Montreal earning reputation as an e-trucking hotspot in North AmericaNews
May 3, 2023
Mehanaz Yakub

Clean energy, purchase incentives and progressive city policies are driving commercial fleet operators to choose Greater Montreal as the go-to-place to roll out heavy-duty electric trucks

Loblaw is the latest company to join e-truck operators in the area. Last month the grocery giant rolled out its first heavy-duty, fully electric transport truck in Canada: an electric Freightliner eCascadia from Daimler Truck North America. Photo: Loblaw

Clean energy, purchase incentives and progressive city policies are driving commercial fleet operators to choose Greater Montreal as the go-to place to roll out heavy-duty electric trucks

Take a drive through the Greater Montreal area and you may notice new vehicles on the road that only a few Canadians have seen: electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Loblaw. Coke. McDonald’s. These are just a handful of the fleet operators moving goods around Montreal by electric truck and signalling a trend in the industry towards zero-emission freight shipping.

That the city’s transportation corridors are now a North American hotspot for heavy-duty electric truck pilots is no accident. Rather it’s a clear indicator that a combination of municipal, provincial and federal policies are aligning to create ideal conditions for purchase and deployment.

Loblaw is the latest company to join e-truck operators in the area. Last month, the grocery giant rolled out its first heavy-duty, fully electric transport truck in Canada: an electric Freightliner eCascadia from Daimler Truck North America.

The truck is making daily short-haul runs between Loblaw’s distribution centre in Boucherville and Loblaw-owned stores in Greater Montreal. The delivery destinations include Provigo, Provigo Le Marche and Maxi.

“It’s no secret that vehicle decarbonization is central to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and we want to lead in the adoption of this new technology,” said Brian Springer, vice-president of national transport operations at Loblaw, in a press release. “For nearly two years, we’ve piloted different vehicles across various parts of our business, and we’re excited to roll out a solution that works.”

City support, provincial assets

As the City of Montreal sees it, this is just the beginning. Its climate plan sets a target to have 25 per cent of deliveries made with no GHG emissions by 2030.

“In keeping with its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the City of Montreal wishes to increase and diversify the supply of electric transportation by developing more sustainable, affordable and accessible mobility options,” says a city spokesperson.

As well, Montreal is investing $13 million in local business linked to sustainable and zero-emission mobility.

However, these goals also hinge on leveraging provincial assets.

In Loblaw’s case, Quebec’s clean and inexpensive energy was a leading reason the company decided to deploy the electric truck in Montreal.

“Electricity generation in Quebec is relatively inexpensive and almost entirely hydroelectric, making it a good clean source of energy we can leverage to charge this electric vehicle,” says Loblaw spokesperson in an email statement to Electric Autonomy.

Operating the vehicle between Boucherville and Montreal also gives Loblaw the opportunity to test the electric truck’s technology in different climates and road conditions.

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

Companies’ climate goals

Other companies are taking similar tacks.

Last year, McDonald’s Canada’s distribution partner, Martin Brower, started using a Volvo VNR Electric Class 8 tractor-trailer to tow McDonald’s-branded trailers for food and beverage deliveries to restaurants in Montreal.

About the same time, Kruger Energy, a Montreal-based developer and manager of renewable energy power plant, deployed a pair of Class 8 Peterbilt 579EV electric semi-trailer trucks in the North Shore of Montreal. The trucks are delivering Cashmere, SpongeTowels and Bonterra-branded tissue products between two facilities owned by Kruger Products.

Kruger’s two electric trucks run 20 hours per day, seven days a week. At full duty cycle, they will travel 365,000 km annually or more than 1,000 km each day between the Crabtree and Laval depots.

Loblaw’s Freightliner Cascadia, with a hauling capacity of up to 82,000 pounds of gross weight and a range of up to 370 kilometres per charge, will return to the Boucherville depot after each shift to recharge at the end of the day.

Both Kruger and Loblaw say further expansion of their electric truck fleets will support their commitments to reduce their carbon footprints.

Kruger has already ordered 50 additional electric trucks, with up to 20 expected to hit the road within the next two years, while Loblaw is planning to introduce four more electric Freightliner Cascadia into its Canadian fleet in “the coming months.”

Loblaw also says it plans to decarbonize its fleet of more than 160 company-owned day-cab trucks by 2030. “While locations have yet to be finalized, we do anticipate to roll them out in other provinces as well,” says the Loblaw spokesperson.

Rebates and skills upgrading

Along with Quebec’s clean power, financial support from both the provincial and federal governments is another important factor behind the area’s e-trucking surge.

Quebec is encouraging early adoption of electric trucks with purchase incentives to companies to help offset the higher costs of medium- and heavy-duty vehicle. Thought its Ecocamionnage program, the province provides a $175,000 purchase rebate per electric heavy-duty truck. (B.C. is the only other province with a similar incentive.)

Last year, the federal government also began offering purchase incentives of up to $200,000 for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which can be combined with provincial or territorial rebates.

Loblaw did not comment on whether it took advantage of these programs in time for publication.

But just last month, Coca-Cola Canada Bottling confirmed it took advantage of both programs to help fund its purchase of six Volvo VNR Class 8 battery electric trucks. The trucks, to be delivered in 2023, will make daily 150-km round trips from the distribution centre to customer locations in Montreal.

In addition to rebate programs, Quebec’s government is also investing in upskilling its workforce with the skills necessary to work with and repair heavy-duty trucks.

Last month, it committed over $7 million to a three-year, heavy-duty electric and hybrid vehicle maintenance training program. The program will train 264 mechanics and repairers of heavy-duty electric and hybrid vehicles in Quebec, creating more job opportunities and a skilled workforce to meet the needs of the province’s growing electric truck industry.

Focus on urban freight

Within Montreal itself, further efforts are being guided by the city’s Stratégie d’électrification des transports 2021-2023. Adopted in 2021, one of the strategy’s key aims is to “intensify efforts to encourage the electrification of urban freight transportation.”

The city is intent on both accelerating the deployment of zero-emission vehicles as well as reducing heavy truck traffic (where possible) by offloading some deliveries to electric cargo bikes in order to help reduce the congestion and pollution impacts in Montreal, as part of the city’s Colibri project.

Launched initially in 2019, Montreal expanded the Colibri project last November. Bike couriers that are participating in the project include FedEx, Courant Plus and Machool.

“[Colibri] promotes safe cohabitation between all road users and contributes to a greener and more flexible freight transportation industry in the city,” says Montreal’s spokesperson.

The project aims to eliminate 150 tonnes of CO2 as well as prevent more than 35,000 diesel truck stops for delivery and more than 30,000 hours of truck presence in Montreal’s central neighbourhoods each year.

Montreal is also taking a unique step in Canada in establishing a Zero-Emission Zone in parts of the city by 2030 that will preclude combustion vehicles — including trucks — from driving there.

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