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Truck availability, subsidies, and customer demands to drive electric truck uptake

Electromobility is no longer a future project, but a current reality, according to a panel held at the Attrix Technology symposium.  

“The electrification of transportation, we’re there,” agreed Sarah Houde, CEO of Propulsion Quebec. She was accompanied on the panel by Yves Provencher, president of Provencher Groupe Conseil and Sylvain Cabanetos, account executive for InnovHQ.

“Electrification is the best way to continue to achieve our environmental goals. Economically, it will allow us to become independent of oil and create wealth here. Our electricity is affordable, we have the lowest rate in North America. This is very important, because there is no business case for operating a fleet if electricity is really expensive,” said Houde, adding that she believes strongly in the battery project in Quebec, pointing out that “Our subsoil is full of everything needed to make batteries.”

Houde enumerated the steps that led to the current reality in Quebec, from smaller vehicles that travel shorter distances on repetitive routes, to school transportation characterized by more planned distances, to larger vehicles that carry larger loads over longer distances on diversified routes.

“The further we go, the more complex it becomes from a technical and technological point of view. It’s a path in which we’re moving forward to perfect the vehicles and the recharging in order to make circuits that are more complex,” said Houde.

Provencher, who until recently worked for Lion Electric, went back to the electrification of school buses that preceded that of trucks. “A school bus is like a Class 7 truck. Now we’re down to the real trucks that carry freight. There are already a few of them on the road in Montreal. It’s a good test, because, as we often say, if it works in Montreal, it will work everywhere.”

Sarah Houde (Propulsion Québec); Yves Provencher (Provencher Groupe Conseil); Anthony Mainville (Attrix Technologies) and Sylvain Cabanetos (InnovHQ). (Photo: Steve Bouchard)

Quebec also has some of the best expertise in the world in transportation electrification. “This is certainly not negligible. There’s the motor from Dana/TM4 that powers the Lion trucks, but the Paccar trucks also use technology that comes from Quebec with Nordresa,” Provencher said.

Cabanetos of InnovHQ, a subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec created to accelerate the energy transition, highlighted the significant progress that has been made in recent years in terms of charging stations, noting that there is now a wide availability of manufacturers of charging stations.

Cabanetos discussed the three pillars of electrification, which are: vehicle availability; subsidies; and regulation.

“We often think about the vehicle, and we do need to find vehicles that will meet our operations and that are available in Quebec, but that’s only the first step…Then there is the infrastructure. Are there any subsidies available? There is also training. We’re talking about eco-driving, energy regeneration through braking. We’re in a whole new paradigm.”

Vehicle availability will dictate the next steps for electrification in trucking.

“There’s a lot of talk about last mile vehicles. The small pickup trucks and vans that can electrify fairly easily. But we’re down to Class 6s, Class 8s that can do shorter distances. It’s available and it’s quite possible to go in that direction,” believes Cabanetos.

Anthony Mainville, president of Attrix, who moderated the panel, noted that early adopters of electrification for city deliveries will be favored.

“Urban centers will favor zero-carbon vehicles. We also know that there are noise restrictions in urban areas. There’s a lot of business opportunities there, and those regulations are going to come much faster than we think.”

Provencher added that in addition to regulations, customers will influence the deployment of electric trucks, giving as an example Ikea, whose tenders specify that over a five-year contract, 20% of vehicles must be electric in the first year.

“Ikea says, if you want to bid with us, 20% of your vehicles have to be electric and, by the way, in five years it has to be 100%. If you don’t have electric vehicles, you just don’t bid.”

Houde reiterated that as of 2030, Montreal will not accept any combustion engine vehicles downtown.

“Everyone wants to make a transition. The various governments have given themselves ambitious objectives over the past few years, but it is difficult to reach them. We must always be more and more ambitious to compensate for what we have not managed to achieve,” believes the CEO of Propulsion Québec.

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