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Truck Tech: Workin’ for a livin’ edition

A maskless Work Truck Week; not just EV-ready tires; Locomation keeps biggest customer

This week, unmasked in Indy with snowplows, dump trucks, cranes and lots of step vans with an electric undercurrent; “EV-ready” tires; and Locomation keeps its biggest customer in the fold.

Not counting air travel to the Work Truck Week event in Indianapolis, the event was a maskless affair. While COVID impacts continue to snarl supply chains and spike commodity prices, the well-attended event focusing on Class 2-6 trucks at the Indianapolis Convention Center exhibited only a few individual expressions of pandemic precautions. 

The waning of the omicron variant led the NTEA to drop requirements for attendees to confirm their vaccination status or submit negative COVID test results like the CES required in Las Vegas in January.

Electric undercurrent

Work Truck Week was more about businesses like Iowa Mold Tooling, a large upfitter and subsidiary of Oshkosh Corp., than it was about Class 8 trucks. 

Toyota-owned Hino Motors Ltd. was an exception, showing its Class 8 electric tractor and announcing a Japanese grant to test hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks in California ports, where they presumably will join some Toyota-Kenworth FCET demonstration trucks from the Oceans project that began in 2019.

While the Work Truck Show two years ago was mostly about the promise of electric trucks for vocational use, plug-in products rather than promises dominated this year.

As if a reminder was needed, Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Board, gave the keynote at a sold-out Green Truck Summit that kicked off the show on Tuesday.

Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Boards (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

She quietly but firmly reminded the audience that both truck manufacturers and their customers face sales quotas for zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2024 — and not just in climate-conscious California. Five other states have adopted the Advanced Clean Truck rule. The states on board account for 20% of truck sales.

California is on track to spend $10 billion, much of it from pollution fines assessed through cap-and-trade rules, to both enforce and incentivize truck makers to meet zero-emissions regulations that would allow no new diesel trucks on Golden State roadways by 2045. 

Why so serious? Diesel trucks account for only 7% of the vehicles on California roads but emit 70% of the state’s smog-causing pollution and 80% of diesel soot emissions, according to CARB.

Charged-up underpinnings

Some announcements came independent of Work Truck Week but stuck to the theme — with a  California focus.

Daimler Truck North America’s Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., which had a large display featuring Class 5 and Class 6 van bodies from Utilimaster and Morgan Olson mounted to their traditional and Proterra Inc.-powered electric chassis, said it sold 10 of its MT50e all-electric walk-in vans to Pacific Gas & Electric.

The largest single sale of the electrified chassis PG&E will use MT50e units as mobile workstations in the San Francisco Bay area later this year to support underground cable-splicing operations.  

Proterra developed the MT50e’s exclusive battery system, allowing the vans to maintain a gross vehicle weight rating of up to 19,000 pounds with a 170-mile range on a single charge. The integrated design has no effect on cargo capacity.

Greg Baker, product manager of commercial chassis at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., with a Proterra Inc.-developed electric chassis at the FCCC Work Truck Week display in Indianapolis. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Longer range through chemistry

Foster City, California-based Motiv Power Systems skipped the show but announced a partnership with Our Next Energy (ONE), a Michigan-based developer of energy storage technology, to use its range- and payload-extending Aries battery system on its sixth-generation electric step vans, trucks and shuttle buses when it launches in 2023.

Motiv, a startup that was either passed over or chose to skip the SPAC frenzy that brought numerous electric vehicle makers public in the last two years, is focusing on making its vans go farther on a single charge as infrastructure development continues to threaten widespread EV adoption.

The ONE system can handle full payloads of 6,000 pounds on routes exceeding 150 miles on a single charge. That is about double the typical route a medium-duty EV truck can cover today, according to Motiv CEO Tim Krauskopf.

Motiv trucks will be able to provide 156 kilowatt hours with two battery packs instead of its current three packs that put out 127 kWh for a 30% savings in weight. 

“Improving the energy density of electric commercial vehicles will allow for better range, increasing fleetwide adoption,” said Mujeeb Ijaz, ONE founder and CEO. 

The Aries’ lithium ion phosphate chemistry (LFP) is free of nickel and cobalt, materials that are hard to mine and increasingly in short supply. Tesla plans to switch from lithium ion to LFP batteries in its standard-range vehicles.

LFP chemistry is also safer, more thermally and chemically stable, and has a significantly longer lifetime, Ijaz said.

A Motiv electric van crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Photo: Motiv Power Systems)

EV-ready tires not just for EVs

While there are not a lot of electric work trucks on the road — yet — they all have one thing in common. They use tires. So Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is marketing the “Electric Drive Ready” Endurance RSA ULT. But they are not just for EVs.

Electric vehicles generally are heavier than trucks with internal combustion engines because batteries are heavy. And the more batteries, the heavier the weight. How that battery weight is distributed is also important. And there is still the weight of the freight they are hauling to consider.

“The third thing is rolling resistance, which is normally looked at for fuel efficiency, but in an electric vehicle’s case, it is looked at in terms of range efficiency,” Dustin Lancy, Goodyear’s commercial marketing product manager, told me. “If you have a lower rolling resistance tire, potentially that can help get more miles or range out of a battery cycle.”

Goodyear is drafting off of the transition to electric trucks, but Lancy said it is more than a branding exercise.

Dustin Lancy, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. marketing manager, with the “EV-ready” tire  that works just fine on other trucks too. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

“There are not a lot of electric vehicles in the marketplace today. The same sizes of tires that are going on ICE vehicles are also going on electric vehicles so we don’t necessarily just want to position a tire for electric vehicles because the market is so tiny. We want to make a tire that is going to perform on electric vehicles and ICE vehicles.

“We are not just going to slap that on every tire,” Lancy said. “EVs are going to change the way tires perform, and this is one way that we’re indicating that our products are prepared to handle those stresses of electric vehicles.”

Breathing easier

Any anxiety autonomous trucking convoy developer Locomation may have had over losing its biggest customer has subsided. Wilson Logistics, which sold its West Coast trucking operation to a subsidiary of Ashley Distribution Services, is sticking with the startup.

Instead of running follow-the-leader routes, which Locomation calls autonomous relay convoys, in the Pacific Northwest, Wilson will move to its Midwest operations running six freight lanes between hubs in Springfield, Missouri, and Dallas-Fort Worth. 

Wilson will still dedicate 1,120 of its trucks to the system in which a lead semi with a human driver is followed by a second truck that operates on high-autonomy Level 4 software and hardware.  

Locomation claims its system will enable carriers to deliver twice the cargo, twice as far, twice as fast while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by 22% per truck, according to a peer-reviewed life-cycle assessment.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click 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.