In early April, David Gurrola Jr. got behind the wheel of an electric semi and took it for a spin.
The southern San Diego–based trucker liked the way it looked and he liked the way it drove — the hulking vehicle accelerated smoothly like a car, he said. He was impressed.
But at this point, buying an electric truck makes no sense for Gurrola, a driver and small-business owner with two trucks and one employee. The cost of an electric truck, even with federal tax incentives, is out of reach, he said.
Even if he could afford one, there are few places for a driver like him to charge an electric truck, and the limited range he can drive on a single charge — maybe a couple of hundred miles — wouldn’t work for his daily trips to the Port of Long Beach. “Round trip from San Diego for me, it’s 234 miles,” he said. “That means on one trip, somewhere coming back south to San Diego, I have to find a charging station just to get enough power to get back home.”
And the two loads he’s currently running per day? “That becomes absolutely impossible with an electric truck,” he said. “That would make a huge impact on my business. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a business for me anymore. It would literally cut my revenue in half.”
Whether or not they make business sense for truckers like Gurrola, new California Air Resources Board, or CARB, regulations will begin forcing Golden State trucking companies big and small to add only electric trucks to their fleets starting in January, all part of a statewide mandate to slash greenhouse gases and to fight climate change.
The regulations are targeted at larger fleets — those with 50 or more trucks or that have $50 million or more in gross annual revenues — as well as at any firms or independent truckers who do drayage work in the state’s major seaports and rail yards. Starting January 1, those businesses will only be allowed to add zero-emission trucks to their fleets. Diesel trucks registered with the state by December 31 can be grandfathered in for a while.
By 2035, all trucks entering the California seaports and intermodal rail yards must be zero-emission vehicles, according to the regulations.
California leaders have pointed at the new rules, as well as similar regulations aimed at truck manufacturers, as critical in their commitment to protect the communities near the ports from pollution and to combat climate change. “The future happens here first, and California is once again showing the world what real climate action looks like,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in April.
California regulators insist that zero-emission tractors are already available and capable of meeting most regional and local trucking needs, and that reduced fuel costs and lowered maintenance costs for electric trucks will save fleets money in the long run.
Count Gurrola as skeptical.
“It’s completely, totally impractical,” Gurrola said of the requirements, a sentiment shared by other truckers, business leaders, and industry advocates who spoke with National Review.
They argue that the up-front costs of electric trucks and charging equipment are too steep, particularly for small firms and independent drivers. They say that the technology is too new to rely on, and the limited range of the electric trucks won’t work for companies whose drivers travel long distances. And they doubt that the state will be able to ramp up the charging infrastructure fast enough; a massive effort that will not only require building enough high-powered chargers but also ensuring that they’re strategically installed in the right places and that there is enough capacity during peak charging times.
There were fewer than 300 electric trucks on California roads last year. Under the regulations, there will need to be more than half a million by 2035.
“I’ve been working on air-board regulations for close to 13 years now. I’ve never seen a rule where there will probably be nearly zero precent compliance because it’s just not possible to figure out a way around some of these intractable issues around the technology,” said Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of government affairs with the California Trucking Association.
“Something’s going to have to give,” he said. “I don’t know at what point that is going to be. But CARB just putting their head down and expecting a miracle to happen, it’s not a way to be responsible in setting policies like this.”
If the rules are unachievable for the average trucker, he said, “they might as well be saying, ‘Hey, build a spaceship and go to Mars.’”
Jeff Cox, president and co-owner of Madera-based Best Drayage in Northern California said that electric trucks make no sense yet for his business, which runs over 100 trucks a day hauling agricultural products into the Port of Oakland. While the state claims that most drayage trucks drive fewer than 60 miles per day, virtually all of Best Drayage’s drivers, and the independent drivers who work with them, drive more than 300 miles per day, farther than they can go on a single charge.
“What I need is a truck on one charge that can do a round trip, 500 miles. And that doesn’t exist,” Cox said. In addition, he said, “we need public charging stations right off the highway.” He added, “The land alone is an issue. Where is this going to be? Will it be conveniently located? Will it be enough? . . . And then what happens when everybody is charging at the same time?”
While fueling a diesel truck can take a half hour to an hour, Cox said, charging an electric truck can keep it idle for several critical hours at a time. Add in time to load the trucks, to drive a few hundred miles, to wait in line at the port, and to unload, and “it’s impossible,” Cox said.
