Electric Trucks May Shift EV Perceptions

Electric VIA Motor 2 II
Electric vehicles are having a rough time lately in the court of public opinion. Hurdles like battery technology, charging-station infrastructure, entry cost and reliability are making what is supposed to be a solution to our oil dependency look more and more like an unlikely option.

Sales of vehicles like the plug-in Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius make up a tiny fraction of new-vehicles sales, and they aren't expected to get much higher over the next 10 years. Yet both political parties are using the vehicles as a football to make some good and bad points about the viability of the current and future technology. Unless there is a practical, predictable and reliable way to use the technology, an electric powertrain may not be a worthwhile solution for people who use their cars simply as transportation.

But there may be another way to make inroads: work trucks that use electricity as a fuel and a tool.

Over the past several years, we've seen some electric powertrian strategies that seem to show promise in making a work truck much less expensive to operate over the life of the truck's duty cycle. Up to this point, most are all about extending existing range and lowering the overall cost of ownership, two key issues important to fleet managers.

Pacific Gas & Electric, a huge utility for Northern and Central California, recently took possession of two electric trucks made by Via Motors, with plans to buy 400 to 500 new trucks per year starting in 2013. These are basically GM half-ton trucks with small engines (usually the V-6) that provide power for the newly installed battery packs that run a compact and powerful Remy electric motor. These particular PG&E trucks will also be equipped with a 15-kilowatt gas-electric generator.

Electric VIA Motors II
Via Motors' strategy is similar to (but not exactly like) the Chevy Volt in that it runs on electric power until it reaches a certain threshold, then the gasoline engine kicks in to power the electric motor that provides power to the wheels. Any excess power generated can be stored in the battery packs. In addition to supplying power to the wheels, the electric motor can also supply gobs of power for any electrical need. For a utility company like PG&E, that could mean supplying power to an entire neighborhood while working on the grid — saving all sorts of time, money and inconvenience to a large number of homes. These trucks could effectively become traveling power stations, ready to light up the darkness or, in the case of various hospital or emergency situations, save lives.

The point here is that in the initial stages of early adoption technology like this, it makes more sense to work out the bugs in more practical, large-volume fleets with punishing duty-cycle environments like the ones PG&E sees every day. That will likely provide more useful feedback compared with a small number of celebrity early adopters. To date, there have been mixed results with the new and expensive Fisker Karma and Tesla Roadster. Treating a powertrain as a useful tool as well as a power supply seems to be a more intelligent move than using it in a single-purpose high-visibility sports car.

We have no doubt there will be a place for electric powertrains, but it's not likely they'll be as popular as some politicians or transportation futurists might want — unless we're smart about it. That is, unless they can find a way to exploit the inherent advantages the technology could deliver over and above what we're getting from our current gasoline strategies. And from the looks of it, the possibilities are staring us in the face.

Electric Protean II
We've written about Protean Electric and explained how its in-wheel electric motors essentially eliminate the need for an underhood engine. The round, electrical generators sit inside each wheel hub and provide the specific power needs for each wheel. Four wheels means you could easily install four electric motors and use the engine bay as another storage trunk. Protean also promotes an aggressive regenerative-braking setup that could mean using a smaller battery to achieve the same extended range.

Even more interesting is what this particular strategy could mean for both large and small vehicles. Take a basic small car with an efficient four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Drop in a small battery pack under the rear seats and an electric motor in each hub, and you have a super-efficient all-wheel-drive vehicle that could get double the fuel economy. Better yet, how about adding 40, 60 or 80 horsepower to your rear-wheel-drive V-6 Ford Mustang by putting two electric motors in the front wheels?

Protean tells us that controlling the brake-drum-sized motors uses some serious computer power, but once you have the right software programming, the rest falls into place. And from a cost of ownership point of view, especially in larger work trucks, the system can save owners up to 30 percent in fuel costs.

And if the practical advantages weren't enough with this type of space-saving strategy, Protean has teamed up with the high-performance European-car experts at Brabus to create the all-wheel-drive hybrid Mercedes-Benz E-Class that was shown at last year's Frankfurt Motor Show.

