sustainable Freight Action Plan (California Governor’s Office, 2016), for example, identified this measure as a priority, and set the following goals to address the various impacts:

  • Improve freight system efficiency measured by the relationship between the economic contribution of some freight industries and the generated environmental emissions.
  • Introduce zero and near-zero emission vehicles and equipment.
  • Improve its economic competitiveness.



A new UC Berkeley report presents economic, financial, technological, operational, and behavioral challenges to achieve these sustainability goals. For instance, fostering the use of zero and near-zero emission vehicles must address the fact that the companies and supply chains in the system have different fleet ownership, operations, and finance models. Consequently, there are a wide range of factors that would affect achieving the efficiency gains, and the penetration of zero or near-zero emission vehicles in their fleets. Moreover, vehicles have different uses throughout their lifetimes, and the drivetrain configurations may only fit a specific vocation.

Considering the growing importance of the last mile and how the vehicles are serving even more densely populated areas (compared to the long-haul transport), this work conducts an empirical assessment of the economic and driving patterns of trucks in these delivery vocations. The work concentrates on parcel deliveries, as they are typically used to transport the goods resulting from the rapidly growing e-commerce demand.

Life-cycle assessment

A new report evaluates the performance by analyzing real driving data from parcel fleets, and use the data to conduct life-cycle assessments (LCA) to estimate the various impacts. This report presents:

  • A comparison analysis between parcel delivery driving data with other delivery vocations to identify different freight patterns. The analyses show the differences and similarities between the driving patterns when using different drivetrains for a number of parcel delivery vocations.
  • Estimation of delivery tour length distributions (TLDs), and specific fuel consumption (SFC) for different drivetrains and vehicle classes.
  • Estimate the total cost of ownership (TCO), including externalities, of different truck technologies under numerous scenarios that assume changes in fuel efficiency and incentives of certain drivetrains. Additional sensitivity analyses are conducted to identify the key parameters that affect the TCO. Among these, the analyses show the efficiency of purchase and use incentives for these technologies.



Empirical data from different last mile delivery fleets show operational differences among vocations; in particular, beverage, linen, food, and parcel delivery routes within a 100-mile distance represent more than 80% of their daily trips. Moreover, more than 95% of parcel routes are below this level. Theses findings show the opportunities for electrification in last mile distribution since these range requirements are easily fulfilled by commercially available technologies.

Other available technologies considered to assess the performance and TCO of fleets like HEV, low carbon diesel fuels and natural gas can technically compete with conventional diesel trucks. However, electric trucks pose themselves not only as a technically feasible alternative but the cleanest one (considering the California electricity grid) with noise reduction benefits and lower maintenance costs. Nonetheless, purchase cost, payback period, and uncertain infrastructure costs are key factors that fleet operators analyze when considering to transition to cleaner vehicles.

Zero emission technologies are a viable option for some delivery vocations to improve the sustainability of urban freight systems. However, the benefits from these technologies concentrate on emission reductions, and they are not necessarily the solution for other problems such as congestion, parking management, infrastructure management or safety. For instance, the tanks used in gas-powered vehicles add to the weight of the vehicle, which could affect the pavement and roadway infrastructures.
Incentives play a fundamental role in making a successful business case for operators in supporting upfront costs of vehicles and charging infrastructure investments.

Improvements need both, operational improvements in the last mile distribution along with zero emission technologies. Technology is one of the tools in the menu of strategies to improve the system. Programmatic freight demand management and land use planning strategies could also help improve urban freight deliveries.

Source: Evaluating the Use of Zero-Emission Vehicles in Last Mile Deliveries – UC Berkeley

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