Picture of an electric truck's chassis

A push for electric trucks

Published:  06 December, 2017

Come along to Future Fleet Forum 2018 to see the new fully-electric 26-ton refuse collection vehicle from Electra, the new EV venture formed by NRG Fleet Services. NRG’s Sid Sadique and Russell Markstein tell LAPV about the significance of this new launch.

On 7 November 2017 in a quiet corner at the Freight in the City Expo one of the most significant yet understated new vehicle launches took place. There was no fanfare, no swishing of curtains, no dry ice, no announcement and no pre-publicity, just a chassis cab and a couple of familiar faces – Sid Sadique and Russell Markstein, the chairman and commercial director at NRG Fleet Services.

The chassis on display was a 26-ton Mercedes Econic (with a different badge on the grill). The significance? It was 100% electrically powered. No engine, no gearbox, no Ad Blue tank, no exhaust and no fuel tank. Just an electric motor and a bank of batteries neatly fitted to either side of the chassis rails.

Where did this vehicle come from? The company behind it is called Electra Commercial Vehicles and it is the brainchild of Sid Sadique and his colleagues at NRG. It was formed specifically to push electric vehicles products into the market, all with the backup of the NRG group of companies.

Electra has opened doors with manufacturers to collaborate in the development of EV technology, and this has proved invaluable – this kind of support is something that many other EV companies have with. As Sid points out, the fact that NRG is a key partner to all the big truck manufacturers has given the new company access to decision makers and made Electra’s journey so much easier.

LAPV spoke to Sid early in 2017 and he stated then that he was looking at a battery-powered project. A few months later, the finished product has had its first public viewing and will also be on display at Future Fleet Forum in London in January 2018.

As Sid points out, Electra has concentrated its efforts on bringing to market electric versions of vehicles that work in city centres and have the highest environmental impact. Emissions and noise pollution are top of the list of issues for transport managers and vehicle operators, and in the long run, diesel will be banned from city centres.

Electra has prioritised low-entry chassis units from Mercedes Benz, the Econic and Dennis Eagle with the Elite, as these are usually the chassis of choice for delivery operators in the city, particularly with the additional challenges of the Direct Vision Standard in London.

The chassis on display at the Freight in the City Expo will be fitted with a Geesinknorba refuse body. A Dennis Elite narrow chassis is currently being converted and this will have an Olympus narrow body. Both will be fitted with Terberg bin lifts.

NRG commercial director Russell Markstein explains that a refuse collection application is a power-hungry and battery-demanding process, with the stop/start drive, a sweep plate cycling, a packer plate moving, and a bin lift lifting up to 1,500 bins. The 26-ton Electra in this configuration will provide nine hours of operation or a range of 250km on a single charge. Depending on the power available at a depot, charging from empty to full can take as little as four hours and can certainly be completed overnight.

There is no need for special charging points, however, as the Electra has its own on-board charger, so it is simply a case of plugging in to any three-phase socket. The in-built Battery Management System (BMS) is a computer-controlled charging and discharge system.

The BMS uses telemetry to monitor and control each battery cell, array and cassette, making sure the cell is working to its optimal state. The system incorporates solid state, liquid cooled controllers and switch gear. The on-board battery charging system allows variable power inputs and controls each battery cell, ensuring optimal charging.

The Electra drive system uses the proven heavy-duty technology of permanent magnet motors. These motors have years of endurance work on trams and trains behind them. The vehicle application uses standard gearbox mounts and connections to the prop shaft. The permanent magnet drive motors are liquid cooled, ensuring they can withstand stop/start environments where high torque is utilised by the vehicle.

As there is no internal combustion engine, the auxiliary systems for air compressors, alternators and air-conditioning are driven by specially-designed electric motor packs. These auxiliary motor packs also provide power to electric motors to drive hydraulic pumps, refrigeration packs and anything that traditionally requires a power take off (PTO).

This means there is no requirement to make modifications to the vehicle bodies. For example, a standard refuse collection body and bin lift can be fitted, and there is no requirement to use plug-in technology or electric bin lifts or tail lifts – they are all driven by the auxiliary motor packs.

Although unveiled as a refuse application, Electra is currently building a 26t refrigeration truck with underslung tail lift, a builders’ merchant truck with a crane, and a tipper grab application. Final plans are being drawn up for a car transporter as well, allowing car manufacturers to deliver their electric cars on an electric truck.

The technology is available on DAF, Iveco, Man and Isuzu chassis, with the latter already in operation as a 7.5t box van with tail lift.

‘In addition to the new trucks under build by Electra, we also recognise the opportunity to re-power existing vehicles that may not meet future exhaust emissions legislation or city requirements for clean air,’ says Russell. ‘All Electra technology and knowhow can be fitted to existing vehicles ranging from Euro 3 to the latest Euro 6 technology.’

He explains that the process is simple. ‘We remove the engine, gearbox, exhaust system, fuel tanks, and ad blue systems and replace them with our technology. Battery packs are custom made, allowing for short or long-range operations. All body work and power requirements can be catered for with electric drive.’

The Mercedes Econic chassis and Dennis Elite electric chassis will be on show at Future Fleet Forum on 24-25 January 2018, complete with Dennis and Geesinknorba bodies. The vehicles will be going out on customer trials straight after the event. Complete Electra refuse vehicles will be available for delivery in spring 2018.

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LAPV (Local Authority Plant and Vehicles) is the only UK information source purely dedicated to local authority vehicles and affiliated plant equipment. Appearing four times a year, it offers well-researched technical articles on the latest equipment/technology as well as in-depth interviews with key industry professionals. More...

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