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The battle for supremacy in electric vehicles started in the passenger car segment, with hundreds of companies in China now fighting for individual buyers’ attention. Now, it’s truck makers’ turn to wave goodbye to petrol and diesel-powered offerings.
China, the world’s biggest market for EVs, also has clear green-trucking potential. The freight transportation market here is worth almost $860bn, the largest globally, according to McKinsey. As of September, there were some 32-million semi-trailers plying the nation’s roads and highways, hauling cargo across a land mass almost the size of Canada. Considering China’s rapid economic development and the rise of e-commerce, demand for trucks, particularly heavy duty ones, has been soaring.
Trucks are big polluters and they guzzle a lot of fuel. The carbon emissions of one diesel-powered truck equal about 306 passenger cars. In addition, heavy-duty trucks are typically replaced after one million kilometres, or about five years.
As the Chinese government works towards carbon neutrality, making trucks and buses greener is an important step. Over the past few years, authorities have been tightening emissions standards to squeeze out rigs that don’t meet the bar — an incentive for manufacturers to electrify.
Indeed, in the past month alone, China’s biggest carmaker SAIC, the third-largest automaker FAW Group and the nation’s biggest private carmaker Zhejiang Geely have all unveiled plans in the alternative-energy truck segment.
In mid-October, SAIC kicked off construction of a facility in Inner Mongolia to make 10,000 hydrogen semi-trailers annually. Two weeks earlier, FAW said it would have 20% of its truck line-up powered by new energy by 2025, rising to 70% by 2035, while Geely, which has also invested in Volvo Truck and Daimler’s truck business, made a splash last week with its futuristic Homtruck smart truck, which comes with a single bed, shower and toilet, refrigerator, mini kitchen and even a small washing machine to make drivers feel at home on the road.
As well as being environmentally friendly, the Homtruck, which can be charged at service stations along highways in minutes and also uses methanol, has other hi-tech features like 360° cameras to help keep drivers alert and hands-off autonomous drive functions for some routes. According to Geely Commercial Vehicles Group CEO Mike Fan, the cost per unit won’t be significantly higher than fossil-fuelled rigs by the time the vehicles arrive in early 2024.
Fan also notes that competition in the commercial vehicle market isn’t as stiff as for passenger EVs, which perhaps goes some way to explaining the investor interest in Rivian’s float considering how crowded the latter space has become. Geely’s truck arm is considering its own IPO, too.
With China’s government now even vowing to crack down on the hundreds of EV makers that have sprouted up, the road ahead for semi-trailers that are also good for the planet looks clear by comparison.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.