Start of a trend

Features - Operations Focus | Collection Trucks

Haulers might not have rushed to acquire electric-powered collection trucks, but investments in battery-powered vehicles have picked up in 2022.

August 3, 2022

Photo courtesy of Mack Trucks

Internal combustion engines (ICEs) have powered waste and recycling collection fleets of the world faithfully since they began replacing horse-drawn carts in the early 20th century.

The tens of thousands of such collection trucks at work in North America will not be replaced overnight by electric vehicles (EVs), but a growing number of hauling firms are beginning to take their first steps toward understanding how battery-powered trucks will serve them in the future.

Sales contracts announced by vendors at WasteExpo in Las Vegas this year included several from truck makers that now have EV trucks to offer the refuse collection market in the United States and Canada.

A growing market

Photo courtesy of BYD
North America

The overall switch from ICE to EV technology in the passenger and commercial vehicle sectors has not been pushed as hard by lawmakers and legislation in North America when compared with several nations in Europe and other parts of the world.

Thus, the incentives to experiment with an EV collection truck in the U.S. might not be as overarching as those in a European nation with firm targets for an ICE-to-EV conversion process.

Nonetheless, at WasteExpo, one of America’s largest commercial truck makers, Greensboro, North Carolina-based Mack Trucks, was able to announce the sale of four Mack LR EV refuse collection trucks to three different cities in the U.S.

The city of Ocala, Florida, purchased two Mack LR Electric models to add to its solid waste management fleet, Mack says. Purchasing one LR Electric each were the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management, also in Florida, and the city of Santa Cruz, California.

The LR Electric is produced at the Mack Lehigh Valley Operations facility in Pennsylvania where all Mack Class 8 models for North America and export are assembled, the truck producer says. Creating capacity to produce EV trucks was among the reasons for an $84 million renovation of that facility in 2020.

Regarding the sale of two trucks to Ocala, Mack Trucks Senior Vice President of Sales and Commercial Operations Jonathan Randall, says, “It’s no surprise that a progressive operation like the city of Ocala, a longtime Mack customer, is ready to deploy two Mack LR Electric trucks. The LR Electric features battery-electric technology that offers zero emissions and a quiet ride, as well as all of the amenities of our popular diesel-powered LR model.”

The city of Ocala, with a population of 65,000 people, operates 40 refuse vehicles in its fleet and also has deployed EV trucks made by competing truck manufacturers New Way Trucks and BYD.

About 70 percent of the city’s waste collection capacity is serving commercial routes with front-loaders, and 30 percent is residential, using automated side-loaders. Mack says the LR Electric models will be involved in both operations.

“We chose the Mack LR Electric for numerous reasons,” says John King, fleet and facilities director for the city of Ocala. “We have a longtime relationship with Mack and have many diesel-powered Mack trucks in our fleet, so our technicians are familiar with the vehicles. Further, Mack has been producing trucks for more than 100 years, so it’s natural that they would successfully progress to EVs.”

Farther south in Florida, Miami-Dade County agreed to purchase a Mack LR Electric refuse vehicle, making it the first heavy-duty EV to be added to its fleet.

The Miami-Dade LR Electric vehicle is fitted with a truck body made by Canada-based Labrie Group. Nextran Truck Centers, which has a location in Miami, will service and support the new vehicle.

The LR Electric model will be used in residential route collection by the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management, which serves a population of 2.8 million people.

“We are extremely excited about adding our very first electric truck to our solid waste collection fleet to help us reduce emissions and reach our climate action goals,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says.

She continues, “Miami-Dade County is fully committed to climate action, and this is the perfect example of how we are investing in innovative, energy-efficient alternatives that allow us to continue providing the best service to our residents while also protecting the environment.”

On the opposite coast, Santa Cruz has purchased a Mack LR Electric refuse vehicle as the first fully electric vehicle in its sanitation fleet, according to Mack. The truck maker says Santa Cruz also “plans to purchase another.”

Santa Cruz decided to purchase the Mack LR Electric after investigating EVs produced by several original equipment manufacturers, Mack says.

Additionally, the city plans to begin operating the LR Electric truck in September on a route that serves residential and commercial customers.

