During NATSO Connect 2019, John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, told attendees that although electric vehicles continue to make headlines, diesel will remain the dominant fuel into the future. He also reminded truckstop and travel plaza operators that the term electric vehicle doesn’t always mean all battery-electric, and a transition to EVs won’t happen overnight.
“Always read past the headlines and think critically,” he said while addressing operators in his keynote speech.
In 2018, plug-in electric four-wheel vehicle sales were up 75 percent, but that still equated to a relatively small amount of vehicles—300,000. Plus, people tend to keep vehicles for 11 years on average, which means that even if every new vehicle sold on Jan. 1, 2018, were electric, it would take at least nine years to get to a 50 percent market share.
“Battery electric is at 2 percent [market share],” Eichberger said, adding that it would take a substantial amount of time to convert the entire market to electric given its size. “Consumers aren’t going to abandon the car they have today just to buy something new.”
By 2035, electric vehicles will make up 43 percent of the vehicles sold. “That is a big number, but even at those growth rates, they'll equate to 10 percent of vehicles on the road. Two-thirds of those will be hybrids consuming liquid fuels,” Eichberger said. “There is time to adjust business practices to take advantage of new opportunities.”
Even still, there are uncertainties about the future of EVs. The federal tax credit is being phased out, which affects the cost. What’s more, Congress will have to find alternative revenues to support infrastructure if vehicles aren’t purchasing fuel and paying fuel tax. “The Highway Trust Fund has been on life support for decades,” Eichberger said.
NATSO thinks that increasing federal motor fuels taxes is the most efficient method for increasing infrastructure revenues and that electric vehicles must pay their fair share.
Eichberger added that as vehicles become more fuel efficient and fuel use decreases, the price of oil comes down and interest in alternative powertrains decreases as well.
On the heavy-duty side, there are very few experts who think electrified tractor trailers are viable, Eichberger said. “In terms of getting the power to weight ratio you need, electric batteries don’t have the oomph we need,” he said, adding that hydrogen fuel cells might have potential, but infrastructure and costs remain significant hurdles.
The alternative heavy-duty fleet is expected to stay below 5 percent through 2025, Eichberger said. He added that the number of heavy-duty diesel vehicles is expected to expand 41 percent between 2016 to 2025 to 3,394,983. “The demand for diesel will be there,” he said.
To gain fuel efficiency, original equipment manufacturers are going to high-pressure, common-rail fuel injector systems. “That means the engines that used to inject fuel into the piston charger at 5,000 PSI a few years ago went to 40,000 plus PSI,” Eichberger said
Some manufacturers have said it will go to 60,000. That means OEMs are relying on cleaner fuel. “Imagine how sensitive those systems will be to impurities,” Eichberger said.
That is especially important because corrosion in tanks has increased since sulfur was reduced in diesel in 2006.
The Fuels Institute formed the Fuel Quality Council to help identify solutions for the fuels industry. The council has launched a survey of EOMs, fleet operators and fuel providers to determine the scope, regionality and potential cost of fuel-engine system performance failures.
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