A Kenworth T680 equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell-electric powertrain jointly developed with Toyota, races up Pike's Peak. - Photo: Kenworth

A Kenworth T680 equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell-electric powertrain jointly developed with Toyota, races up Pike's Peak.

Photo: Kenworth

In 1806, in what today is Colorado, a U.S. Army explorer named Zebulon Pike stumbled across the highest mountain in the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and discovered a towering peak that was already well-known to the Ute Indians living in the area. He decided to name the towering geographic feature after himself. But since “Zebulon’s Mountain” was too much of a mouthful for anyone to say, everyone decided to go with “Pike’s Peak,” instead.

In the early 20th century, Pike’s Peak gained new fame as a grueling proving ground for the embryonic automotive industry. A carriage road to the summit of the mountain was the perfect place for manufacturers and drivers alike to showcase their technology, durability and skills on a tough, 12-mile course that begins at 9,390 feet elevation and finishes at 14,115 feet.

On the way to the top, drivers must contend with 156 turns and extreme weather conditions. It is not unusual for a competitive driver to begin their run in perfectly sunny conditions, and then experience sleet, thunderstorms, wind, hail, fog, or blinding snow before reaching the top of the mountain. Taken as a whole, the course has an average grade of 7% all the way to the summit.

Paccar’s Kenworth and Peterbilt are the latest truck makers to take on the mountain, this time to show how tough its latest zero-emission, battery-electric and fuel-cell electric trucks are – fully capable of tackling one of the automotive world’s most extreme endurance courses. And each OEM posted dramatic videos detailing their respective runs to the top of the mountain. 

In the case of Peterbilt, the OEM is proclaiming that its Model 579EV tractor is the first zero-emission, battery-electric, Class 8 truck to successfully reach the summit of Pikes Peak.

Likewise, Kenworth is touting the run of its T680 hydrogen fuel cell-electric truck as the first vehicle of its kind to race to the summit of the mountain.

Both OEMs have published dramatic video of the climb to the top – although both rigs were bobtailed and no official time was kept. Both trucks adhered to the posted speed limits for the entire duration of the run.

As was the case 100 years ago, when the first primitive cars and trucks started making runs to the top of Pike’s Peak, the purpose is the same: to demonstrate to the public that new technology – in this case, battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell powertrains – can perform under the most extreme road conditions possible.

Over a three-day period, both T680 and the 579EV made the journey up Pikes Peak multiple times with ease, the companies said.

Running 12 miles up a 14,000-foot mountain can drain batteries quickly. But, in the case of the Peterbilt 579EV, the truck used the recovered energy from regenerative braking on the descent to recharge the high-density battery packs and then repeat the rigorous climb. Peterbilt engineers specifically called out the cornering of the truck on the tight mountain turns as exceptional, thanks to the lower center of gravity provided by the placement of the 579EV’s battery packs, compared to a conventional, diesel-powered version of the truck.

The Kenworth team worked closely with Toyota engineers during the Pike's Peak Climb. Toyota and Kenworth have partnered on scaling up Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell technology for Class 8 truck applications. 

Both Kenworth and Peterbilt are claiming the Pike Peak runs as the first-ever for a battery-electric truck and one powered by hydrogen fuel cells. But in all likelihood they won’t be the last. Pike’s Peak continues to stand as one of North America’s toughest challenges for new automotive technology – just as it did a century ago.

Author

Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts

Senior Contributing Editor

As HDT's Senior Contributing Editor Jack Roberts has become known for his reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

View Bio

As HDT's Senior Contributing Editor Jack Roberts has become known for his reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

View Bio
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