“The city is committed to sustainability and green energy,” says Guadalupe Sanchez, superintendent of resource recovery for disposal and processing for the city of Santa Cruz. “The Mack LR Electric will help us reduce emissions, improving air quality while also helping us move toward our environmental goals. Our confidence in the LR Electric was further elevated following a demonstration showcasing the vehicle’s performance.”

Motives and opportunities

Photo courtesy of Mack Trucks

Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County points to climate change considerations as a motivator for that agency’s purchase of an EV truck. Other early adopters of battery-powered trucks have cited that factor, as well.

Boulder, Colorado-based Eco-Cycle is another Mack LR Electric owner. Justin Stockdale of the nonprofit recycling and zero-waste organization told Waste Today earlier this year that an “immediate goal” of its EV truck—which will collect discarded organic material—is to “prove that this is viable—that it can be done—and establish the best practices of how to get it done and push that further out into the community.”

Manufacturers beyond Mack are attempting to appeal to this buyer sentiment. At WasteExpo, Cedar Falls, Iowa-based Curbtender debuted the XL Electric Curbtender eQuantum refuse collection truck.

The eQuantum was produced in partnership with Boston-based XL Fleet and was built on a Ford F-600 chassis. The model has been designed to offer the advantages of what Curbtender calls its top-selling small rear-loading refuse vehicle, the Quantum, with “none of the noise or emissions of a diesel-powered model.”

China-based BYD Motors, with its BYD North America business unit based in Los Angeles, has been another provider of EV trucks to waste and recycling companies in Canada and the U.S. in the past several years.

In a promotional piece prepared with Waste Today earlier this year, BYD’s Chaoran Fang acknowledged that “in some scenarios like long-haul, battery-powered trucks are restricted by their range and payload.”

Fang says BYD and other manufacturers are therefore focusing research and development efforts on improvements in these aspects of performance.

“We continue to extend range and increase payload as battery technologies improve. Current BYD Class 8 Yard tractors are able to handle up to 15 hours of heavy-duty operations on a single charge and [are] capable of three shift rotations with opportunity charging,” he says.

Truck component makers also are making adjustments to prepare for a potential migration to EV trucks. Earlier this year, Woodridge, Illinois-based Hendrickson Truck Commercial Vehicle Systems announced what it calls a suite of new products focused on a “rapidly growing” EV market.

“Hendrickson has a long history of supplying lightweight suspension products to the heavy-duty transportation industry and today expanded that offering to support the burgeoning medium-duty electric vehicle segment,” said Jason Shiffler, business unit director at Hendrickson, as part of the company’s April announcement of the new products.

Hino Trucks, a Toyota Group company based in Novi, Michigan, has aligned a series of services called Hino Inclusev, which the company says can help a new EV truck operator “eliminate the complexity, frustration and inferiority of searching out multiple third parties to achieve the needed [EV] solution.”

That description, from Glenn Ellis of Hino Trucks, ties into what Hino calls its “end-to-end” consulting and service offerings associated with Inclusev.

“Our dealers will help determine if EV is the right solution for a fleet and if so, support in setting up what is needed— including a site evaluation, charging solution [specification], grant applications, end-to-end financing, installation, maintenance, optimization and service,” says Dominik Beckman, director of brand experience at Hino. “Our dealer network is fully equipped to ensure businesses can be electrified seamlessly. This is turnkey in its truest form.”

To what extent Mack, BYD, Hino, Hendrickson and others involved in the EV collection truck market prosper from an EV trend likely ties into the wider public’s acceptance of EVs in the U.S.

An early July news report from Bloomberg reported that EV sales in the United States were on pace to exceed 5 percent of market share this year. The news agency cited analysts who call that percentage a “threshold” of buying sentiment that in other nations has led to a more established charging infrastructure and sustained acceptance of EVs as a viable option.

That article’s author makes a comparison to a potential leap in EV acceptance in the EV market in North America that could rival the rapid migration from flip phones to smartphones experienced about 15 years ago.

Although that may seem far-fetched when considering the cost of buying an EV (or an EV collection truck) compared with a phone, such technological pivots have precedents. The rise of gasoline and diesel prices to around $5 or $6 per gallon this summer around much of the country might have provided another motivation for fleet managers to flip the switch from ICEs to EVs.

The author is senior editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.