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Navistar skips incentive chase to get electric trucks to diesel price parity

NEXT unit will help customers decide what they need, then build it

Navistar International Corp. CEO Troy Clarke with the truck maker's first electric model. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV) is skipping the chase for incentives on demonstration electric trucks to consult with customers on custom-built zero-emission medium-duty models with a total cost of ownership rivaling a diesel truck.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Jason Gies, director of Navistar’s eMobility business development. “We’re not just chasing grant money in the short-term. Our goal is to electrify everything that makes sense.”

That does not mean the company will not partake of incentives offered through the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The CARB-backed Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project provides vouchers of up to $220,000 for California purchasers and lessees of battery-electric trucks and buses.

Navistar’s competitors are at various stages of launching electric truck demonstration fleets in California. The programs are partially paid for by CARB and other agencies pursuing the state’s goal of having only zero-emission trucks on its roads by the mid-2030s. 

“We’ve seen it with other technologies,” said Persio Lisboa, Navistar chief operating officer. “When grant money goes away, investment stops.”

Electric buses and trucks

The Lisle, Illinois-based truck maker revealed its first electric truck, an MV Series-based medium-duty model on October 28 at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta. The truck has a sloped hood for greater visibility and battery packs tucked between the frame rails. 

“The goal is to be sustainable and to be at parity with diesel from a total cost of ownership standpoint,” Lisboa said.

Navistar will begin selling electrified versions of its IC school buses in 2020 followed by the eMV in early 2021. 

The International eMV Series concept is powered by an electric motor with peak power of over 474 kilowatts, the equivalent of 645 horsepower. Continuous power is 300 kW, or more than 400 hp, across the operating range.

Three battery capacity options range from 107 to 321 kilowatt hours. The 321 kWh battery in typical pickup-and-delivery cycles should achieve a 250-mile range on a single charge, according to Navistar estimates.

“The eMV (displayed in Atlanta) is pretty much production intent,” said Gary Horvat, Navistar’s vice president for eMobility. “The next year is primarily dedicated to engineering validation.”

Before joining Navistar, Horvat oversaw technology development for electric bus maker Proterra Inc. In 2017, a Proterra bus set a world record of 1,100 miles on a single charge at Navistar’s proving ground in New Carlisle, Indiana.  

What’s NEXT?

Navistar’s approach to electrification is to manage all aspects from design to delivery through a new business unit called NEXT eMobility Solutions. A dedicated engineering team reporting to Horvat will focus on consulting, construction, charging and connecting. 

“This goes beyond the vehicle alone,” Lisboa said. “It is a custom plan for each customer. Companies interested in operating electric trucks have more questions than answers; they are looking for a partner who also brings clarity,”

Over time, Navistar expects to combine electrification efforts and other connected technologies with TRATON Group, the holding company for Volkswagen’s truck brands. TRATON owns 16.8% of Navistar. 

The German truck maker projects spending $1.1 billion on connected and autonomous vehicle research and development by 2024. Navistar can leverage that on its way to converging to a global technology platform with TRATON, Lisboa said.

“NEXT and our partnership with TRATON means Navistar is ready when that tipping point comes,” he said.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.