Diesel’s future in the freight industry remains in the balance

As more diesel trucks are replaced by zero emissions alternatives, where does the future lie for diesel ICEs in the short and long-haul segments? By Christopher Dyer

With diesel facing increased scrutiny and tighter regulations, its days are numbered in the passenger vehicle segment. Diesel’s future in the freight industry, however, looks more secure. Despite increasing drives toward electrification in the short-haul freight segment, diesel is still heavily relied on in the long-haul industry.

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Axel Schmidt, Accenture’s Global Automotive Lead, comments that there are “some question marks around electromobility in the long-haul sector.” He suggests that in these areas, “electrification doesn’t make any sense, in part due to the impact that the weight of EV batteries has on a truck’s load-bearing capabilities.” He continues, saying that increasing technology costs are negatively impacting the accessibility of charging infrastructure and battery technology. The freight industry is also seeing a reticence to remove all diesel vehicles from operation, with fleet owners looking to get more miles out of their current ranges before they electrify.

Freight Truck America
Despite increasing drives toward electrification in the short-haul freight segment, diesel is still heavily relied on in the long-haul industry

Electrification, however, isn’t the only area of investment for diesel ICE alternatives. Other avenues of exploration have included hydrogen, compressed natural gas (CNG), and the implementation of diesel hybrid powertrains. Despite all being viable alternatives with some consistent infrastructural support, consumer trends have shifted focus toward electrified alternatives, depriving other options of vital investment. The rate of EV development has also meant that these poorly supported alternatives are now a stop gap for the long-haul segment while battery technology accelerates to match the needs of the industry.

EVs are seen as the preferred next step for light commercial vehicles in the US. Amazon, for example, has already ordered over 100,000 delivery vans from Rivian in 2020 alone. For many observers, it is only a matter of time before long-haul freight catches up. But while electric alternatives will inevitably overtake the number of ICEs in the freight industry, diesel will remain a critical part of the freight ecosystem for years to come.

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