Here Come the Electric Trucks: Move Over T. Boone?


evi-lightEnergy baron T. Boone Pickens has been loud and clear with his message about fuels for commercial fleet vehicles and heavy-duty trucks: Natural gas is the way to go. “A battery will not move an 18-wheeler,” he’s wont to say. But the Pickens Plan isn’t just about big rigs. It also calls for switching over delivery trucks and municipal fleet vehicles, or as he puts it, “Any vehicle which returns to the ‘barn’ each night where refueling is a simple matter.”

On that front — lighter duty fleet vehicles used for in-town treks — Pickens has a new challenger. Rolling into the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday will be electric and plug-in hybrid models from the company Electric Vehicles International. Although it was founded in 1989 and launched in Mexico several years ago, EVI is a newcomer to the U.S. market.

EVI’s two models, launched earlier this month at the Work Truck Show in Chicago, can be customized according to fleet managers’ specifications and delivered in 60 days, according to an announcement from the company today. Variations can include the number of battery packs (lithium-phosphate made by Valence (s VLNC), or lead-acid by Trojan) and leased over several years, depending on the range needed for a particular fleet. With one pack, EVI spokesperson Luka Keck tells us, the all-electric range will be about 40 to 60 miles. Two packs would do for 120 to 125 miles — enough for in-town deliveries, but certainly not for a cross-country haul.

They’re not pretty, but for the fleet market, they don’t really have to be. More important is the fact that they meet federal requirements for on-road driving, so they aren’t limited to campus shuttling. Keck said fleets “could feasibly have as many battery packs as you want, but it would take away from your payload with each pack.” For longer distances, EV1’s hybrid option (which has an engine fueled with liquefied or compressed natural gas or propane as backup) would be more practical. For now, Pickens can keep using his 18-wheeler sound byte. But depending on how U.S. companies and municipalities respond to EVI — and in what direction, and far, diesel prices go — the race for fleet contracts could get more interesting.


Wilfredo Hermans

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Larry Fisher

Large electric vehicles have been in use in Europe for some time now, as noted in the NextGen Research report “The Market for Electric Vehicles
Fuel Cells, Better Batteries, More Plug-ins Charge Up the Market.” Electric vehicles aren’t going to be suited to long-distance trucking any time soon, not without some charging infrastructure in place. They’re very well suited to local deliveries, as all that stop-and-go allows regenerative braking to help recharge the batteries.


The issue of the availability, or commercial viability, of EVs of any kind is not as simple as “look, there’s an EV, obviously the technology is available so let’s skip any bridge technology”.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are basic science breakthroughs in battery technology being made monthly, that will not hit the market for at least a few years, and that are significant enough that they will render anything we could build today, at any cost, completely obsolete in short order.

In other words, the more EVs you build with today’s battery technology, the more EVs (or at least batteries, the current generation of which are a nightmare to dispose of) we’ll have to replace three or five years down the line, which is a fraction of the useful life of, in particular, a fleet vehicle.

I think where Pickens got it right is that he anticipated that the availability of renewable energy in the form of electricity would grow more quickly than the demand for that energy. It’s true that EVs will eventually consume all the electricity we can generate, but unless we do something stupid, like try to force the mass adoption of version 0.9 of the mainstream electric car, the electricity is going to come available long before the cars that will use it.

Pickens’s solution is rather obvious once it’s put in front of you, and as long as you take it for the bridge that it is. Rather than powering not yet existing EVs, all that new renewable electricity could instead be used to displace one of the current most commonly use sources of energy for electricity generation in the US, NG. And since NG is clean, domestically produced, and able to be burned by mature engine designs that are easily integrated into any standard automobile, it seems like a no-brainer to try to use that surplus NG to displace dirty, mostly foreign produced oil in the transportation sector.

I can think of only one reason to reconsider the Pickens plan, and that is the slowdown in the growth of clean and renewable electricity that will necessarily result from the recession and the pretty sharp shift away from nuclear power on the part of the Obama administration. If we have to wait for wind, solar, and other non-nuclear renewable sources, then it is likely that mainstream EVs will hit the market before the clean electricity to power them, eliminating the need for the bridge.

Rich Galen

Boone has often said that light duty trucks and other vehicles could go right to battery power when it becomes available. But to immediately begin reducing our dependence on foreign oil we should move vehicles which, as you say, “go back to the barn” every night to NG as soon as possible.

Pickens has maintained from the get-go that natural gas is a bridge fuel to battery/hydrogen or some other non-carbon technology as a transportation fuel, but we’re not there yet.

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