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Inside Innovation: Long live electric, but diesel’s not dead yet

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Long live electric, but diesel’s not dead yet

California’s announcement in late August banning all sales of new ICE vehicles by 2035 has startled the North American auto market. In combination with tax rebates now available under new federal legislation, the impact is bound to be widespread across many other jurisdictions, maybe even Canada.

Canada, Britain and at least nine other European countries have already set goals to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles between 2030 and 2040. However, California’s deadlines are the toughest yet seen anywhere.

Will this ban spread to the construction site itself? Perhaps not by 2035, but maybe not long after, according to the official announcement.

“The California Air Resources Board will develop regulations to mandate that 100 per cent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035,” says the office of Governor Gavin Newsom. “In addition, the Air Resources Board will develop regulations to mandate that all operations of medium-and heavy-duty vehicles shall be 100 per cent zero emission by 2045 where feasible.” 

What does that say about the future planning of vehicle and equipment fleet purchases and leases?

Certainly, the days of glory for massive ICE pickup trucks are numbered. Although slow off the mark, the Big Three North American manufacturers are beginning to introduce electric versions to their line-ups, although not with the same level of enthusiasm as seen with their latest ICE trucks. That may change as battery materials and new technologies arrive.

When it comes to larger trucks on Canadian roads, the federal government launched the Incentives for Medium-and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles (iMHZEV) program on July 11. Vehicles as small and handy as the EV Ford Transit are eligible for a $10,000 purchase grant. Subsidies up to $200,000 are available for larger trucks and buses.

Site equipment, including large earth moving vehicles, are not yet covered. Still, there are a number of construction equipment manufacturers continually bringing new and larger electric machines and vehicles to market.

Volvo Construction Equipment is now testing its first large electrified crawler excavator near the company’s facility in Changwon, South Korea. North American demonstrations will take place soon. This marks an expansion of Volvo’s previously announced line-up of smaller electric excavators and loaders seen under test in Europe earlier this year.

Greenland Technologies, a Chinese manufacturer, is entering the market with its own line of electric-powered site equipment under the brand name Hevi Equipment. The company’s first line-up of electric excavators and loaders arrived in North America last year. However, there’s a wait time for new orders of several months.

Of course, the argument for going all-electric, whether in lighter trucks or heavy site equipment, centres on GHG emissions.

Interestingly, a new study presented this past June at the Diesel Technology Summit in Washington, D.C., painted a rosier future for machines currently powered by diesel fuel.

According to the event’s media release, the study conducted by Stillwater Associates evaluated several approaches to reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions from medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

When projected over 10 years between 2022 and 2032, it found considerable advantages with advanced diesel technology, particularly when using renewable biofuels, as compared to an electrification strategy.

The study found using low-carbon renewable bio-based diesel fuels available today would result in a three times larger cumulative reduction of GHG by 2032 than under the EV scenarios.

From a capital cost perspective, it also showed that, on a cumulative fleet conversion cost basis, turning over a medium and heavy-duty fleet of 10,000 vehicles over to EV would cost more than three times the equivalent cost of new technology diesel vehicles.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, explained it takes time to make significant, impactful change to entrenched technologies.

“Some solutions will be available sooner than others and at larger scale than others. Advanced diesel technology, as well as renewable and biodiesel fuels, are key available solutions that can deliver big impacts today,” he said.

Maybe diesel isn’t dead.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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