Electric Alt-e layout II
The political push behind electric powertrains has already started. California is attempting to legislate the number of electric vehicles on the road in the state by a given year (1.5 million by 2025), and the California Air Resource Board voted in January to require the big automakers in the state to sell 15 percent of their cars as zero-emissions or near-zero-emissions vehicles.

Regardless of which electric powertrain strategy takes the lead, it seems clear that the commercial industry may be better positioned to reap the benefits of this technology and provide valuable testing data for suppliers. It makes sense to us that the abusive duty cycles seen by vehicles in large public utility companies would be able to supply more feedback to help companies improve software and hardware. Although it's likely we'll continue to see the occasional plug-in electric vehicle in various commuting and dense-city situations, it seems more likely we'll see more commercial fleets adopt this interesting technology in the name of overall cost-of-ownership savings and more practical power grid needs.

The cost of these trucks will be a huge issue, especially in these early stages. For now, Via Motors' half-ton trucks cost $79,000 for the entire truck (saving as much as $3,000 per year in fuel, depending on duty cycle), while other extended-range companies like Alt-e offer a range of solutions, costing from $10,000 to $30,000 depending on your needs. Still, other companies like Protean are more interested in working directly with manufacturers, and we're more likely to see its technology as part of a new special package offered by truck makers such as International, Mercedes-Benz or possibly Nissan. This will be interesting to watch, especially if fuel prices don't become more reasonable.

Electric Protean F-150 II


These electric trucks are our only hope.

I believe I read about Nissan's e-nv200 on your sister site. EVs are coming. Just need to work on keeping the politicians and their oil baron paymasters at bay.

Maybe for fleet vehicles, but for the average Joe people don't want plug in trucks for the same reasons they don't want plug in cars.

Plug-ins (a.k.a. coal-powered) are a sham! We have an ancient power grid they've been raising concerns over, and the new EPA regulations will make electricity more expensive in years to come as some power plants will likely end up off-line, along with the increased demand; your energy prices will "necessarily skyrocket."

I've read that Mitsubishi Motors is working on an EV pickup truck. Clearly it won't be a RWD towing pickup truck. But if they can produce a comfortable 5 seater that can haul full sheets of plywood in a small open bed with the tailgate open and has a range of 40 miles on a 6 hour charge costing about $40/mo in city power it would a be huge winner if consumers can trust them with a 10 year powertrain warranty and a painless battery upgrade path.

There are some very exciting things in the works from Protean. Also Michelin's (the French tire companies) Active Wheel motor). Volvo is another foriegn company making great strides with Brake recovery systems likely flywheel and ultracapacitors.

I'd really like to hear that the Big 3 are doing more on this front.

Obama said he was going to put the coal business out of business and cause electricity rates to skyrocket. These electrics run on coal. Get this guy and the EPA out of here!

It's a challenging business model. I suspect consumers will remain fickle longer than any of these companies can remain solvent.

The only way these are cost effective is if they lie about the numbers. There is so much more cost built into these than just burning gasoline.

There's Lithium from Bolivia for the batteries. There's rare earth minerals for the magnets from the Chinese (the only 2 sources for both). There's the amount of fuel and water req'd to produce the trucks & drivetrain. And then there's the replacement cost of the batteries.

As others have pointed out these really aren't cost effective in their current state although we should all be praising the fact that we have options and competition in this market.

I think what these companies are really doing is making a business case to the major automakers that they have developed the technology they need in hopes of being bought out as their compensation. There won't be any traditional profits from these companies.

The actual cost for directly engineering and producing an electric truck shouldn't be near the cost one has to pay for one of these aftermarket conversions. I mean even Ford's transit connect electric is done by a 3rd party and costs over $70k which is stupid on Ford's part. Using some very rough math the cost of completely replacing the existing I-4 and drive line with a 20kWh battery and electric motors/control unit should only be about $6k at the most to the customer, not actual cost.

(I used $400 per kWh of battery plus $2k for the motor and controller less roughly $4k for the existing gas motor and transmission)

the Transit connect EV should start around $30k and then it would be a good fleet seller for Ford and likely do a lot for spreading the engineering and production costs.