“What they’re doing is saying, basically, this is going to be a 20-hour workday,” he said.
California’s energy commission has estimated that to meet demand imposed by the new regulations, it will need more than 150,000 new charges dedicated to trucks by 2030. That’s the equivalent of installing 300 to 500 chargers per week, Shimoda said.
And it’s not like just throwing in a few new electric-car chargers at the mall. The energy required to charge electric trucks, and to charge them fast, is immense, and can put intense strain on the electrical grid and the individual electrical circuits. In many cases, building out the infrastructure behind the scenes will involve building new roadside substations, which can take years and is the equivalent of siting large factories, Shimoda said.
“We think we know charging because of cars. It’s a significantly different engineering problem at the end of the day,” Shimoda said.
Shimoda said he believes the state should have started with final-mile and e-commerce delivery trucks — the trucks that drive the shortest distances and that start from and return to the same location, where they can be plugged in overnight to slower-speed chargers, protecting the grid.
He noted that many independent truckers likely won’t have a home base with a charger.
“I’ve got owner-operators in my town who park at the apartment that they live in. And they park on the street outside the apartment. How do you accommodate that sort of use?” he said. “You’re not going to call your landlord and say, ‘I need a 350 kilowatt DC fast charger.’ They’re not going to do that. Neither is the utility for that matter.”
“They are going to need some sort of retail charging, your classic gas-station model,” he added.
Gurrola, the San Diego trucker, said there are a couple of public charging stations about ten miles from his home near the southern border. But, he said, truckers can’t just plug in and leave their trucks overnight.
“You can imagine, if I had one of those [electric] trucks, I’d have to drive ten miles down to the border, sit there for about two hours to get a full charge, and then drive all the way back to L.A.,” Gurrola said.
Shimoda said anyone buying an electric truck — either to add to their fleet or because they need to replace a truck that breaks down or becomes obsolete — should come in with no expectation that the charging infrastructure will be built out in the near future.
“There is no exemption from the rule if you are waiting for the Pilot Flying J centers of the world to make charging available. You’re just supposed to buy a truck and hope that someone creates charging infrastructure,” he said.
That, he added, could make it hard for an owner operator to get financing for a new truck.
“Whoever is financing that half-million-dollar truck is going to be like, ‘What’s your plan to charge this thing?’ And they’re going to say, ‘I don’t know,’” he said.
Jay Grimes, director of federal affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents independent truck drivers across the country, said his association also has concerns about the affordability of zero-emission trucks and California’s lack of charging capabilities.
“The price tag for electric vehicles, obviously right now the estimates are three to four times the cost of a standard diesel truck. That’s very difficult to afford for a small business,” he said. “We certainly don’t think the infrastructure is in place yet and really have no idea when that is going to take place. Certainly, there’s a big push for a lot of federal funding to go into EV-charging and infrastructure, but how quickly that can be done in time for some of these proposed mandates when they’re going to go into effect is kind of a guessing game.”
Heavy electric-truck batteries also make electric trucks heavier than their diesel counterparts, sometimes by 10,000 pounds or more. To stay under federal weight limits, the trucks will likely have to reduce their payloads, meaning more trips and more expenses for shippers.
“Our association has been very much against any increase in the federal truck-size and weight limit,” Grimes said. The limits are there for a reason: to keep the highways safe and to limit wear and tear on the roads. It’s also “much easier for the larger carriers and the bigger companies to buy newer trucks to accommodate bigger and heavier limits; a lot harder for our guys to keep up with the Joneses there,” Grimes said.
To prepare for the new regulation, Best Drayage upgraded its small fleet, which now consists of eight 2023 diesel trucks, Cox said. He expects those trucks to each last at least ten years. But the business also relies on dozens of independent drayage truckers to move product, and Cox worries about what the electric-truck requirements will do to those truckers.
With sky-high up-front costs for new electric trucks, veteran truckers whose diesel tractors break down or get too old could be priced out of the drayage business. New truckers entering the field in the coming years will be disincentivized from taking their place.
“Those people are going to look at drayage specifically and say, ‘I don’t want to touch it. I want to get out,’” Cox said. “I don’t see how this industry is going to continue to grow.”
Cox doesn’t believe the drayage industry’s voice is being heard. “We’re forcing regulations with no extensive knowledge of the drayage industry itself,” he said.
