Truck makers face less competitive pressure than car companies. In the car business, Tesla has won over customers who previously drove cars made by Mercedes, General Motors and Volkswagen, forcing those companies to respond. The Tesla Model Y sport utility vehicle was the best-selling passenger car of any kind worldwide in 2023, according to JATO Dynamics, a market research firm.
No upstart truck maker has had comparable impact. Tesla has developed a long-haul electric truck called the Semi, but the company has not begun selling it in large numbers.
“We would have moved faster over the last five years if there was a zero emission truck company taking the lead,” said Katherine García, director of a Sierra Club program that promotes clean transportation.
Nikola once aimed to be the Tesla of the truck industry, but it has struggled since its founder, Trevor Milton, was accused of defrauding investors by lying about the abilities of the company’s technology. Mr. Milton was sentenced in December to four years in prison after a jury convicted him. He denies wrongdoing and is appealing. Nikola, under new management, shipped 79 vehicles in the first nine months of 2023, the most recent figures the company has disclosed.
The truck makers argue that they can’t be expected to sell battery-powered trucks when there are hardly any places to charge them. Electric trucks require extremely powerful chargers and, as a result, bigger connections to the electrical grid than are readily available. Many utilities have to upgrade old distribution lines, transformers and other equipment to be able to deliver the energy needed to refuel multiple trucks simultaneously.