Study Says Innovations and Mandates Driving Alternative Commercial Vehicle Powertrain Demand

Improvements in fuel economy, adoption of alternative powertrains, and increasing government mandates, will help reduce emissions and increase efficiency in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, a new Navigant Research report finds.

In the United States, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs) use more than a quarter of all fuel burned annually, according to Navigant Research. MHDVs make up only 5 percent of vehicles on the road but account for about a fifth of U.S transportation emissions, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

As domestic and international economies grow, the commercial vehicle population is expected to increase. Fleet operators around the world are expected to consider investments in fuel efficiency technologies and alternative clean-burning fuels. Alternative powertrains in MHDV global sales are expected to grow from about 347,000 vehicles in 2016 to more than 820,000 in 2026, according to the Navigant Research report.

Conventional vehicles are getting cleaner and more efficient through incremental improvements in engines, transmissions, tires, and aerodynamics. However, the added costs associated with these changes are beginning to reduce the cost differential of moving to alternative powertrains, the study says.

With oil prices dropping in the past two years, and the availability of low-cost natural gas in some markets, expenditure on fuel has become less of a concern for fleets and freight carriers. Upcoming government mandates are making efficiency and clean technologies more vital for vehicle acquisitions.

Governments in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific are in the process of rolling out new legislation to set emissions and efficiency targets. Although these standards will not take effect for a few years, the nature of heavy vehicle development and fleet purchasing cycles means planning and development must begin soon, the report says.

“Cleaner and more efficient vehicles will become increasingly important as legislators set tougher standards for emissions,” says David Alexander, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “Electric drive is the right solution for some vehicle types and uses, but fleet managers can also choose from a variety of driver aids to optimize the efficiency and safety of all their vehicles.”

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Fuel efficiency will be improved by gains in aerodynamic aids, low rolling resistance tires, vehicle lightweighting, and improvements to engines and transmissions in new vehicles. In addition, natural gas, hybrid, and electric powertrains are expected to see significant growth over the next decade, Navigant says.

In this study, MHDVs are analyzed in four major categories: medium duty buses, heavy duty buses, medium duty trucks, and heavy duty trucks. Each of these vehicle categories is assessed for the suitability of efficiency technologies such as lightweighting, low rolling resistance tires and aerodynamic aids, and alternate powertrain types: hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric, natural gas, propane (autogas), and hydrogen fuel cell.

Navigant Research