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November 18, 2021

Ready, Set, Electric: Vehicle Types and Electric Opportunities

By Mark Gooden, Analyst, Transportation Electrification

In the previous post in our Transportation Electrification Blog Series, we explore the categories of greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonization benefits of electric vehicle adoption. In the next installment, we cover the classifications of commercial motor vehicles to help you determine which electric vehicle type is right for your fleet.

Electrification has become a popular pathway for decarbonizing fleets. In short, vehicles converting to electricity shift their emissions from Scope 1 to the more flexible Scope 2. This transition gives companies more flexibility as to how to approach decarbonization. However, transitioning to electric can be daunting, as fleet managers must balance a variety of vehicle types while maintaining operational efficiency. It can be a complex decision to determine where electrification is viable, and when to convert vehicles. This article serves to define commercial motor vehicle classes and expand on where electrification works today.

Vehicle Classification

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines the most common categorization system for fleet vehicles. First, vehicles are divided into 8 classes based on Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). GVWR represents the maximum operating weight of a vehicle including fuel, passengers, and cargo. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) are responsible for setting the GVWR of vehicles they produce.

Next, some classes are grouped into various “duties.” Within the FWHA, Light-Duty includes Classes 1-2, Medium-Duty includes Classes 3-6, and Heavy-Duty includes Classes 7-8. These broader categories help to describe vehicles that can transcend multiple GVWR classes. What qualifies as “Light,” “Medium,” or “Heavy” duty can also change depending on the organization. The chart below provides examples from these distinct categories.


Light-Duty Vehicles

Light-duty vehicles are the most common vehicle class in the U.S., which include most sedans, SUVs, trucks, and vans. Their small payload, short routes, and minimal energy demand create a great opportunity for electrification. In most states there are over 30 passenger electric vehicle models available today. In addition, the average range (or battery capacity) of EVs has grown 60% since 2015, with many models sitting between 200-300 miles. With 18 of the 20 largest auto manufacturers committed to increasing the offerings of EVs, companies looking to decarbonize will have a wide range of options to choose from.

Light-duty EVs function well for sales representatives, utility transport, light cargo vans, and work trucks. They can also operate efficiently using Level 2 overnight charging.

Some examples of light-duty EVs include:

Medium-Duty & Heavy-Duty Vehicles

Medium and Heavy-Duty vehicles take a significant step up in duty-cycle, including most box trucks, bucket trucks, and freighters. Their heavy payloads, longer routes, and high energy demand make electrification more challenging but possible. As a result, fleet managers will need to place more focus on Feasibility and Early Planning. Many fleets have adopted a pilot program approach to optimize how electrification can work from them.

The Medium and Heavy-Duty EV markets are still in their infancy, with many OEM projects under development. There is also a continued dialogue on whether hydrogen or other alternative fuels will better fit many MD/HD applications like long-haul freight in the future. The transition of Medium and Heavy-Duty vehicles will rely upon OEM innovations.

Medium and Heavy-duty EVs function well on short-haul, fixed loop routes. Payload will play a large factor in the maximum range of these vehicles.

Some notable medium and heavy-duty EVs that are available and in development include:

How Organizations Can Learn More

The team at Edison Energy works to identify the best vehicle class and fuel type for our clients to maximize efficiency and reach decarbonization goals. We build roadmaps for clients to help them transition over time while providing resiliency in their planning. Our service ranges from simple fleet analysis to a full fleet transition strategy depending on client needs.

For more information, check out our Transportation Electrification Blog Series!

Alternative Fuels Data Center: Maps and Data – Types of Vehicles by Weight Class (energy.gov)
Alternative Fuels Data Center: Maps and Data – Vehicle Weight Classes & Categories (energy.gov)
International Energy Agency – 2021 Global EV Outlook