Toyota, Kenworth, Port of Los Angeles partner on zero-emission big-rig trucks

Even though it sits right on the ocean, the Port of Los Angeles has had a big pollution problem due to all the activity. But it's actually getting better.

"It's really hard to have cargo volume go way up, but emissions continue to go way down. And so we're very proud, especially in the last few years, to have that kind of success," said Chris Cannon, who is in charge of sustainability for the Port of Los Angeles.

The biggest issue now: those big trucks carrying the cargo. But a clean type of big rig is now entering its second phase of testing.

"It operates like any other Class A big-rig truck that's coming up and down the 710 from the Port of Los Angeles. But the difference is this truck produces absolutely zero emissions," said Bob Carter, president of sales and marketing for Toyota Motor North America.

The new Class A rig is a partnership between Toyota and Kenworth. The drive system is a larger version of the hydrogen fuel cell electric that you can get in a Toyota Mirai.

They wouldn't let me drive the truck since I don't have the right license, but I got to take a spin with a pro driver who has been testing the new trucks.

The other great thing about this electric-powered power big-rig? It's so quiet. So people who live near freeways not only won't smell the exhaust, they won't hear so much noise.

It's only a relative handful of trucks right now, but someday the partners involved would like to have a lot more of these on the road. But then there's that "elephant in the room" as the saying goes. The cost.

A new Kenworth rig starts at about $130,000, and new technology always costs more at first. The smaller trucking companies could have an especially tough time with that cost. But Toyota says the price of a fuel cell truck will eventually become competitive, and even less costly than a conventional diesel-powered rig.

"We can continue to refine this technology, get it ready for mass production, and bring those costs way down," said Toyota's Bob Carter

Even so, for some independent owner-operators, anything brand new might be beyond their budgets.

"It's not easy. But we're working on financing programs and other ways to coordinate with them, and help them replace their equipment," said Cannon.

If all this comes together affordably in the coming years, big trucks could make a smaller impact on the environment.
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