ALT-e Stays on Course With Electric Pickups

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At the Detroit auto show, John Thomas, CEO of plug-in hybrid powertrain manufacturer ALTe Powertrain Technologies, said, "We want to be like a Cummins or Borg-Warner, where we want to be a branded powertrain company that partners with the big OEs — we want to supply their alternative powertrain options."

With all the talk at this year's Detroit auto show about alternative and hybrid powertrain options and the future of small- and midsize cars, the message can get lost that most of the fuel-consumption savings in this country won't come from replacing a small family car with a slightly more efficient smaller family car. Those gains will be minuscule.

The truth is the biggest gains will come from segments that do the most work and whose trucks get driven in the least efficient situations in the harshest duty cycles. That means work vehicles. 

For all the hype and attentioin Via Motors drew in Detroit, especailly with Bob Lutz near a microphone, the key aspect of the business model that doesn't quite add up is that it requires buying a brand-new vehicle, removing the powertrain and installing a completely new powertrain. Of course, we understand there will always be a certain percentage of fleet managers who have to replace their aging fleet with a certain percentage of brand-new trucks, but most trucks in the fleets will technically always be "used."

ALT-e 2010 F-150 Red
Why isn't it more cost effective for the powertrain retrofitter, as well as the purchaser, to offer the service for older vehicles than it is to offer to companies that have to buy more expensive new trucks?

"After talking with all the major players in the fleet market, it made sense to us," Thomas said, "that the bigger portion of the market is in replacing existing powertrains on aging trucks was going to be the easiest way to maximize fleet cost reductions for anyone who wanted to reduce their fleet's operating costs."  

It's hard to argue with the strategy, but it still makes you wonder how a company like Via Motors will address the relatively difficult and challenging CARB certification process, which, in some cases, can take as long as three years to complete. With Via having strong ties to GM and GM still holding a strong connection to the federal government, it does beg the question as to how they've been able to get past some of the more tricky red tape. 

The plan ALTe has in place, we're told, is progressing according to plan, with a certain amount of investor capital set in place, ready to start the production process. From what Thomas told us, all the funding necessary to start and maintain the business is in the final stages, which means production of the first retrofit conversions could start coming off the line in about 12 months. 

ALTe partnered with Manheim auction houses for sales, service and any warranty issues that may arise. Manheim has 145 locations worldwide, 70 in the U.S. and four across Canada. At the start of production, three facilities — in Southern California, Atlanta and New York — will take in the host vehicles, remove the powertrain and install the extended-range powertrain.

The powertrain works similiarly to the Chevy Volt. It uses a small engine to charge the batteries, which power the electric motors that move the truck. At first, ALTe was going to lean toward retrofitting Ford F-150s because, according to Polk data, 55 percent of fleets are more likely to be Ford models rather than GM models. 

Alt-e top view
Eventually, Thomas said, fleet customers will not be the only ones allowed to buy the new powertrain, which is scheduled to start production for under $30,000. In fact, he sees a day when the production locations, after a thorough vehicle inspection, will be able to take single sales right off the street.

Of course, pricing is a huge hurdle, but "we can see a day in the not too distant future that our biggest expense, the battery costs, will drop by as much as 50 percent, " Thomas said. "Add to that advancements in electric generator, motors and the hybrid controller, and you see how quickly the costs could plummet." And as battery ranges and charging times drop, we'll be able to go farther with less help from fossil fuels. 

Down the road, especially as the technology could make pricing similar to a current 1-ton turbo-diesel with an automatic transmission, it would be easy to see how this could work for pickups as well as luxury sedans, and even the RV industry. We can imagine that a powertrain option offering you and your motorhome buddies as much generated power as needed — all inside an existing engine and transmission unit — could be very attractive to a lot of people. Who knows, maybe not too long from now we'll be able to choose from a twin-turbo gasoline, full-electric, turbo-diesel hybrid or hybrid electric powertrains in any pickup truck, work van, motorhome or even sports car.

