Now mass-produced by several major manufacturers in Europe, North America and China, electric trucks are swarming on the roads faster than expected, even if the road is still long to dethrone the diesel pollutant.
"This is a very exciting time," Felipe Rodriguez, an independent expert at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) analysis group, told AFP.
A worker on an assembly line of Volvo electric trucks, May 4, 2023 in Gothenburg © Sergei GAPON / AFP/Archives
"Four or five years ago, people would have told you: +you're crazy, it will never work. Diesel is king, it can't be beaten+".
Very energy-intensive to move their many tons, electric trucks raise questions about their autonomy or their recharging, which requires terminals tens of times more powerful than for cars.
But, driven in particular by increasingly strict European Union regulations to reduce CO2 emissions and by the massive support of the Chinese state to its national manufacturers, the sector now seems convinced that there will be no turning back.
Workers on an assembly line of Volvo electric trucks, May 4, 2023 in Gothenburg © Sergei GAPON / AFP/Archives
"There was an awareness in the industry that they couldn't keep their diesel engines forever," Rodriguez said. "And a race is now underway to really develop and bring these electric trucks to market."
In 2022, electric trucks accounted for only a small portion — 1 to 2 percent — of the world's major markets, with 40,000 to 50,000 units sold in total, most of them in China, according to data from analyst firms.
But the main Western manufacturers such as the German Daimler and Man, Volvo and its French subsidiary Renault Trucks, or the other Swedish Scania have invested heavily.
As for the American Tesla, after its success in the electric car, it also displays its ambitions in this segment with its "Semi" promising up to 800 kilometers of autonomy.
A Volvo electric truck, May 4, 2023 in Gothenburg © Sergei GAPON / AFP/Archives
The cake is huge: the truck market is worth more than $200 billion a year worldwide, with nearly 6 million units sold.
"By 2030, 50% of the Volvo trucks we sell should be zero-emission... and in 2040, everything will have to be," Roger Alm, head of Volvo Group's truck division, told AFP.
A proportion of sales that corresponds more or less to that needed to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement to decarbonize road transport, says the ICTT.
According to the analyst firm, a diesel truck emits about 1 kilo of CO2 per kilometer. Even with the current European electricity mix, which still includes a significant share of coal and gas, an electric truck reduces this carbon footprint by two-thirds.
According to the ICCT, the share of electricity in Europe is expected to reach 90% in 2040.
"It really started to take off in northern Europe and North America. Now it's moving south into Europe, but also other markets in Africa, Australia, Brazil, country by country," Alm said.
Currently, an electric truck is still about two to three times more expensive than a diesel, according to Volvo, but prices are expected to drop sharply and they cost less to run.
Roger Alm, head of Volvo Group's truck division, poses in front of electric trucks on May 4, 2023 in Gothenburg © Sergei GAPON / AFP/Archives
With other manufacturers, the Swedish giant has abounded a major European plan to multiply charging stations for trucks, one of the weak points for the moment.
To quickly and fully charge a truck, you need stations fifty to a hundred times more powerful than fast charging stations for cars.
To address autonomy issues, several manufacturers have chosen to invest in another electric technology: the fuel cell truck, using hydrogen to produce electricity.
Sandra Finer, vice president of operations at Volvo's electric truck plant, on May 4, 2023 in Gothenburg © Sergei GAPON / AFP/Archives
Last week, Volvo conducted open road tests -- the first in the world -- of a truck of this type, whose real development is expected to take a few years.
© 2023 AFP