In their current state, these vehicles are too expensive. I can see Pacific Gas & Electric looking at these trucks more as a portable generator. If that is the case why use a 1/2 ton? and why use the 4.3 Chevy V6? 80,000 dollars for a 1/2 ton isn't worth it, but you if tack on a $40,000 hybrid/plug in package to a 100,000 dollar medium to HD truck that will live 5 times longer and it starts to make sense.
The other issue is extremes in temperature and location. Extremely hot and extremely cold environments are hard on these units. Remote locations far from the electrical grid is another example of where they won't work. I use those 2 examples because in those environments pickups and medium to HD trucks consume large amounts of fuel.

California and the EPA need to fall off the face of the Earth. No one with a brain is going to buy this junk EV crap.

Relax Johnny Troll!

Hello Frankie Troll!

Sounds pretty inefficient to me.

It may be an interesting experiment but the added costs of electrifying vehicles do not offset the minute gains in mpg, versus the current conventional ICE drive-trains directly powering the drive wheels.

I can't see myself driving an electrified Tundra, even with a 5.7-liter V8, over my current 2009 gasoline Tundra 5.7.

Until someone can actually prove to the public at large that EVs and Hybrids are better than conventional ICE vehicles, I can see EVs and Hybrids only as niche vehicles. Same with electrified trucks, vans and buses.

Better to go natgas than electric.

I agree that virtually none of us a John and Jane Q Public will be trading in for a fully electric truck even over the medium term (15-20 years) but I do see how this could work awesomely for fleets like UPS or even the local trash collectors. They don't travel all that far and in-between trips head back to the main base to load/unload and could do a fast 30 minute recharge to go another 50-100 miles.

For the rest of us the most likely big change we'll accept or be able to justify will be the strong hybrids like GM's Silverado. Over the next generation of trucks the cost will come way down to a more manageable level, the MPG's will likely be better and the towing/payload capacity will come back up to the gas only levels.

FYI : Only 42% of Electricity in US came from Coal in 2011 and its share is declining while those of natgas, wind & solar are increasing.

These trucks have good concepts. Companies which do lot of mileage especially shuttling trips can use these plugins and charge in between trips.

But if the plugins are too expensive then the CNG powered pickups from Chevy & Dodge could take away the market.

Recently Tata Motors showed a small Plugin car which has
4 motors in 4 wheels
50 mile electric and total 550 mile range with a 1 cylinder engine/generator
4 sliding doors.

Soon the in wheel motors will become popular.

Azure just bit the dust:


Wonder how this will affect Ford's EV plans.

@ BigBob

Bad news indeed, but given the Transit Connect scheduled to be built in the US shares the Focus' C-segment platform, for which Magna has developed the EV drive components, it will probably just mean Magna, another Canadian EV heavyweight, stepping into the void. Wouldn't surprise me if Magna supplying the US-built Transit Connect has been the plan all along, since there is not much point having two EV suppliers for two vehicles on the same platform.

Thanks for the info, Joookes. Very interesting.


it can be done

"But what happened to the more than 1 billion dollars that was dumped on this project wasnt we supposed to be driving hydrogen fuel cell powered cars by 2020?

was this project just swept under the rug?

So two things. Firstly the proposal that a utility truck could power a neighborhood is so ridiculous that it never should've been written. Unless it is a nuclear powered utility truck that is physically impossible to make work unless you have the smallest neighborhood in the world.

Secondly the concept is not presented properly here. The idea is to NOT have a gasoline engine, but a generator. Electric motors at each wheel for AWD as stated in the article, no need for a transmission or differentials. Small battery packs for storing minor amounts of energy.

Basic operation is as follows:

Turn on car, generator turns on, electricity flows to electric motors in each wheel, car can go. Excess electricity from the generator begins to fill batteries. Every incidence of braking recovers some of the energy. When the batteries have enough charge the generator shuts off until the batteries have drained enough, then it kicks on again.

Ideally some sort of cheap thermocoupler will eventually be developed to help capture some of the generator's waste heat. Without a materials advance in thermocoupling, this system only works by really taking advantage of electric steering, water pumps, etc., by recovering braking energy, and by not wasting gas idling. Not so much different than current hybrids of today.

