As Canada and the world move rapidly toward vehicle electrification, much of the day-to-day hype and press has focused on the next Tesla and other new EV passenger vehicles hitting the road. This makes sense – passenger cars have a large market share and are more prevalent in the culture, making them a visible target for reducing emissions and transitioning to cleaner transportation. In response, consumer demand for electric passenger cars has been growing steadily, driven by concerns about climate change, rising fuel costs, and government incentives for electric vehicle adoption.
This increasing demand has spurred automakers to invest heavily in developing electric passenger car models to meet market expectations. A record 86,032 electric vehicles were registered in Canada in 2021, making up 5.3% of total vehicle registrations for that year. Also in 2021, the Government of Canada set a mandatory target for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sales to be zero-emission by 2035, accelerating Canada’s previous goal of 100% of sales by 2040.
Unmet Opportunity for Commercial Electric Vehicles
However, around the clock, 365 days a year, millions of commercial trucks are being used to transport products, haul waste, and move workers and their equipment over short distances in urban areas. Light, medium, and heavy-duty trucks in the transportation sector accounted for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2021, compared to just 20.7% for passenger cars. To fully realize the potential benefits of clean transportation in urban environments, the electrification of urban commercial trucks is a significant opportunity.
“To fully realize the potential benefits of clean transportation in urban environments, the electrification of urban commercial trucks is a significant opportunity.”
The urban opportunity generally includes vehicles with greater than 8,501 pounds gross vehicle weight, encompassing vehicle weight classes from Class 2b through Class 5. This is a diverse set of commercial vehicles that includes heavy-duty pickups; sanitation, construction, and other types of work trucks; and freight trucks ranging from local delivery vans to larger walk-ins and delivery trucks.
The Advantages of Commercial Electric Vehicles
The transition to commercial EVs poses unique challenges, including the need for more extensive charging infrastructure, range limitations for heavy-duty vehicles, and higher upfront costs for businesses. However, as technology advances and economies of scale come into play, companies like Vicinity Motor Corp. are shifting the attention toward developing commercial electric vehicles to create cleaner urban environments with a host of benefits for our cities, people, and planet.
Resilient Urban Infrastructure
The adoption of commercial electric vehicles will drive investments in resilient urban infrastructure. As cities transition to electric fleets, the need for charging infrastructure becomes paramount. To accommodate the growing number of commercial EVs, cities will need to establish a network of level 3 fast charging stations strategically located across urban areas.
“The adoption of commercial electric vehicles will drive investments in resilient urban infrastructure.”
This development will not only benefit commercial vehicles but also encourage the adoption of electric cars by private users. A well-established charging infrastructure would alleviate range anxiety for potential electric vehicle owners, making the shift to electric mobility more appealing.
To help reach Canada’s goals, The Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP) provides funding for the deployment of electric vehicle (EV) chargers and hydrogen refuelling stations across Canada. This $680 million initiative addresses a key barrier to the adoption of zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) — the lack of charging and refuelling stations in Canada — by increasing the availability of localized charging and hydrogen refuelling opportunities where Canadians live, work, and play. This is administered through three key funding streams and is available until 2027.
The integration of smart charging solutions can also help manage energy demand effectively, preventing grid overload during peak charging periods. By investing in robust and smart infrastructure, cities can lay the foundation for a more sustainable and resilient urban transportation system.
No Room for Range Limitations
While heavy-duty and long-distance EVs still face range challenges, the urban commercial electric vehicle does not. Use studies demonstrate that commercial pickup trucks and vans are in a prime position for this technology transition. In California, a study showed the daily activity of Class 2b and 3 vehicles has been reported to average 99 km with an upper threshold of 402 km. The Renewable Energy Laboratory found that 90% of daily driving distances are below 161 km with a maximum of 418 km for delivery vans. Today, most Class 3 commercial vehicles could immediately transition to a battery electric powertrain with an electric range between 161 and 322 km. For example, the Vicinity VMC 1200, a Class 3 electric truck designed for the urban environment and in use in Canada today, has a standard range of up to 241 km.
“Today, most Class 3 commercial vehicles could immediately transition to a battery electric powertrain with an electric range between 161 and 322 km.”
