LOS ANGELES — The first two battery-electric semis to roll off the production line from Nikola Corp. were delivered to the Port of Los Angeles Friday. Southern California trucking company Total Transportation Services Inc. will operate the trucks at the port as part of a pilot program to provide feedback on their operation in the real world. 

What You Need To Know

  • The two Nikola Tre battery-electrics delivered to TTSI are the first of a 100-truck order

  • Nikola says its battery-electric Tre can travel up to 350 miles per charge and carry 82 tons

  • The hydrogen fuel cell version will be able to travel 500 miles

  • There are currently 16 zero-emissions projects operating the Port of LA

“We’re constantly hearing about things occurring that are a direct result of climate change because of increased greenhouse gases, so it’s very important that we do our part,” said Chris Cannon, chief sustainability officer for the Port of LA. “We’ve got to get zero-emissions trucks out there and get them operating.”

As part of the Clean Air Action Plan the port announced in 2017, 100% of the 12,000 freight trucks operating at the port must be zero-emissions by 2035. About 100 vehicles at the port currently meet that criteria.

The two Nikola Tre battery-electrics delivered to TTSI are the first of a 100-truck order. TTSI operates a fleet of about 2,000 vehicles and hauls for most of the area’s major retailers, including Amazon and Target. The company plans to add 30 of the battery-electric Tres next year, followed by another 70 that will run on hydrogen fuel cells when they become available.

Nikola says its battery-electric Tre can travel up to 350 miles per charge and carry 82 tons. The hydrogen fuel cell version will be able to travel 500 miles.

“This day represents a major step in our continual quest to achieve a zero-emission fleet, which is why TTSI highly values its partnership with Nikola. Production, performance, and maintenance will be the key to our future success, and we are confident Nikola will excel on all three fronts,” TTSI President Vic LaRosa said.

Founded in 2015 and based in Phoenix, Ariz., Nikola is one of several startups that are now making zero-emissions big rigs, including Texas-based Tesla and LA-based Xos. Most of the country’s major truck makers are also making electrics, and many of the country’s largest manufacturers, retailers and delivery operators have placed orders for them, including UPS, Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo and Walmart.

While the majority of those trucks are in the testing phase, much of that testing has been happening at the Ports of LA and Long Beach, including Volvo Trucks North America’s VNR battery-electrics, Daimler Trucks North America’s e-Cascadia and Kenworth, which has been operating a ten-truck fleet of semis powered with hydrogen fuel.

There are currently 16 zero-emissions projects operating the Port of LA, according to the port’s environmental specialist, Jacob Goldberg. Those include a partnership with Toyota, UPS and Shell, which is building hydrogen fueling stations at the port and in Ontario, near the warehouses those trucks service.

“The transition to zero-emissions is underway and the technology is available today, but it’s not happening quickly enough,” said Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan, who represents California’s 44th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To urge it along, Barragan authored the Climate Smart Ports bill that is part of Build Back Better legislation the U.S. Senate is currently considering. Her bill includes $3.5 billion in zero-emissions technology investments to reduce air pollution at the ports from diesel-fueled equipment and trucks.

Trucks traveling in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach emit nearly 2,600 tons of nitrous oxides every year, along with high levels of carbon dioxide, diesel particulate and other harmful pollutants, she said.

“This is a major reason why people living in port communities such as Wilmington and San Pedro and along our major freight corridors are burdened with higher rates of asthma and have lower life expectancy than residents of other communities,” Barragan added.

More than half of a diesel truck’s $180,000 annual operating cost is fuel, according to TruckInfo.net. While electric trucks cost less to operate and are easier to maintain than their diesel counterparts, they cost significantly more. The Port of LA estimates a new battery-electric semi is $350,000 compared with $150,000 for one powered with diesel.

Multiple levels of government are involved in transitioning diesel trucks to zero-emissions to help offset the cost. The bipartisan infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law last month includes $7.5 billion in federal funding to build out zero-emissions infrastructure, complimenting multiple programs at the state level.

Under the Executive Order California Governor Newsom signed in September 2020, all heavy-duty trucks transporting containers to and from California ports must be 100% zero-emissions by 2035. To help meet that goal, the California Air Resources Board earlier this year announced Project 800 — an initiative for truck operators to place orders for 800 zero-emissions trucks in 2021 using something called the heavy-duty vehicle incentive program. 

The HVIP provided $25 million to help truck operators offset the cost of buying zero-emissions commercial vehicles. Next year, the amount will double to $500 million.

Project 800 is a compliment to the Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation California adopted in 2020, which requires manufacturers to produce and sell medium- and heavy-duty zero-emissions vehicles in the state starting in 2024. Fifteen other states have since joined California in achieving that same goal.

Starting in April, the Port of LA will begin implementing a clean truck fee that will charge diesel truck operators for using the port and channel the proceeds toward zero-emissions trucks. The program is estimated to bring in $130 million during its first three years.

Heavy-duty vehicles consume 46% of the fuel used on the road and generate 71% of the particulate matter that contributes to public health problems such as asthma, according to CALSTART, a nonprofit consortium of 200+ member companies working to create a more efficient and clean high-tech transportation industry.

“The time is now,” said CALSTART spokeswoman Alycia Gilde. “We have the zero-emissions vehicle technologies available today to help reduce the emissions in our communities, to help drive the climate solutions that we want to see for a clean air future.”