Israeli electrification startup Ree Automotive, Morgan Olson and EAVX showed a proof-of-concept step van this week that could revolutionize the segment — four-wheel steering by wire with 57% better aerodynamics than the rolling bricks that deliver your packages today.
Ree’s a crowd
Ree Automotive is one of those special purpose acquisition company-backed startups that took extra effort to understand.
Its Reecorner technology seemed like a more advanced version of the technologically questionable hub motor technology Lordstown Motors Corp. is using on its battery-electric pickup. And Ree’s electronic skateboard chassis did not appear unique.
But when you add a modern body to the sophisticated Reecorner drive-by-wire system and let automotive engineers test the limits of package delivery efficiency, the picture comes together.
Watch now: Concept step van nimbly goes through its paces
Israeli startup Ree, and J.B. Poindexter’s veteran bodybuilding arm Morgan Olson and its new R&D division, EAVX, showed off the Proxima proof-of-concept Class 5 delivery step van this week at the American Center for Mobility about an hour west of Detroit.
A steeply raked windshield resembling a transit bus is the most visible evidence of body and chassis engineering that add up to a whopping 57% better coefficient of drag, or how smoothly the vehicle cuts through the air.
“Pushing a brick through the air is a little bit challenging,” said Gregg Black, EAVX chief engineer who knows a little about the subject. During a 36-year career at Chrysler, he oversaw development of the Hellcat engine, the 700-horsepower beast in the Dodge Charger.
Where the Hellcat burns loads of fuel for super-fast kicks, the Proxima powered by Ree uses about 18% less energy than a comparable electric van traveling 125 miles and making 150 delivery stops a day.
Braking for energy savings
The Ree chassis has electronic motors at each of the four corners to enable driving, steering and braking with minimal hydraulics. If four motors sounds like overkill, consider that energy recouped from regenerative braking offsets 20% of the battery expense, the main cost driver of electric vehicles.
“At the end of the day, the cost comes from the power. It doesn’t matter if it’s two motors or four motors,” Ree CEO Daniel Barel said. “The difference is very small. But you gain a significant advantage by having the regen on all four motors — 20% less battery, which is much more expensive.”
The additional motors also operate at peak efficiency where two motors experience stress. If one Reecorner fails, the three others keep running, similar to a jet that might lose power in one engine.
Buying EVs costs more up front, but the reduced maintenance and fewer parts needing replacement evens out the cost compared to internal combustion engines vehicles over time. According to the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, electric step vans are already at cost parity with diesel-powered vans.
Pushing electronic components to the corners creates a flat surface from the front passenger compartment to the back of the 19,500-pound van. Most vans have a built-in step at the rear cargo door.
EAVX, which operates across all seven of JBP’s divisions, shaved significant weight from the concept vehicle and lowered the height to 24 inches from the ground compared to the standard 36 inches. That reduced the standard three steps to get in and out of the van to just two.
“When you’re jumping in and out of the truck 150 times a day, that’s a lot of steps you avoid,” Black said. It also reduces pressure on the driver’s knees.
EAVX applied a “microclimate” heating and cooling system in the Proxima that focuses on the driver’s seat. Depending on the season, heated or cooled air blows behind the driver’s neck, across the ears and at the back of the thighs. The steering wheel is also heated for cold days.
“If we tried to heat the whole [cab], every time the doors open, boom, we get to heat it again,” Black said.
Some of the savings from fewer batteries is applied elsewhere, like the huge windshield.
“Windshield breakage is significant” in step-in vans, Black said. “When we go to a big windshield like this that’s got electrical heating lines in it, it’s a much more expensive piece of glass.
“We’re saving way more on the battery than we’re spending on the glass, so the system solution really needs to come into play. And that’s where the chassis and the body teams really need to stay integrated.”
Ree’s asset-light approach
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Ree took an hour to go through the drive-by-wire integration it developed. Every few months, Ree adds a new partner. At CES, that was American Axle, which jointly developed the electronic motor for the P7 chassis it revealed at the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis in March. Ree applies its technology to Class 3-5 vehicles.
Ree plans to assemble its Reecorner chassis at an integration center in Austin, Texas, next year. Highly automated, it is the antithesis of Tesla’s gigafactory, one of which is in Austin. The 120,000-150,000-square-foot Ree integration center can be replicated in 10 months as demand requires.
“Instead of the gigafactory approach where you have to spend billions and ramp up,” Barrel said. “We acquire the robots and the AGVs [automated guided vehicles]. They’re all cloud-based so we just flash them, download and we’re up and running.”
Ree expects to test hundreds of vehicles with customers in 2023. No customer names yet.
Attention Robinhood investors
Nikola Corp. will try for a fourth time next Tuesday to get the final votes it needs to increase the company’s authorized shares. The issue is critical to Nikola being able to raise money to scale the battery-electric and hydrogen truck business.
The pursuit of shareholders who have not voted — Nikola needs 50% plus one vote of about 418 million shares — is now extended to retail traders like those on the Robinhood platform. Nikola needs fewer than 1 million shares to vote its way, and it really doesn’t care if they come in small amounts.
Voting closes (again) on Monday at 11:59 p.m. EDT.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech delivered by email on Fridays.