At the early stages here, pricing starts at $30,000, but if it looks to be heading below $10,000, the extended-range hybrid solution looks to be the more rational and economical choice for future work trucks. 

We're hoping to get a chance to spend more time with one or more of these vehicles soon. We'll keep you posted.

Alte

Comments

NO NO & NO Electric trucks !!!

Electric vehicles are actually worse for the environment than a gas powered vehicle,but people like to believe b.s

The electrical grid is stressed out enough,with electric vehicles using the grid,you wont have the internet,microwaves or lights in your house as per smart meters are coming in they can shut you off if you go over your allotment of electricity use !!!

Give me a 12 mpg 550 hp full size truck and I am happy,drill for oil and get rid of opec and stop this political correctness b.s !!!

Furthermore,you have to drill to extract the ion from the ground and guess what...it comes from Asia and you will be more dependant on import ion !!! Drill for oil here,bring our country up to power,strength again ! Drilling for lithium ion does 110x more harm than drilling fore oil...in Canada they restore the land to better than natural conditions after drilling...Many spots have natural oil surging to the soil making it useless,when they are done tree's plants animals roam the area,none were before ! Also,ducks were oiled from natural oil lakes/puddles...Windmills kill more birds than any oil production..ever !!

I'm not a big fan of electrics for the average consumer, I can see them in use as fleet vehicles, but I don't want to have to plug my truck in when I can fill with gas and go.

How can this article not have any information on fuel economy or range?

The science just doesn't work out. Burning gas to create mechanical energy, converting the motion into electricity, then converting the electricity back into mechanical energy does not make it more efficient! Instead it adds more power and efficiency robbing drains in the system.

The only advantage is the power stored in the battery that could theoretically be less expensive if taken from the power grid. But that all-electric range if very limited, especially for fleet use.

I have to agree with all of you...NO ELECTRIC TRUCKS!

Drill for oil...Overthrow OPEC and forget the political bullshit.

I hope these alt-e people join the right country clubs and get their business off the ground.

There's obviously a lot of resistance from consumers on this site but I can't wait for plug-in trucks. There's already some infrastructure showing up. Charging stations in parking lots and things like that.

And if you're going to force me to drive an automatic, it had better at least be fast. Electric cars are pretty peppy from what I've read.

You guys do realize that you are advocating for all out war and based on some of the parties involved I'd say it would be nuclear holocaust. Get a grip.

No matter the method in the US all electrical production is more efficient than an individual ICE from a single automobile. Electricity from coal only is still cleaner based on total energy use than the cleanest gas or diesel motors. The lithium amount used is minute ( a few grams of the stuff) and mostly comes from South America although there are major deposits in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hopefully they will be able to mine for this ore source and put their people to work with good wages rather than growing narcotic crops that only cause more devastation.

I get the point that batteries are pretty limited right now and take a long time to recharge. based on current innovation I think we'll realistically see batteries with 500 mile ranges that can charge within 30-45 minutes and cost about half of what today's 100 mile battery costs in about 8-10 years.

There is just too much capital being poured into this industry for anything else but major success.

Plug-ins are a joke -- I will never even consider one of these scam vehicles.
Our power grid is dated and nearly overwhelmed already, the last thing we need is the added burden of more devices. Also, if anyone hasn't noticed, increased EPA regulations have been reported to be putting many current power plants on the verge of costly investment or closure -- the latter being mentioned as more likely.
Sure, a battery may store a tremendous amount of energy, but it is effected by temperatures and efficiency can drop significantly as a result. They are also just shifting the source of pollution from petroleum to coal -- and which source is considered cleaner? Exactly, petroleum!

Additionally, these vehicles are no better for the environment than our gas/diesel vehicles since you cannot easily recover and dispose of the batteries materials, and they can pose a threat to passengers and first responders in the case of an accident. I know this because the dealership I worked at used to train local first responders on how to handle these vehicles in case of an accident -- you can't just start cutting someone out of a hybrid without knowing where or what you're going to cut through! They also have a requirement that anyone changing one of these batteries have a spotter to assist if they accidentally become part of a circuit -- aka start to get fried!