Its not easy to make Gas-->Motion-->Electricity-->Motion be more efficient than just Gas-->Motion.

If we could have electrified overhead wires in cities this may change the whole game.

I should also add that even if this method can match mileage, it will likely blow away the current ICE in terms of performance. Every single vehicle will be AWD with torque vectoring. Much better poor weather performance. Much better low end torque. If the suspension is done well the handling should be better than what we currently have.

i want to buy permanente magnet electric pick up truck

I don't disagree with electric vehicles of any sort.

Electric motors, particularly DC have a huge torque advantages over "carbon" based fuel engines.

The problem is the storage of the electrical energy. Carbon based fuels can be stored much more cheaply. And the amount of lead and lithium available is very limited.

I know a guy who works for Toyota and he said to me that a Prius has advantages in city traffic. On the highway and open road its as economical as a V6 Camry without the performance. Because the small gas engine is moving around a lot of additional weight. It has inadequate electrical storage capacity and can't cope with long distance high speed driving.

Electric commercial vehicles are good for inner city work with short distances involved and a lot of red lights.

Until we can develop electrical generators cheaply, electric cars are only for the people who think they are saviing the world. They are very polluting during production.

Imagine everyone being energy independent. That would be a revolution. The power and petroleum producers and countries wouldn't have us by the gonads.

People listen up! At the turn of the last century 1900, it was a choice for the big wigs to make a decision between alternating current (AC) or Direct Current (DC) to power our homes, businesses and autos. The big wigs decided to go with AC that way they could continuously drain your pockets and fill theirs.

Only if our homes could be ran on DC power and get everyone off the grid. They have already got an electric car that does 409 MPH in the quarter.

Anymore questions? Read back into the past for answers to the future and you shall receive wealth.

Quello che hai detto fatto un sacco di senso. Ma pensare a questo, cosa succede se si aggiunge un po 'di contenuto? Voglio dire, io non voglio dirvi come gestire il vostro blog, ma se hai aggiunto qualcosa per ottenere magari l'attenzione della gente? Proprio come un video o una foto o due per ottenere. Per esaminare questo livello dei vostri soldi dovere rispettiva garanzia di restituzione, visitare i siti web prezzi a seguito di ricerca di tutto per tutta la ricerca google.

An In-Wheel motor all electric Fiat Strada or Chevy tornado with a 100 mile range would be awesome. Some suggestions tho.. A bench front seat for 3, Raise the bed above the wheel wells you can slide 4x8 sheets in the bed and a big under bed trunk like the Ridgeline.

EV has great potential to change our world, but we have to get leases down to $250/mo zero down or $20k purchase with a 10 year powertrain.

They aren't selling because of the range.

Jeez. Get a PHEV small truck or small van. I am tired of waiting for this, guys. Can you guarantee that when I evacuate for a storm in Florida or the Gulf Coast or along the East Coast that I will have the range with an EV?

No? Then why would I buy it? Keep the gas car for those times? Make a PHEV and I would buy it. I have been waiting. I want to buy a US made small truck or small fan PHEV.

All you who are so concerned about costs should remember that it wasn't that long ago that flat screen TV's cost 10 thousand dollars.

Just wanted to check out if it would be wise for me to wait to buy a new pick up truck? I'm interested in seeing if any new engines/electric/ or gas powered trucks will be arriving in the near future? I'd like to purchase something that gets better gas mileage, but that has enough power to enjoy the ride on or off road. I'm in the process of trading in my sports car that gets 26-29 miles per gal., but all the trucks seem to be in the upper teens with gas mileage. Plus the prices are insane. Anyway, just wanted some feedback about buying now or waiting. Whoever'/ whatever just need some feedback. Thanks, Andy.

The EPA is not the one gouging consumers. The electric companies themselves are the ones that charge arbitrary prices and the various members of public utilities' commissions, especially in the southern states are almost all corrupt and many have been caught in backroom deals with power company managers/owners example: Lisa Edgar in Florida (Republican) So don't spit your false propaganda to us here. Fuel prices started skyrocketing during the Bush presidency because his buddies in congress and the oil and gas industry knew he would not prosecute them for their price gouging of consumers

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