“Do we want clean air? Of course we do,” Cox said. “I’m a human being. I have a family, I have children. I want the cleanest air possible. But at the same time, within reason, something that can be complied with, something that isn’t regulated and not thought out.”
To get ahead of the curve and to begin working with zero-emission trucks, Los Angeles–based Ability Trimodal Transportation Services recently added two electric tractors to its small fleet of 18 trucks. It took four years to bring the electric trucks online, said Mike Kelso, the company’s executive vice president. They began using them in mid July.
Unlike Best Drayage in Northern California, Ability Trimodal’s trucks typically don’t drive long distances. Kelso said the electric trucks have performed “okay” in the short term.
“So far, they can haul the loads that we need, but we haven’t had enough actual volume activity on the drayage side to really test them out thoroughly,” he said.
Kelso isn’t sold that the electric trucks will be more cost-effective over time, a claim made by state regulators and environmentalists. He believes the trucks will increase costs. The company’s customers aren’t interested in paying more for zero-emission equipment, he said.
“The environmentalists are portraying the best-case scenario where you have flexibility to not charge during peak, but in real-world application it’s going to be different,” he said.
He’s also concerned about relying on technology that hasn’t been proven to work over a long period of time in a real-world setting. “This technology isn’t proven in large scale,” he said.
Earlier this month, Nikola Corp., an electric-truck manufacturer, asked dealers and customers to return their electric trucks under recall after a series of battery fires. Truckers have also reported seeing several Tesla electric semis bought by PepsiCo stranded in California.
Steven Hobbs, a long-haul trucker out of Sacramento who has a regular route into Utah, said he recently saw a stranded Tesla truck. “Over the CB, the guys were talking, laughing, ‘Did you see that Tesla truck? It was on the back of a tow truck,’” he said.
While the regulations are targeted at large trucking firms and the drayage industry for now, Shimoda said California is already looking to expand the electric-truck rules to impact smaller firms, independent operators, and truckers working outside of the ports and rail yards.
“It’s coming for absolutely everybody in short order,” he said.
Hobbs, the long-haul trucker, said he might leave California if he were required to buy an electric truck. “You think you’ve got a problem now with supply chain?” he said, adding that “there’s nothing that makes horsepower like diesel, nothing that has the range at this point.”
Jace Crosswell, who owns North Valley Wood & Aggregate, a small Northern California trucking company that hauls landscaping materials, said he doesn’t believe his company will even be in business by the time an electrification mandate hits his side of the industry. Previous state and federal mandates requiring trucks to be retrofitted with special tanks and filters to treat their exhaust have taken a toll on his business. He’s down from eight dump trucks to two, he said.
“I won’t make it to that electrification, and neither will anybody my size,” he said. “The trucks are like 300 grand a piece, and they haul less payload, and then you’ve got to charge them. It’s a laugh. Basically, when we talk about it, everybody laughs about it.”
Crosswell said he knows other truckers in his line of work that have already left the state. He said he’s looking to move with his family to Florida as soon as he can buy property there.
“I’m so negative on this state because they’ve put me through so much crap,” he said.
Back in San Diego, Gurrola, who has a wife and a three-year-old daughter, is hoping that his two trucks — one from 2012 and one from 2016, both with low miles — will keep him afloat for at least five or six years. He admits the future of the business is “scary.”
If one of his trucks’ engines were to fail next year, “I can’t just buy a new engine, throw it in there, and okay, let’s just go again,” he said. “No, that truck is done. It’s done. I’m out one unit, and now the only way back is to buy an electric truck.”
Gurrola said he’s hoping to add more diesel trucks to his fleet so they can be grandfathered in before the December 31 deadline. “I’m definitely doing that,” he said. “Right now, that’s the No. 1 thing on my list.”
He’s also crossing his fingers, hoping that state deadlines get pushed back, that new exemptions are added, and that the technology catches up to the needs of truckers like him.
“I’m not married to the internal-combustion engine,” he said. “I understand things have to progress. I understand the technology and the environmental impact of these things. I understand all of that. I’m not against it. I’m just worried, from a practical standpoint, how we’re going to get those implemented into what I do with what they have right now.”
California’s regulations are overly ambitious, he said, “and we’re the ones that are going to have to deal with all the consequences that are out there in the real world when these things are failing us.”
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