‘Literally Impossible’: Trucking Companies Brace for California’s Electric Mandate


By Travis Gillmore

June 5, 2023Updated: June 6, 2023

Logistics companies are scrambling to meet California’s upcoming Jan. 1, 2024 mandate that all new trucks purchased for servicing ports, rail yards, and distribution centers in the state be zero-emission vehicles, with experts questioning limited access to charging stations and the viability of switching from diesel to electric fleets.

Availability of electric semi-trucks is a concern, as is the price of the vehicles, the number of miles they can go on a charge, and the cost of maintenance and replacement parts, all of which currently remain unknown variables, according to industry experts.

“We need to know all of these things in order to plan,” Nelson Sibrian—owner of Sibrian Trucking based in Wilmington, California—told The Epoch Times. “If we don’t know the actual range, it makes it impossible to schedule, and they can’t give me a straight answer on how long [trucks] will take to charge.”

Charging is problematic on several fronts, as trucks require special charging stations, and with limited infrastructure at and near ports, experts say the frequent need to recharge, and the wait times expected with more trucks than charging ports, add to the time and cost of operation.

Traditionally, maintenance accounts for the majority of expenditures with diesel trucks, and the lack of information regarding similar requirements for electric vehicles presents unique challenges for logistics companies, according to experts. Some say they’ve heard costs could be tenfold for electric as compared to diesel trucks.

“Nobody has real numbers when we ask for details about maintenance and replacement costs,” Sibrian said. “With diesel, we know our cost per day to maintain the vehicle.”

The price of most electric semi-trucks is approximately $500,000, based on listings for new models, and Tesla is seeking to gain market share by undercutting the price, with models ranging from $180,000 and up.

Availability is considerably different between electric and diesel. Fleet owners have their choice of manufacturers for traditional trucks, while extremely limited production has electric counterparts on backorder in many instances.

“Even if I had the $500,000 to buy a new electric truck, there aren’t any for sale,” John Williams, a trucking professional servicing Oakland ports, told The Epoch Times.

With 10,000 drayage trucks—those that access ports and railyards—reportedly replaced on average each year, the newly imposed mandate will create demand that manufacturers will be unable to supply, based on current production standards, according to trucking company owners. Distributors additionally say only a handful of trucks are available at a time, with supply substantially trailing demand.

Efforts are underway to increase production at facilities in Southern California and Nevada, but transportation professionals expect difficulty buying or leasing the trucks by the time the laws take effect.

“This is a bigger problem than people realize because we’re being forced to do something that is literally impossible,” Williams said. “There are not enough trucks, not enough charging stations, and not enough information that we can rely on.”

Industry experts say the estimated 10,000-pound battery pack installed in Tesla trucks is also potentially an issue because replacements would be difficult and costly and lead to less cargo being carried due to laws pertaining to weight limits. They additionally report no success when requesting details from the manufacturer regarding specifics.

Tesla did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on deadline.

Weight of the vehicles is another concern, as the battery packages powering electric trucks cause them to weigh substantially more than standard trucks, and laws regulating weight limits on roads means a heavier truck can carry less cargo, hence less profit for the carrier, according to transportation experts.

“Packing a truck is how we make money,” Williams said. “If we’re limited by how much cargo we can carry and how far we can carry it, we can’t possibly be as efficient as we are today.”

Range presents another significant obstacle, as diesel trucks can run more than 1,000 miles before refueling, while the best electric semis currently can go 300 miles or less, with the majority currently operating in California lasting only 100 miles or fewer on average, according to experts.

PepsiCo purchased the first Tesla semis last December, with several reports of breakdowns near its Modesto distribution center early this year. Tesla additionally issued a voluntary recall of its semis in April due to a problem with the electronic parking brake valve, but it is unclear if the breakdowns are related to the recall.

Reliability is also a factor affecting owners’ hesitancy to switch to electric, with questions remaining about the long-term effectiveness of the power systems, according to experts.

Fires are another significant problem worrying operators, with several truckers telling The Epoch Times that the size of the lithium batteries installed in the big rigs will present public safety issues if and when fires occur.

While many steps remain before electric trucks can replace diesel fleets in California—by 2035 all fleets must be zero emission as required by the Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation passed in 2020—and companies say many questions still need to be answered, the push for zero-emission trucks has many supporters.

Proponents point to increased power and fewer mechanical components, with some claiming substantial long-term cost savings. But the estimates rely on a decrease in battery and power prices in the future, which critics say is a flawed analysis.

Given the list of variables still undetermined, owners say uncertainty typically means one thing: increased costs, and with inflation already impacting the economy, some are worried increasing pricing could impact households’ purchasing power.

“When costs go up, I’m going to have to raise the rates,” Sibrian, the trucking company owner, told The Epoch Times. “And you know who ends up paying for this, it’s the consumers.”