Hydrogen fuel cells posses more promise and a more efficient refueling than plug-ins, but I guess it doesn't matter when the mindless idiots in Washington decide what we are going to get to drive.

Guys, stop the knee jerk reaction to plug in hybrids. Don’t be a hater. They are a good transition between oil and the electric economy which is inevitable.

It was once said by a Kuwaiti prince in 1972 “ The stone age did not end for lack of stones, and the oil age will not end for lack of oil.”

The efficiency physics work for plug in hybrid electric vehicles (I know - I am a registered P.E. with 30 years auto experience including engineering the engines the drive your Ford Trucks 4.6L & 5.4L V8).

Here is data to consider:
1. An internal combustion engine is just 13% efficient from the potential energy stored in a gallon of gas through to the tires turning. Many losses in idling, accessory drive and thermodynamic inefficiencies by running at various rpm.

2. A series plug in hybrid delivers 40 battery electric miles at 85% efficiency (plug to tires) then the generator set kicks on and delivers 270 miles or so at 22% efficiency.

3. So, even if you run the generator set all day long you get a 69% improvement in fuel economy (22%-13%)/(13%).

4. The electric grid in the USA runs only at 55% of installed capacity – there is plenty of electric power to go around if the plug ins charge at night/off peak

5. The Oil and Gas industries are highly subsidized and when you add the cost of war over oil in human lives + $400 billion per year military budget + dead / diseased coal miners – you get a pretty compelling case to do something different

6. Yes 50% of electricity in the US in generated from coal, let’s work together to put America to work laying out more grid infrastructure + solar panels in unpopulated areas of the desert and wind in the great plans and we will be an energy secure nation

7. The CIA and Price Waterhouse Cooper completed a study showing that all the US needs is a patch of concentrated solar panels 89 miles x 89 miles square in the SW US to power the country for free forever – why don’t we do this? (Of course- we have to connect the grid to it – but as in point 6 above – let’s get to work on it dang it)

8. The 630 Nm of instantaneous torque achieved in the ALTe system beats the crap out of the Ford 4.6L V8 in a drag race – bring it on 

As the real Johnny said “I’m on fire!”

I would like an electric truck if it were built as good as the Fisker Karma.

@Johnny Cash - great comments.
Production cost will improve. A 30 K retrofit of a used truck might work out okay depending on the condition of the truck. If prices do drop to 10,000 it becomes a great option.

Terrible design. Just put the electric motor in the rear, get rid of the driveshaft.

@Johnny Cash - Where do you get the 22% efficiency of the vehicle running on generator power? It should be more like 6%

These vehicles have nothing in common with the Chevy Volt! I don't know why they keep comparing it. The Volt is an electric car until battery power runs out. Then it is a normal gasoline car with reduced efficiency because it's hauling around all the extra weight of the batteries and electric motors. It's only an advantage if you stay withing the battery range.

Toycrusher, the Volt is always electric, the only thing the gas motor does is keep the batteries charged and the electric motor powered. It is never like a normal gasoline powered car.

Here is a good review of the Fisker Karma, which is currently the best example of an electric vehicle with range extender.

http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/cars/fisker/fantastic-fisker/#comments

The Volt is a series hybrid (well virtually one since the gas motor can turn the wheels directly) versus say a Prius that is parallel. The Series hybrid isn't nearly as efficient once the initial charge is gone (the Volt gets 32 mpg on the highway after the first 32 miles are gone) due to the inefficiencies noted by Johnny. The more systems that the energy conversion has to go through the less efficient it is overall.

No doubt the Volt could be better tuned under full series use than it is and the motor they chose wasn't the first or even section choice of the engineers (it was a bean-counter measure to lower costs) and isn't particularly well suited. They need a motor that is steady state and tuned to its optimum at one speed ala freight trains.

