Daily Archives: February 2, 2018

Are Electric Commercial Trucks Just A Fancy Thought?

Is it true? Are electric trucks likely to be a huge factor in the future of trucking? Perhaps, but if so, it likely won’t be a large, Class 8 heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle going all-electric anytime soon. Instead, you are more likely to see a service, local or regional route vehicle running as a quiet electric. The same could be said for panel vans, refuse or utility trucks.

The main reason these vehicles are more likely to be a candidate for electric conversion is because they have the type of power demands and manufacturing attributes that make them ideal for electrification. Those include limited daily ranges, easy access to a charging network and a duty cycle that allows for overnight charging.

Another differentiating factor is that OTR trucks are generally highly weight sensitive. When you can’t scale up the power because of battery limitations, it severely limits your ability to handle any number of weights within a load.

While heavy duty electric truck prototypes are currently undergoing proving at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, they can generally only make an 80-mile round trip before they must be recharged, and that’s only under a four to five thousand pound load.

Private Companies Fill the Breach

Still, that doesn’t mean companies aren’t actively filling the void to make heavy duty Class 8 electric trucks a reality. One such company, Motiv Power Systems, currently manages a refuse truck in Chicago. The route runs around 60 miles with an 18,000-pound payload and electronic garbage compactor. The company is also planning on testing an all-electric refuse truck in California.

Motiv’s design spec includes 10 battery backs equal up to 200 kilowatt hours of energy. For longer routes, the company works with modified chassis that can handle up to 12 battery packs. Still, this doesn’t represent enough power to get a full OTR load from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in one trip.

Where the company has seen greater success is in smaller vehicles. They have modified a Class 6 walk-in van which has seen the gasoline powertrain replaced by 127 killowatt hours of battery power. The van is rated to run up to 85 miles with up to 13,500 pounds of freight. The electric motor driving the vehicle gets up to 1,550 pounds feet of torque, claims the company. To put that in perspective, that kind of torque puts the van in 11-liter diesel engine territory.

Automotive Companies in the Game

This summer at the IAA commercial vehicle show in Germany, Mitsubishi unveiled the Fuso eCanter, which is slated to debut in North America in late October. According to the automotive giant, depending on how it’s loaded, the new eCanter will have a 60-mile range and can handle up to 5,000 pounds of freight.

When designing the truck, Mitsubishi admittedly focused more on being able to carry more weight than it did on the vehicle being able to travel greater distances. They based this decision on the preferences of the users of the previous iteration, the Fuso Canter E-Cell.

Just as traditionally different companies get into the electric car game (see: Dyson), startups are also getting in on the electric truck space. One small company, called Chanje, says it is developing a truck that can handle 6000 pounds over a 100-mile range before needing to be recharged.

According to the company’s head, who used to work for Smith Electric Vehicles, the prototype model has been designed as an all-electric vehicle, as opposed to a fossil fuel truck that has been retrofitted. Being that the vehicles was purpose-designed as a battery-electric vehicle, the technologies involved can be mass-produced on a global scale.

Even better, the company states that their electric truck will have up to 70% lower energy and maintenance costs. They will also offer battery leasing and energy supply service programs. They have also announced that they are designing a truck able to accommodate a greater range as opposed to a greater payload. Not surprisingly, Ryder has announced that it will partner with Chanje as an exclusive sales channel.

One of the reasons Ryder is getting into the game is due to them being a great insurance policy against fleet leasing options. Companies can gain exposure to new technologies through leasing vehicles in Ryder’s fleet, without being exposed to rapid depreciation should something change with the technology. Ryder assumes that responsibility.

Areas Suitable for Battery Power

Another area where battery power could be used is in yard shunting. Terminal trucks never travel far from their source of power and weight isn’t a consideration. This is where another company comes in.

Riverside, Missouri-based Orange EV builds electric truck terminals. According to their internal estimates, even moderate vehicle users could see savings of up to $30,000 per truck annually. Those savings are born out in lower fuel, maintenance and emissions-control costs.

Some estimates have put up to 8 million as the number of fossil fuel-based vehicles that would be ripe candidates for electrification. Represented in this number are vehicles that travel planned local routes amounting to less than 100 miles per-day. They also account for a lot of stops and starts along the route and expect the vehicle to be parked at an overnight depot with the stations required to recharge the vehicles before they hit the road the following day.

According to Mitsubishi, their new eCanter requires virtually no maintenance when compared to existing diesel trucks. E-motors require no oil changes and in the gear reduction boxes and rear axles, fluids can be kept for nearly 50,000 miles. Coolant for the motor and batteries need only be changed every 24 months or so.

Still, that raises the question – one that we keep coming back to – which is: What about linehaul applications? Will we ever see full-scale electrification? That answer remains murky.