Enhanced Energy Efficiency
Cost is often a key objection for commercial fleets looking to electrify. Yet, when looking at the overall cost to own, EVs have caught up to internal combustion engine (“ICE”) costs. EVs exhibit higher energy efficiency compared to ICE vehicles when converting energy into forward motion and recapturing energy through braking, with significantly lower energy losses during operation. Electric motors and drivetrains also require less maintenance, such as frequent oil changes, compared to traditional high-mileage ICE vehicles. Combined with rising gasoline prices and fuel taxes, electric drivetrains’ inherently more efficient operation lowers the overall costs. With other government incentives to adopt EVs, the cost to own is even lower.
“By utilizing clean energy sources to charge EVs, cities can further reduce their carbon footprint and advance towards a greener future.”
As Canadian cities transition to commercial electric vehicles, the overall demand for energy is likely to increase. However, this presents an opportunity to integrate renewable energy sources into the grid, such as solar and wind power, to charge electric vehicle fleets. By utilizing clean energy sources to charge EVs, cities can further reduce their carbon footprint and advance towards a greener future. This in turn will drive down the overall cost of electricity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create a more sustainable transportation system.
Improved Air Quality
Another advantage of transitioning to commercial electric vehicles in urban environments is the substantial reduction in air pollution. ICE vehicles emit harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, contributing to smog, respiratory illnesses, and environmental degradation. A recent study monitored the air quality at drive-through COVID-19 testing sites to assess the impact of idling on air quality, which commercial vehicles often do while in use in urban areas, and found that during temperature inversions, emissions from idling vehicles caused a local pollution hotspot in the testing area. Commercial electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, mitigating the harmful impact on air quality.
With cleaner air, cities can expect a host of public health benefits. Studies have linked improved air quality to decreased rates of respiratory diseases, heart problems, and premature mortality. Children and the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, stand to benefit the most from cleaner urban environments. Moreover, the reduction of air pollution can lead to lower healthcare costs and a healthier, more productive workforce.
Reduced Noise Pollution
Urban centers are notorious for their constant hum of commercial traffic noise, which can have detrimental effects on residents’ well-being and mental health. A study in Europe found that environmental noise contributes to 48,000 new cases of ischaemic heart disease a year as well as 12,000 premature deaths. Commercial electric vehicles, being inherently quieter than their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts, present an opportunity to significantly reduce noise pollution in cities. The near-silent operation of electric trucks and delivery vehicles can lead to more peaceful neighbourhoods and contribute to an overall better living experience by fostering a more tranquil and enjoyable urban environment. Quieter streets and reduced traffic noise can positively impact residential areas, making them more attractive for residents and visitors alike.
Transitioning to commercial electric vehicles creates economic opportunities that can drive job growth and boost local economies throughout Canada. As the demand for electric vehicles and associated infrastructure increases, new job markets will emerge, ranging from manufacturing and maintenance to research and development.
“As the demand for electric vehicles and associated infrastructure increases, new job markets will emerge, ranging from manufacturing and maintenance to research and development.”
Additionally, embracing electric mobility can foster innovation and attract investment from both the public and private sectors. Cities that position themselves as EV-friendly hubs can entice companies in the EV supply chain, charging infrastructure providers, and related tech start-ups. The resulting economic development can revitalize urban areas, driving prosperity and long-term sustainability.
Can Canada Lead in the Adoption of Commercial Electric Vehicles?
The transition to commercial electric vehicles holds immense promise for creating better urban environments. By embracing EVs, cities can combat air pollution, reduce noise levels, improve energy efficiency, and build a more resilient infrastructure. As more urban centers recognize the transformative potential of electric mobility, we can envision a future where our cities thrive as sustainable, clean, and vibrant hubs of innovation and prosperity. Policymakers, industry leaders, and communities must work hand in hand to accelerate this transition and unlock the full potential of commercial electric vehicles in shaping the cities of tomorrow.
The Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP) is helping to develop Canadian charging stations and the Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles Program provides incentives worth roughly 50% of the price difference between an electric vehicle and a combustion vehicle. But in order to lead the way and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, more must be done. With all the benefits and opportunities EVs offer, businesses and governments must work together to increase the rate of adoption.