Kenworth T680 hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles driving on a road
Loblaw Companies Limited is expanding its fleet of zero-emission vehicles with the addition of hydrogen fuel cell trucks. Photo: Kenworth Trucks

The grocery giant says the Kenworth T680 model trucks, equipped with Toyota hydrogen fuel-cell technology, will help Loblaw service routes that exceed the range of its battery-electric vehicles

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is expanding its fleet of zero-emission vehicles with the addition of hydrogen fuel cell trucks.

The Canadian grocer is purchasing five Class 8 T680 hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) from Seattle-based Kenworth Trucks, which is owned PACCAR Inc. The trucks are powered using Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell powertrain kit.

“Loblaw is one of the largest companies in Canada and a leader in finding solutions that reduce the environmental impact of their operations to make a positive difference in the communities it serves,” said Kevin Baney, Kenworth’s general manager in a press statement released by Kenworth.

“We look forward to assisting Loblaw’s mission to operate more sustainably.”

Loblaw already operates two electric Class 8 trucks in its fleet — with one deployed in Vancouver and the other in the Greater Montreal area. The company says the addition of hydrogen-fuelled electric vehicles is necessary to address some of the range limitations of battery-electric trucks. For instance, electric trucks cannot cover long distances without frequent charges. Hydrogen-powered vehicles, Loblaw says, solve this issue.

“With a longer driving range compared to battery-electric vehicles, we see hydrogen-powered trucks as an excellent way to reduce emissions for our trucks that travel longer distances,” says Wayne Scott, Loblaw’s senior director of transportation maintenance.

“We’re committed to finding solutions that allow us to operate sustainably.”

Electric Autonomy reached out to Loblaw for information about the deployment locations and timeline of the vehicles in Canada, but did not receive a response before publication.

Developing hydrogen fuel-cell technologies

Kenworth has been collaborating with Toyota for several years on the development of FCEV truck technologies. Their joint pilot program, conducted at the Port of Los Angeles last year, involved testing 10 T680 FCEV prototypes in real-world settings.

The results of the pilots provided both Kenworth and Toyota with insights on how to further enhance the vehicle’s performance and range.

Now that the pilot program is complete, Kenworth and Toyota are progressing toward manufacturing the trucks. Customers in Canada and the United States may now place deposits for the initial builds of the T680 FCEV.

Kenworth said at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in California this May that commercial production of the T680 trucks will begin in late 2023.

“After years of research and development with Toyota and product testing the T680 FCEV in real-world operations, it’s an exciting time in Kenworth’s history to bring this technologically advanced truck to market,” said Kenworth’s Baney in a press note from the ACT Expo.

Kenworth FCEVs new to Canada’s roads

Loblaw’s purchase of the Kenworth T680 FCEVs marks the first time a Canadian company is buying these vehicles.

In the Kenworth press statement, Scott notes Loblaw is “one of the first companies in North America to place an order for these trucks and be an early adopter of fuel cell technology.”

So, what is Loblaw buying?

The T680 FCEV has a range of 700 kilometres. It is equipped with a 310kW Dual Motor Assembly, delivering continuous power of 415 horsepower at a maximum payload of 82,000 pounds (GCWR). It also features the Toyota Gen 2 Dual Fuel Cell Module.

“Toyota is excited to take the next step in this joint effort with Kenworth to provide a zero-emission powertrain kit to its customers,” said Matt Stich, general manager of fuel cell solutions, Toyota Motor North America. “This proven hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric technology will allow commercial customers to help reduce carbon and operate more sustainably.”

The first T680 FCEVs are to be delivered to customers in 2024.

Loblaw’s zero-emission fleet targets

The purchase of the hydrogen FCEV trucks aligns with Loblaw’s pledge to decarbonize its entire fleet of more than 160 company-owned day cab trucks by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

In addition to the hydrogen FCEV trucks, Loblaw recently bought five electric Freightliner eCascadia vehicles from Daimler Truck North America in April. As noted, the first of these electric trucks is already operating in the Greater Montreal Area, making short-haul deliveries from a Loblaw distribution centre located in Boucherville.

Loblaw previously told Electric Autonomy in an email statement that the choice of the Boucherville-Montreal corridor was deliberate, as Quebec offers relatively inexpensive and clean hydroelectricity to charge the trucks.

“Deploying the truck in Quebec will also allow us to better understand how temperature fluctuations might impact the battery life,” it added.

Looking ahead, Loblaw has ambitious plans to further expand its electric truck fleet. It expects to deploy the remaining four electric Freightliner eCascadia trucks in different provinces. The company also says that it has around 35 battery electric vehicles on order from various manufacturers, with many expected to be on the road by the end of 2024.

B.C. fuel cell expertise is driving growth for a Daimler Trucks-Volvo Group joint venture