Certainly, when it comes to electric commercial motor vehicles, fleet technicians will require a new level of training. Fortunately, due to already-changing considerations, many shop technicians already have a working knowledge of high-voltage systems, with electric refrigeration being one example.

It will be a lot easier since electric vehicles have far less moving parts than their conventional fossil fuel counterparts. Fleet trade cycles will also change dramatically since the typical lifecycle of an electric truck is going to be 10 – 15 years, as opposed to the 5 – 6 years currently for diesel-powered trucks.

Why Linehaul Electric Trucks Are a Ways Off

The fact is, current battery technology doesn’t support linehaul applications. In many of these situations, trucks can run up to 140,000 miles in a single year. Doing rough calculations, on a vehicle fully loaded to its 80,000-pound capacity, a 22,000-pound battery would be needed to complete one day’s worth of driving at normal highway speeds.

Driving this reality are the fundamental differences between internal combustion and electric-drive vehicles. Since many electric vehicles don’t have traditional powertrains, there is a different manufacturing paradigm at stake. Whether it be no engine, a gear-reduction drive device in place of the transmission or hub motors located in the wheel ends, these are certainly very different vehicles.

Batteries are the lynchpin in this entire discussion. They are still too expensive and heavy to pull the weight they need to for OTR applications. And although costs are coming down, they are not yet being produced to such a scale that prices are driven down even further.

Electric powertrains still have a way to go before full maturity. The cost efficiencies associates with 100 years of utilizing internal combustion vehicles still has not been realized in the electric category. Improvements in high-volume manufacturing must be realized before electric trucks see wide adoption.

Battery Prices Take a Tumble

Some say that the precipitous drop in lithium-ion battery prices will usher in this new age of electric vehicle adoption. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, lithium-ion battery packs have dropped from $1,000 per kilowatt/hour to around $275 per kilowatt/hour in 2016.

If prices continue to stabilize at that rate, expect to see electric vehicles surpass their internal combustion counterparts before 2040. Yet a recent report in Wired magazine poured a lot of cold water on the notion that OTR electric trucks are going to take over the roadways any time soon.

According to their analysis, to travel 600 miles without stopping to charge, the truck would require a battery weighing 14 tons. How much would a battery of that size and weight cost? Nearly half-a-million dollars. Although “next generation” batteries promise a 600-mile range for around $180,000, they still would not have reached the price point required to justify full-scale OTR adoption.

So, will we see freeways dominated by electric trucks in the near future? While the answer is still unknown, widespread approval and desired adoption of these vehicles means that development will only continue. As the world moves farther away from oil and fossil fuels, electric vehicle demand will continue to rise. Will your fleet be ready when the time comes? Legacy fossil fuel systems may still have some life in them, but their days could be numbered.

Trucking Companies: How to Protect Your Assets In The Age Of Cyberattack

Much like many other industries, trucking faces a unique threat: Cyberattack. Even more troubling, in some cases the threat may come from within. What threats lurk under the surface of the internet and are fleets in any danger?

Let’s take an example of as a cautionary tale. Imagine for a second you are the operations manager for a major fleet. Let’s also say it is around 3pm on a Wednesday. The morning rush has passed and all your truck drivers, customers, dispatchers and other interested parties all seem to be happy and doing their job.

Then, just as you’re getting ready for the deluge of late-afternoon messages from customers letting you know they won’t be able to load until tomorrow (typical, right?). Everything seems normal and ordinary, then you get a call from one of your truck drivers.

He tells you his engine has failed and that he is sitting in the center lane of a major highway. He goes on to report that there were no warning lights or indications the engine was about to fail. Since there was no warning, the truck driver had no time to get to the right side of the road, so now he sits, blocking traffic and creating quite a headache.

Just as you are evaluating this problem, you get another message, this time not from a customer. No, this message is far more ominous. It reads:

“Send us 30,000 in bitcoin and we will give you back your truck.”

This is just one example. There are certainly many more examples of enterprising criminals who will stop at nothing to take advantage of your operation.

It Could Happen

Sure, you might be sitting there chuckling to yourself thinking that could never happen. Well, think again. In fact, it has already happened in a lab. And you know, anything they can create in a lab can be recreated in the real world.

The fact is this: If fleets, regulators, manufacturers, trucking advocacy organizations, and other trucking industry players don’t take concrete steps to shore up vulnerabilities in trucking architecture, the nation’s supply chain will never be entirely safe.

So, what’s the problem? Basically, it all stems from something created by the Society of Automotive Engineers called the J1939 data bus. The J1939 data bus is a common communication architecture used to connect electronic control units (ECUs), thus allowing components from one manufacturer to seamlessly communicate with components built by a different manufacturer.

While the J1939 communication architecture has served its function beautifully by dramatically increasing communication efficiency in trucking equipment, unfortunately it also has a critical vulnerability.

Because J1938 was created to be as open as possible, allowing for trucking manufacturers to have a greater level of flexibility, it could be that this openness is a double-edged sword. At least, that’s according to a new task force put together by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council specifically to look at this issue.

