We’ve been flirting with electric trucks for an awfully long while now, decades in fact, but they remain limited in applications. And they’re not cheap. The limitation is mostly on the energy-storage side of things, as it is with electric cars, which are not exactly taking off.
I saw a poll taken recently of Canadian car buyers who, apparently, see a bigger future – and greater desirability – in hydrogen fuel-cell cars than electric. If the results are credible, most people aren’t willing to suffer the hassle of charging when they get such a limited driving range in return. I expect truck operators aren’t much different, though I can’t imagine many fleets are holding out hope for fuel cells as the alternative.
All of this is not to say the electric truck idea is dead. Far from it. And there are a quite a few interesting developments in the works.
Tesla’s co-founder Ian Wright, for example, aims to electrify urban delivery trucks and refuse packers, among others, through his company Wrightspeed. He left Tesla some 10 years ago when it was little more than a start-up, which may rank as a sizeable regret.
Nonetheless, he’s developed unique electric powertrains that can be installed on medium-and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, making them cleaner and an awful lot quieter – not to mention energy-efficient. (Wrightspeed doesn’t make whole trucks.)
His company is attracting interest from both FedEx and a California waste outfit. It has been installing its powertrains on 25 FedEx trucks following the fleet’s rigorous testing. And the Ratto Group, a 300-truck waste management company in Santa Rosa, is retrofitting 18 garbage trucks.
The plug-in Wrightspeed powertrains – called The Route – feature an electric engine, a battery system, and a turbine-based onboard power generator that runs on diesel, natural gas, or other fuels and recharges the batteries. A truck can run on batteries for about 30 miles before the turbine kicks in and does its recharging thing. The system roughly doubles truck fuel efficiency, Wright says.
And then there’s the technology developed by Germany’s Siemens, which has conducted trials of electrified trucks with Scania at its research facility outside Berlin since 2013. Next February, Scania will start testing electric trucks on an electric road.
With support from the Swedish Transport Administration and other bodies, it will demonstrate and evaluate conductive technology, which involves electrical transmission through overhead lines above vehicles equipped with a “pantograph” power collector. It amounts to an old idea with modern, better execution.
Envision something like what we used to call a “trolley bus.”
Scania’s trucks will haul freight on a 2-kilometer test route being built between the Port of Gävle and Storvik along European Highway 16. The trucks are equipped with an electric hybrid powertrain developed by Scania and based on one of its conventional diesel engines.
A similar electric road using the same technology is being built to serve the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, in that case a partnership between Siemens and the Volvo Group, using Mack trucks. It involves four trucks running along 1 mile of selected highway lanes, a one-year demonstration project that could soon be expanded to a 20-mile route if everyone’s happy.
So don’t give up on electric yet. Some pretty substantial companies see a future there.