Electric Commercial Trucks are Growing in Popularity

Large electric delivery trucks were quite popular in the early days of the automobile. Indeed, Walker built them well into the 1930s. Today, several manufacturers are embarking on building medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks in the U.S. Besides the advantages of early electric trucks like quiet operation and durability, there are additional reasons that truck builders see a market for electric delivery trucks. These include high fuel prices, concerns about climate change, and the advent of new battery technologies that give electric trucks the range they lacked in the past.
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. has joined with Enova Systems to build an all-electric chassis that could be used for the MT-45 walk-in vans used by FedEx and UPS, among other applications. The electric vans would use Enova's 90 and 120 kW electric drive systems, have maximum payloads of 10,000 pounds, and be available to fleet customers as early as 2010. Production could be at Freightliner plants in Gaffney, South Carolina and Enova’s facility in Torrance, California.
Navistar will be building an all-electric urban truck in Elkhart, Indiana, great news for the economically depressed city that’s home to many RV and motorhome manufacturers. To speed up development, Navistar has entered into a joint venture with Modec, a company that already builds electric trucks in Coventry, England used by FedEx, UPS, and Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain. The joint venture has received $39 million from the U.S. Stimulus Plan and plans to produce and sell electric Class 2 and 3 commercial vehicles in North, Central, and South America with first deliveries expected in 2010.
Smith Electric Vehicles is already building its Newton electric delivery truck in a hanger at the Kansas City International Airport, albeit in low volume. Smith has yet to make a decision on a larger permanent factory, although several locations are vying for the facility. The Newton, which at 16,000 pounds is the largest commercially available battery electric-powered truck, has been delivered to PG&E, Coca-Cola, Staples, Frito-Lay, AT&T, and Kansas City Power & Light. The truck is powered by Valence lithium-ion batteries and a 120 kW motor that provides a range of over 100 miles on a single charge.
Ford plans to launch its Transit Connect battery electric vehicle in mid-2010. Essentially the Smith Ampere built in the U.K., it uses a lithium-ion/iron phosphate battery pack and a 50 kW electric motor that replaces the Transit Connect’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, providing a range of about 100 miles and a top speed of 70 mph.
Balqon Corp., which builds off-highway yard tractors and drayage vehicles in Harbor City, California, is now offering its Mule M150 for short-haul on-highway routes in inner cities, port facilities, and airports. The Mule M150 is equipped with Balqon’s heavy-duty electric drive system that integrates a 300 horsepower traction motor and lithium-ion batteries. The Mule M150 can carry a maximum load of 7 tons and is able to travel at a speed of up to 55 mph.
Several other smaller companies are either planning to manufacture, or are already manufacturing and marketing, electric delivery trucks. Electric Vehicles International, a California company that has built electric vehicles in Mexico for some 20 years, is offering its electric Class 3-6 eviLightTruck commercial trucks, which will be built in Stockton, California. Electrorides’s ZeroTruck is an Isuzu N Series Class 4 truck converted to electric power by Boshart Engineering in Ontario, California. Boshart has already been involved in building the Phoenix SUT electric pickup, an electrified Ssangyong pickup sourced from Korea. Boulder Electric Vehicle plans to build electric vans and trucks in Boulder, Colorado, with electric Delivery Truck and Cargo Van/Work Utility Vehicle models expected to be available in 2010 and 2011, respectively.