True zero-emissions freight transportation is closer to reality than you might think. A California-based technology company called TransPower USA has five Class 8 tractors in service now working out of the Port of Long Beach. The company also has several yard shunt tractors and school buses in real-world service.

These trucks are not cobbled together McGiver jobs, either. They are highly engineered and look just like factory installations. These trucks could be the long sought-after solution to diesel emissions in areas with real air quality issues.

We recently had an opportunity to test drive one of these electric Class 8 trucks and found it to be a very functional alternative to a diesel tractor. We had the truck without a trailer, so we can't report on its pulling power, but the company says the truck is powered by two 200-hp electric motors. That's 400 horsepower, plus you get the benefit of the very high torque output of the electric motors.

Joshua Goldman, the vice president of Business Development at Transpower says the trucks are a work in progress, still undergoing refinement and incorporating newer technologies as they emerge. For example, Goldman says the current design has a range of 80 to 100 miles at nearly full output – as he says, "pulling 80,000 pounds at 65 mph" – but he said they are currently working to extend that range to 120-150 miles while cutting the weight of the truck by about 2,000 pounds.

This control module is the heart of Transpower's all-electric, zero-emissions Class 8 drive system. Photo by Jim Park

This control module is the heart of Transpower's all-electric, zero-emissions Class 8 drive system. Photo by Jim Park

Trucks like this are obviously not a viable alternative for longhaul operations, but they certainly will work in local, regional, pickup and delivery and probably some vocational applications. 

The trucks we feature in the video are working, licensed vehicles that see daily service in the Long Beach area. Check out the video and imagine the possibilities.

And by the way, this truck is NOT an International branded product. The company behind the electric powertrain, TransPower USA, bought the cab and chassis from International, removed the diesel engine, fuel tanks, cooling system and a few other parts before installing the electric drive system and batteries. It's basically a glider kit. Transpower USA says it will soon be buying glider kits from other OEs as well.

More information on the company is available here.

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