Hybrid Trucks: Creating Jobs, Reducing Emissions

Last Thursday, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) celebrated the production of its 1,000th hybrid-electric vehicle, a Freightliner Business Class M2 106. While the environmental benefits of these trucks – which can be 40% more efficient than conventional trucks – are well known, the job benefits received the most attention in the local media (see, News 14 Charlotte and WSOC).

The DTNA plant in Mount Holly, North Carolina was hit hard by the recession. 750 people were laid off. As a result of increased interest in hybrid trucks, 250 of these jobs have come back.  Going forward, Freightliner’s Chief Operating Officer Roger Nielsen noted that “if the North American economy continues to improve and our suppliers continue to keep pace, we will add jobs not only here at our Mount Holly plant, but in all of our plants here in North America.”

It’s no secret that an expanding market for hybrid trucks will be good for jobs. Manufacturing Climate Solutions, a study from Duke University's Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness, found that “the rapidly growing hybrid truck market promises to maintain and expand job opportunities in the truck industry even as the market for conventional trucks has dipped in recent years.”  The report also noted that “the manufacture of hybrid medium- and heavy-duty trucks appears to be a significant competitive opportunity for the United States” and that “existing jobs related to manufacturing, assembly, and research and development of hybrid trucks are dispersed among at least 143 locations nationwide.”

Cal-Start and the Union of Concerned Scientists undertook a study on the impact of increasing the fuel economy of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Their finding: “as many as 124,000 jobs nationwide by 2030.” This analysis found that the job benefits would be shared across the country too, noting “all states would see net job growth. California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Michigan would lead the way, with each adding more than 4,000 jobs by 2030.” The secondary effects of these vehicles would be significant, “fuel and cost savings from advanced trucks would spur a $4 billion increase in annual gross domestic product by 2020 and $10 billion increase by 2030.”

Given the potential for this market, these numbers—1,000 trucks and 250 jobs—are both an indication that we are making progress and also a reminder of how far we still have to go.

The total hybrid truck population in the U.S. is likely closing in on 4,000. In the last year alone, a California program has put 650 new hybrid trucks on the road.  The Maryland Hybrid Transportation Initiative just announced an effort to deploy “143 heavy-duty hybrid electric and hydraulic trucks” by ARAMARK Uniform Services, Nestle Waters North America, Sysco Corporation, United Parcel Service (UPS) and Efficiency Enterprises. The Northeast Hybrid Truck Consortium, in which EDF has been participating, is in the process of placing 20 trucks on the road in New England, including one at Oakhurst Dairy. Of course, there are around six million medium-duty trucks on the road in the U.S.

The big barrier to the rapid deployment of medium-duty hybrid trucks remains the significant upfront cost of these vehicles, typically $25,000 to $40,000 above conventional ones. Scale matters in bringing these costs down. Government support has been critical to get the market to where it is today. To reach the job-creation and emission-reduction potential of this market, additional investment will be needed.

On the bright side, when EDF partnered with Fed Ex in 2004, there was not a single such truck on the road. Today, all major U.S. truck manufacturers offer midsize hybrids and more than 150 fleets use them. From that single hybrid truck model introduced in 2004, the offerings have grown to nearly forty models. This work has also spurred the development for all-electric medium-duty trucks.

Together, we are making progress. DTNA should be lauded for reaching the milestone of 1,000 trucks. Its partner component manufactures, such as Eaton, deserve some credit too. Now, let’s see how quickly we can get to 10,000.