Test driving Spicer’s turnkey electric chassis

John G Smith
Beverage haulers are expected to be among the early adopters of electric vehicles in urban applications. (Photo by John G. Smith)

ATLANTA, Ga. – In these early days of electrification it still seems unusual to roll ahead when a truck’s sounds have more in common with a golf cart than what we traditionally associate with commercial vehicles. And Spicer’s turnkey electric chassis offers an undeniably quiet ride.

The only sound of note is a resounding bang … right when I clip a passenger-side mirror against a leaning speed limit sign.

Yep, the sound of that mirror cover hitting sheet metal is just as clear as can be. (To any readers from Paccar Parts, the order for a replacement should be on its way any time now. Sorry Dana.)

This story is not about clumsy driving, though. It’s about a Peterbilt 220 medium-duty beverage hauler outfitted with the aforementioned electric chassis.

The truck features a central motor driveline configuration, anchored by a TM4 Sumo MD HV2600-6P  high-torque/low-speed reluctance-assisted permanent magnet motor and CO200 inverter. There’s 155 kW of continuous power available, with 265 kW for peak demands, while the electrical power from a 93 kWh battery is fed through a 650-volt system.

Read: Quebec’s TM4 part of the drive toward electric vehicles

It all leads to a top range of about 160 km and a top speed of 108 km/h – the kinds of ranges and speeds that urban beverage haulers might face.

“We can add significantly more batteries if the customer wants more range out the vehicle. It’s really more about upfront costs and weights,” says Harry Trost, Dana’s senior manager of product planning – commercial vehicles.

“We’ve got the power electronics. We’ve got the motors and pumps that run the power steering, that run the compressors,” he says, referring to the integration work. “We’re using the conventional driveshaft, conventional axle. This powertrain meets all the parameters that a customer would typically spec’, so this vehicle can start on a 23% grade. It can maintain 20% gradeability at 20 mph (about 30 km/h).”

The all-important information pertaining to the available range is shown through a tablet mounted in the cab, with a simple bar chart identifying the state of charge, and the projected range shown underneath. Tap another screen and the energy consumption since the last charge is charted in five-minute intervals, complete with the time, distance, and average speeds traveled.

A 10 kw charger can replenish depleted batteries in nine hours, while a 20 kw charger could do the work in half the time. A DC fast charger could do the job in a little under an hour, but that would decrease battery life, Trost says.

Dana has already produced similar configurations for more than 12,000 vehicles in China.

It would be a mistake to dismiss this unit as nothing more than a prototype. Similar configurations have already been installed in about 12,000 units in China, primarily in transit applications, where they have accumulated more than 585 million km of service.

And there have been plenty of benefits realized along the way. The regenerative braking, which can be tuned to maximize the amount of charging to boost a truck’s range, has clearly made a difference in some existing vehicles.

Some transit bus users that had replaced brakes every three to six months are now running up to three years before scheduling brake jobs, Trost says.

While OEMs continue to debate the benefits of centrally mounted direct drive configurations versus electrified axles, Dana has options for both. The centrally mounted version in this truck is similar to the approach that has been adopted in the recently unveiled Lion 8 electric truck. But the company also supplies the eS9000r electric axle that Workhorse uses on its E-100 van.

“When we look at market projections out through 2025, it’s going to be still split about 50/50 in North America and Europe between central drive solutions and eAxles,” Trost says. “In Asia-Pacific it’s going to be still biased toward the central-mount kind of approach … everybody has a different paradigm.”


John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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