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, 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.

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