THE BUZZ IS ELECTRIC

Rolf Lockwood

September 23, 2009 Vol. 5, No. 19

Let me start with praise for what seems to me like a very useful gizmo that you’ll see described in greater detail in a separate product item below. I’m talking about the Chassis Grabber. Now, I haven’t touched one, haven’t seen it in the flesh, don’t know the company from Adam, so what business do I have offering comment?

Well, I’m just sayin’ it seems like one of those awfully good ideas I wish I’d thought of. If it’s as well executed as it appears to be conceived, then I’d say it’s a winner that will find favor with lots of you folks out there.

A way to mount all manner of things without drilling holes in a truck’s frame? Using no tool other than a common pneumatic impact wrench? Installing, say, a heavy tool box in minutes, not hours? Cool and then some.

Hats off to Safety Pumping Systems for bringing this one to market.

And now that I’ve praised it, I hope to hell that it’s as good as it looks. Come to think of it, if any of you know the product first-hand, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which goes for anything I write about in this newsletter.

ARE ELECTRIC TRUCKS JUST AS COOL? Well, vehicles powered this way seem to be all the rage at the moment, especially if you’ve read reports from the recent Frankfurt Auto Show. A fast Audi sports car that looks as menacing as could be, like it’s powered by a mighty V8, led the way amongst the electric contingent there, but it was by no means alone.

Is it just the flavor of the day? I don’t think so.

The hype is much, much smaller in our world of serious cargo-carrying machinery, but as I wrote in a Today’s Trucking October-issue article, there’s suddenly some activity on this front in North America.

Actually, it’s not altogether new. I’ve driven all-electric UPS vans on test tracks and we already have at least one electric commercial vehicle working in Canada. That’s the unique Purolator courier van purpose-built by Unicell with all-electric power train by ArvinMeritor. Its initial trial is done, I think, but the results and conclusions have not been made public. As far as I’m aware, a second-generation vehicle along the same lines is in the offing.

And now Navistar has just inked a joint-venture deal with British electric truck maker Modec that will see the Chicago company building these odd-looking class 2 and 3 trucks in the U.S. for sale in North, Central and South America. Navistar vice president Jim Hebe told me about this one back at the Mid America show in March and said he was pretty keen on its chances. I’d have to agree.

In Britain and Europe the truck comes as a van, a drop-sider, or a cab and chassis. Customers buy the truck but lease the lithium-ion battery from Modec, which takes away a major headache and promises easy technology upgrades.

That deal, not at all by the way, was spurred by President Obama’s recent announcement of a very big grant to stimulate electric vehicle manufacturing in the U.S. Navistar is getting over $40 million of that fund, which will be used mostly to get this JV off the ground.

And then there’s another Brit outfit, Smith Electric Vehicles, that has finally delivered a bunch of its medium-duty Smith Newton electric trucks (see the pic here) to the likes of Coca Cola, Frito-Lay, Staples, AT&T, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and Kansas City Power & Light. Evaluation trials are underway.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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