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Truck Tech: Down Under charging edition

Electric vehicle fast chargers are  critical to keeping power-hungry commercial trucks that run on battery power moving. Australia’s Tritium built its first direct-current fast charger a decade ago. Now, it is growing its U.S. presence. Tesla is taking hefty deposits for its battery-powered Semi, and Volvo Truck is sharing a guidebook  from its LIGHTS electrification project in California.

An Aussie solution to electric truck charging

The success of electric trucks rides on the ability to avoid long downtimes while charging their batteries. To assure that can happen, several companies are developing high-power charging. Tritium, one of the early players, raced solar-powered vehicles in Australia before developing its first direct-current fast charger a decade ago.

“In 2012, we came across an opportunity to make a DC fast charger for a customer in Australia,” David Finn, Tritium co-founder and Chief Vision Officer told me at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo. “And from there, we saw some really interesting opportunities emerging in a market that was very new and really could go in a lot of different directions.”

Tritium determined that EV fast chargers “really fit with our why” for being in business. It saw public charging for electric cars as its first path to business viability. Tritium worked with a coalition of four automakers to install about 1,000 six-port high-speed chargers, each capable of 350-kilowatt charging, in Germany. That’s more juice than any vehicle could take at one time.

It also provided white-label high-power charging for station builder ChargePoint, which has since developed its own high-speed chargers.

Sell an electric truck, sell a charger

Now, Tritium is making inroads into heavy-duty truck charging. At the ACT Expo, Tritium’s charger occupied the Volvo Trucks North America display as a prop for the VNR Electric Class 8 regional hauler.

David Finn of Tritium standing next to electric vehicle charger with blue graphics
David Finn, Tritium co-founder and Chief Vision Officer, with one of the company’s electric vehicle fast chargers at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves) 

When startup electric truck maker Nikola reported its first revenue in Q1, it had Tritium to thank for the 10 mobile-charging units leased to early battery-electric Tre customers and dealers.

Watch now: The tale of Tritium

“The great thing about fleet is that as you sell a truck, you can sell a charger,” Finn said. “So, the chicken and the egg thing is not an issue. It’s a lot less of an issue than it is in the public space where you sell a car and you have to go find the charger out there.”

A Tritium 175-kilowatt system costs from $50,000 to $80,000, depending on configuration. That’s a fraction of the $300,000-and-higher price tag of a battery-powered truck.

Electric truck charging emerging

“Coming from the public space, we see this is where we’re going to be putting effort going forward, but it’s only just emerging for us,” Finn said.

Tritium has a marketing and branding advantage, according to Scott Shepard, Guidehouse Insights principal researcher for energy. 

“The emergence of trucking electrification is a bit more in line with the light-duty market,” Shepard told me. “Companies like Tritium are likely to do well as public fast-charging networks are developed specifically for commercial trucks.”

Expanding US presence

Tritium is stepping up its U.S. presence with a manufacturing plant in Lebanon, Tennessee, capable of turning out 30,000 EV chargers a year when it reaches full capacity. It will start with its 75kW charging station and add a 150kW unit by next January.

But it has plenty of competition. Swedish-Swiss multinational ABB Ltd. (NYSE: ABB) provided 150kW chargers for Daimler Truck North America during its Freightliner Electric Innovation Fleet program. 

Others include Signet Systems, BTC Power and Heliox Energy. Founded in the Netherlands in 2009, Heliox opened a North American headquarters in Atlanta in 2021. It works on charging stations with Paccar Inc.,Traton Group’s MAN unit and Volvo Group’s Mack Trucks.

Bad timing for electric truck charging SPAC

Tritium went public on the Nasdaq in January trading under the symbol DCFC. By then, scant enthusiasm remained for transportation special purpose acquisition companies. Tritium decided to go forward, though it received only 15% of $400 million raised in early 2021 by sponsor Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. II.

Decarbonization Plus also sponsored hydrogen fuel cell truck maker Hyzon Motors, which has an Aussie presence but was spun out of Singapore’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technologies. Its July 2021 public debut paid out more of the promised SPAC proceeds.

“We only got enough [money] to decide to go ahead,” Finn said, adding that existing shareholders had to pony up $45 million to meet the business combination threshold.

“The timing was wrong,” Finn said. “We could have gone in December. We chose to hold over to January [because] we thought it was better to wait. But then we got hit by market chain dynamics.”

Semi deposits

Nearly five years after Tesla introduced its battery-electric Semi tractor, the electric truck leader is finally taking cash deposits. The latest delay puts Semi production at Gigafactory Austin in late 2023. That date has slipped several times. If Elon Musk decides against allocating battery cells to the trucks, it could get pushed out again.

But this time, potential customers have a stake. On its reservation page, according to Inside EVs, Tesla is asking for an initial credit card payment of $5,000 plus a $15,000 wire transfer within 10 days. Additional orders require a $20,000 wire transfer. Reservations are final only when the wire transfer is received.

Tesla sort of suggests the $20,000 deposit secures a build slot. But it makes no promises.

“By making your reservation, you have secured the approximate priority for ordering your Tesla Semis,” according to Tesla’s order page. “The timing of your order may depend on development, manufacturing and production schedules, among other factors.”

Volvo’s guidebook LIGHTS the way to electric trucks

Want to know what Volvo Trucks North America learned from its three-year multipartner Low Impact Green Heavy-Transport Solutions (LIGHTS) electrification project? The truck maker wrote a guidebook and is making it available for free.

Funded through a $91 million cost share by Volvo and several California entities, Volvo LIGHTS began in 2019 and wraps up this fall. The 22-page guidebook, downloadable here, is called Bringing Battery-Electric Freight Trucks to Market: From Demonstration to Commercialization. 

“The Volvo LIGHTS project helped underscore the many areas in which public and private entities will need to collaborate to develop the ecosystem needed to support customers with successful battery-electric truck adoption,” VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve said in a press release.

Volvo Truck North America’s guidebook to the LIGHTS project. (Image: Volvo Trucks North America).

Best of the rest

Lordstown governance

Lordstown Motors Corp. is making some governance changes. CEO Daniel Ninivaggi adds the chairman title. David Hamamoto, who led the SPAC that brought LMC (NASDAQ: RIDE) public, will serve as lead independent director. 

LMC last week sold its assembly plant — a former General Motors complex — to Taiwan’s Foxconn Group, which will be the contract manufacturer of the Endurance commercial electric pickup truck.

Pre-production models of the Lordstown Endurance commercial electric pickup. (Photo: Lordstown Motors)

Expanded routes

Aurora Innovation (NASDAQ: AUR) and FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) are expanding their pilot program to autonomously move FedEx shipments between Aurora’s new terminals in Fort Worth and El Paso, Texas. Aurora is making the driver-supervised 600-mile trip weekly and expects to increase the frequency of trips in the coming months. Aurora continues to move daily shipments for FedEx between Aurora’s South Dallas terminal and its new Houston terminal.

Grant money

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality is accepting applications for the Clean Heavy-Duty Equipment and Vehicle Program. The state has $12.9 million available from the Volkswagen Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal to replace old diesel vehicles such as freight trucks with cleaner alternatives.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. Sign up here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays.


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.