I think the Volt 2.0 will address a lot of these shortcomings and with the flood gates opening for the plug-ins the choices will be made by the consumer for what they want.

I'll be curious to see what the Fusion plug-in costs and just how significant the benefits are. I could already use the Prius plug-in perfectly for my daily use but Toyota is charging one hell of a premium for it and that doesn't sit right with me (I already own a regular 2010 3rd gen Prius)

Any bets on what the new 2014 Silverado/Sierra hybrids can do and if they will have a plug in option? GM has hinted that this is a long term goal, will we see it this time around?

@Johnny Cash - The Volt loses 24% efficiency when running in gas mode(32mpg VS 42mpg non-electric). Unless your entire day of running is within the battery range, it is a complete waste of money. Even if you DO stay within range, It will still never pay off!

I wish them luck but I bet it doesn't live up to the marketing hype.

Might as well correct the misinformation.

@toycrusher84

"The science just doesn't work out. Burning gas to create mechanical energy, converting the motion into electricity, then converting the electricity back into mechanical energy does not make it more efficient! Instead it adds more power and efficiency robbing drains in the system."

It runs on electricity only for 40-50 miles first, which will save any fleet money, and many fleets do not need much if any more range than that for the roles these types of trucks will perform.


"@Johnny Cash - Where do you get the 22% efficiency of the vehicle running on generator power? It should be more like 6%. These vehicles have nothing in common with the Chevy Volt! I don't know why they keep comparing it. The Volt is an electric car until battery power runs out. "

No; a down-sized internal combustion engine running at a steady low speed and high load to generate the average power needs will always be more efficient than one cycling up and down in speed and load. I don't know what you're missing, but they do in fact operate very much like the Volt.


"@Johnny Cash - The Volt loses 24% efficiency when running in gas mode(32mpg VS 42mpg non-electric). Unless your entire day of running is within the battery range, it is a complete waste of money. Even if you DO stay within range, It will still never pay off!"

Obvious trolling. What you said is non-sense. The Volt gets 40 mpg highway on gas only, proving that the series hybrid system, even without pre-charging the batteries, can exceed the fuel economy of any comparably sized gas-powered non-hybrid.

The amount of trash that pours forth every time something remotely green is mentioned on this site is astounding. Personally, I'm looking forward to buying a smooth torquey electric dump truck, with a gas or diesel range extender for the odd day I need to put on big miles, and the ability to generate on-site power. All the crybabies must not use their trucks to make a living.

The fear of change is ridiculous. Wanna know what I fear? Fuel prices rising much faster than work truck fuel economy. For some fuel-intensive businesses, it will be evolve or die.

Volt does NOT get 40 mpg highway, it gets a disappointing 32 mpg on gas only. Check your facts. only diesel engines make peak torque down low, not the engines used here or in the volt. Again, check your facts

There are maybe 5 or 6 posters on these comment sections that are reasonable, fair, and intelligent. They do a nice job of adding to the main article and are good at responding to others.

The rest are pretty much babbling morons that add nothing to the discussions, unless that discussion is limited to two syllable words.

It is easy for a reader to tell who belongs in each group, provided you are not one of the babbling morons. A tip for you guys, read what you write before you submit it, think about it for a few minutes, then delete it and throw your computer in the landfill.

I log about 20 miles a day on the sand. I challenge any manufacturer for a electric/hybrid pickup truck to allow me to test it in my environment.

Look the whole idea of a all electric or a hybrid vehicle is just dumb! Not only does it use mor resorces to build the thing it cost more in repairs, trainning, eviroment,etc. The logic used to justifie 5 to 10 mpg is crazy. The added wires computers and tech to develop the vehicles just doesnt add up. why is it that diesels in other countrys are getting way better milage than in the USA?

Electric vehicles have multiple layers of safety built in. In a gas car, the battery uses the chassis for its ground, which means the current path actually passes through the body of the car. The battery pack in an EV does not.

Electric pickups?!? What is the world coming to? How are these going to move all my belongings? Electric cars have no oomph!



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