The Green Mile: Purolator unveils first fully electric truck

TORONTO — The future of parcel delivery is here. After more than seven years of collaboration and development, Purolator has rolled out Canada’s first-ever, fully electric, zero-emissions curbside urban vehicle.

The Quicksider prototype, built by Toronto-based Unicell with a groundbreaking electronic drivetrain by ArvinMeritor, is battery-powered electric van that is said to produce 20 percent less emissions than the already-clean hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) currently in Purolator’s fleet.

The Quicksider is not a hybrid, which traditionally marries electric or hydraulic energy with diesel power. Without an engine or a transmission, this fully electric, direct-drive vehicle uses regenerative braking to capture energy normally wasted as heat during braking applications and stores it in four batteries running two separate electric motors inside the cargo area of the truck.

The 250-hp vehicle, which will be tested and evaluated on the streets of Toronto in the coming weeks, has a top speed of 110 km/h.

The pilot project represents the next step in Purolator’s quest to reduce its emissions footprint. In 2005, the courier company piloted its first HEV fleet in Toronto and Vancouver. It was a good start, says Purolator President and CEO Robert Johnson, “but even with our hybrid electric fleet, we weren’t going to get zero emissions.”

Enter the Quicksider, which was the brainchild of Unicell back in 2000. Purolator joined the development team in 2003 in an attempt to build such a vehicle for the courier sector. After analyzing routes and terminal operations with Purolator drivers, managers, and engineers, Unicell enhanced its original designs to include features that maximized efficiency in delivery operations (more on that in a minute).

ArvinMeritor then jumped on board to design the electric axle drivetrain and suspension system, regenerative braking system, and integration of the motors, gears and controls for a working vehicle.

“This project was a strong magnet for energetic and creative people from several companies,” Roger Martin told a group of stakeholders and journalists at the vehicle launch event at Purolator’s Etobicoke, Ont. facility.

Unicell was instrumental in designing what is arguably the most delivery-efficient courier vehicle in North America. Drivers who have to exit and enter their trucks up to 200 times a day will be sure to appreciate the automatic, hands-free side and rear doors.

A one-piece, frameless fiberglass body and independent pneumatic front suspension allows the vehicle to “kneel” down to the curbside from the front, or down to ground level at the rear door.

The unique, aerodynamic design of the Quicksider is said to cut drag to half of a conventional stepvan. In fact, explains ArvinMeritor VP of Advanced Engineering and Product Strategy, Garrick Hu, engineers took both the Quicksider and a standard delivery truck to an airport runway to measure drag and rolling resistance.

The latter sped down the runway; the driver popped the clutch, put it in neutral, and researchers watched as the vehicle eventually rolled to a stop. On the Quicksider, says Hu, “we ran out of runway at 30 miles an hour.”

Purolator President Robert Johnson says he’s proud to be part of a company that thinks green as much as the bottom line. And often times these days, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

“At Purolator we make it our business to know where business is going and clearly it’s towards sustainable practices that will result in long-term benefits for the environment, customers, employees and business,” he said. “The Quicksider represents the next step to fulfilling our commitment to protect and preserve the environment.”

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