Are electric trucks ready for California’s real world of work? It depends on the task
Electric trucks big and small are key to automakers’ and California’s goals to cut emissions of climate concern from transportation, which contributes nearly one-third.
But are these vehicles up to the job? That all depends on what job they’re doing.
Electric, hybrid and alternative-fuel passenger cars have been integrated into government and business fleets for well over a decade, but now major and startup automakers are rolling out all-electric versions of the light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks commonly in use in North Bay vineyards, construction sites and production yards. And the manufacturers want to know if they’re ready for hire.
One of the latest such trials is a widely publicized partnership Ford Motor Company launched on Jan. 26 with viticultural trade group Sonoma County Winegrowers. Three members – Bevill Vineyard Management, Vino Farms and Dutton Ranch – will be trying out the Michigan automaker’s soon-to-be-released E-Transit vans and F-150 Lightning Pro pickups, along with charging stations and fleet-management software co-developed with Salesforce.
Those growers are the first Ford is working with to try out the pickups, and reservations for deliveries when available have been capped at 200,000, a spokesperson said. The electric vans are set to arrive at the Sonoma County pilot farms in May, with the test pickups set to arrive thereafter.
For Healdsburg wine grape grower Duff Bevill, the estimated mileage per charge of the F-150 Lightning Pro electric pickups and of the E-Transit cargo van would work for the tasks commonly undertaken by his conventional vehicles.
The pickup’s standard battery has an estimated 230-mile range, going up to 300 with a larger battery. The van is expected to have a 126-mile range, according to a Ford spokesperson. However, a Car & Driver review of the pro-oriented pickup said its range could drop to 100-200 miles when towing a significant load.
That doesn’t bother Bevill.
The company buys gasoline and diesel in bulk for the roughly three dozen trucks in the company fleet, which are a mix of half-ton pickups up to class 8 big rigs. The conventional half-ton pickups in the fleet have a range of 300-350 miles on a tank, and common tasks the vehicles are involved with are carrying hundreds of pounds of bagged fertilizer or packages of plastic vine ties from the supplier to a vineyard site.
The diesel big rigs handle the heavy-load tasks of hauling harvesters, tractors and other equipment as well as ferrying up to 22 tons of grapes from vine to winery crushpad.
And he’s rarely seen a queue for refueling at the farm shop because pickups are coming back in during the day with dry tanks.
“None of them I think will need recharging during the day,” Bevill said of the electric pickups. “My foreman who meets crews at the job site may need to recharge once a week, and the guys using (the pickup) more frequently might charge two times a week.”
That limited use would allow the 240-volt level 2 charger Ford is installing as part of the pilot program enough to serve two pickups on overnight charges. The level 2 charger can replenish the pickup battery in about 12 hours, while a DC fast charger can do so in six to eight hours, according to Ford.
The Lightning Pro pickups also can act like a generator to power tools, and they are set to have an onboard scale to factor loads into range estimates and consumption statistics, a Ford spokesperson said.
Bevill is working on getting the pilot E-Transit, which is built on the F-250 chassis, configured as a passenger van instead of for cargo. The company currently uses conventional vans and a bus to ferry farmworkers from its dormitory to the fields.
The company has a fleet rotation schedule for the pickups of 200,000-240,000 miles, selling off vehicles before they need major items, namely a new engine. That results in three or four pickups being added annually, so Bevill is considering making one or two of the additions all-electric.
That calculus could be more appealing when comparing the sticker prices, he said. The Lightning Pro with a standard battery lists for just under $40,000, and $49,000 with the larger module, with as much as $10,000 off via federal and state tax credits. A conventional F-150 can list for $45,000 and requires recurring maintenance costs such as oil changes.
Because Bevill’s Healdsburg farm has a photovoltaic array that has consistently been generating more net power than consumed over its 10-year life, he is not concerned about a hit to his electrical system by installing a number of new chargers.