The Problem is Bigger Than You Think

Unfortunately, through its work, the task force has uncovered more than just problems with J1939. There are a lot more vulnerabilities within the truck manufacturing chain, ones that can easily be exploited by a nefarious element.

The main issue is the large variety of suppliers that build major systems and components for heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles. There is a vast network of suppliers who both supply to each other and to other partners. Whether it bey the company that builds the body or the telematics provider, everyone has their own electronic backdoor into the truck. All these pathways pose a risk.

According to some theoretical models, even something as benign as a diagnostic tool could be leveraged to plant a Trojan Horse virus or do some other type of network damage or espionage. Even worse, since fleets are so interconnected nowadays, once a truck is infected, there is a real risk of the entire fleet or even the fleet network becoming infected. Companies that don’t have a comprehensive cybersecurity program in place may not even know someone is lurking on their network.

While researchers and trucking manufacturers have known about these vulnerabilities for years, many were slow to act. It wasn’t until the last five years that permeability testing began in earnest, with some tests showing horrifying results.

One such example occurred in 2016, when researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute ran a controlled experiment on a closed track designed to see if they could hack into a Jeep Cherokee. Sitting in a sleeper cab down the street and using a laptop plugged into an onboard computer, the research team successfully initiated a controlled takeover of the Jeep and override the driver’s input.

Another example comes from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, where a professor utilized the wiring and electronics normally found in a Class 8 heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle to write a basic piece of malware that changed what the onboard software did without anyone knowing.

This is No Joke

Think about that for a second. Imagine an outside actor surreptitiously hacking into a semi-truck and altering its software or operating parameters without anyone realizing it – including the truck driver. They could do everything from crash the truck to falsify log data and more. Essentially, they would have full control.

If there is one lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that the weaknesses in trucking manufacturing and supply chain control are very real. These glaring vulnerabilities pose a huge threat to trucking operations, and not just from state actors, but from rogue hackers and other opportunistic elements.

Still, ask many an expert and they will tell you: No one is quite sure how much of this threat will materialize, or in what form. As technology evolves at an ever-faster rate, the trucking industry will have to keep up to keep cyber-threats at bay.

Even as many say it is hard to tell how big of a threat this will be, there is no denying that it will be a threat. That attacks of this nature will happen is not a matter of if, but when. Fortunately, OEMs have been taking it very seriously.

The Automotive Cybersecurity Challenge

For evidence on how seriously OEMs are taking this threat, look no further than the annual Battelle Memorial Institute automotive cyber challenge in Detroit. This highly secure event brings together OEMs, their vehicles, and teams of students studying cybersecurity and hacking.

During the challenge, students throw everything they’ve got at the systems built into everything from cars to trucks and big rigs. In many cases, the students are successful in hacking into the vehicles. Fortunately, no one will ever know the details.

For good reason, the challenge does not publish any of the results, hold press conferences or put out press releases. Even more, anyone who participates must go through heavy security and bring only the tools they need and a notebook. At the end of the challenge, everyone must turn their notebook in to be destroyed.

The good news is that while many students are successful in their attempts, these hacks are done in a controlled environment where the hacking tools are hard-wired into the truck’s connections. Completing the same type of cyberattack wirelessly on a truck hauling a load down the highway is a completely different story.

Yet can today’s manufacturers or trucking interests say with 100 percent certainty that today’s connected truck is safe from deliberate cyberattack? No. The system still has plenty of back doors, even if they present a bit of technical challenge.

Why Hack a Truck?

As you read in our earlier example, there is at least one reason to hack a truck: Ransom money. Except that’s not the only reason a bad element would want to hack into a commercial motor vehicle.

Consider the size and weight of a fully-loaded Class 8 big-rig. We are talking up to 80,000 pounds of weight barreling down on what could be people or a packed building. Trucks are vital to our economy, but they also make useful ways to attack large numbers of people should someone want to.

Even worse, the storage capacity in a box truck or tractor towing a trailer can be incredibly dangerous in a bomb maker’s hands. Of course, trucks are not to be blamed for such incidents, but that does not make them any less serious.

Beyond mass casualty or terrorist events, there are other, less fatal, but just as illegal devious reasons for hacking a truck. What if a less-than-savory trucking company hires a hacker to alter emission systems or hours-of-service information?

Whether it be a hacktivist with an axe to grind against a fleet or some complicated crime network extorting tens of thousands of dollars from vulnerable trucking companies, the modern truck represents a point of vulnerability.

The key to staving off or mitigating a potential cyberattack on your valuable trucking assets, ensure you do not overlook the importance of cybersecurity. What network safeguards do you have in place? Is your IT department up to the task of managing your operation’s cybersecurity needs? These are all pertinent questions that will need to be answered if you want to prevent your trucks from getting hacked.