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Electric N-Gen Vans from Workhorse Group Begin Delivering Goods

Mar 28, 2018

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Workhorse Group launched the first on-the road, real-world testing of its lightweight, electric delivery van with the deployment this week of four of the N-Gen trucks in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The carbon-fiber and plastic vans weigh only 5,500 pounds but can carry a one-ton load and have a range of up to 100 miles from a 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Comparable gas and diesel vans can weigh thousands of pounds more, reducing their fuel efficiency and carrying capacity.

The N-Gen vans will be used by a local package delivery firm, which is leasing them from Workhorse’s distribution and service partner, Ryder System.

The companies are not disclosing the name of the delivery business “because they want to really test the vans before going public,” said Steve Burns, Workhorse’s chief executive. “But these are real vans, not concepts, and they will be delivering hundreds of packages a day,” he told Trucks.com.

Workhorse unveiled the N-Gen van late last year, promising to launch real-world testing in the first quarter of this year – a deadline met with just three days to spare.

Workhorse has explored using the van with its HorseFly drone for package delivery but that won’t be part of the current test, Burns said. The company plans to begin testing more vans later this year in a second California city as well as in Ohio, where Workhorse is based.

“I’m not concerned about the lack of the drone. It makes more sense in rural delivery areas, so maybe they’ll do it in the Ohio tests,” said Antti Lindstrom, a trucking industry analyst with IHS Markit.

The cost effectiveness of the electric powertrain in a lightweight van “is the bigger issue and I think they are making a good choice by putting together that package, pushing the price competitiveness versus internal combustion to the forefront of the discussion,” he said.

The vans in the San Francisco test have 500 cubic-foot cargo bays and a gross vehicle weight rating of 7,500 pounds. Workhorse also has 10,001-pound GVWR versions of the N-Gen ready to put on the road, and a third truck is in the works, Burns said.

UPS announced last month that it would lease 50 larger N-Gen vans with 1,000-cubic-foot bays and as much as 5,000 pounds of cargo capacity. Those Class 5 trucks should be ready by late this year. UPS said the vans could be the first of thousands of electric vans it will place in its fleet.

“We see this vehicle as being a game changer in the electric truck arena,” Carlton Rose, head of global fleet management and engineering for UPS, said in a February interview with Reuters news service.

Workhorse hopes to have as many as 2,000 N-Gen vans on the road by the end of this year, Burns told Trucks.com.

It’s “big news” said delivery industry analyst Cathy Morrow Roberson of Atlanta-based Logistics Trends & Insights. “This could help lower delivery costs in the long run, and certainly could make deliveries faster – and that’s the key. Time is money in the delivery space.”

So are fuel savings. Burns said the N-Gen vans being tested now can earn back their cost premium in less than three years, primarily through fuel savings.

In the U.S., the average cost of electricity for transportation is just under 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

That’s just $6 a charge at the N-Gen’s consumption rate of approximately 60 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.

For the same distance, a one-ton capacity gasoline or diesel van getting 10 mpg would run up a bill four to five times as high. At today’s national average pump price of $2.61 per gallon for gas, the fuel cost would be $26.10. That jumps to $29.40 for diesel at the present average pump price of $2.94 a gallon.

The difference is even starker in California. Electricity for transportation is less than the national average at just 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour across the state, according to the latest Energy Information Agency report. At the same time, fossil fuel prices in California are much higher than the national average – $3.47 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline and $3.69 per gallon for diesel.

Truck makers including giants such as Daimler AG, Volvo and Navistar International Corp. are developing electric powertrains to replace gasoline and diesel engines when possible as political and social pressures mount to reduce pollution from vehicles.

Many electric truck makers are focusing on the local delivery market, maintaining that trucks and vans with short daily routes are a natural for electrification. Their batteries won’t need to be recharged until they are retired for the night (or day in the case of nighttime delivery vehicles.) Charging can be done at the vehicle operators’ central depots, eliminating the need for expensive roadside charging stations.

The argument rings true with many delivery providers. Companies such as UPS, DHL and FedEx “are moving toward electric vehicles as a means to reduce their carbon emissions as well as save fuel costs, Roberson said.

Electric trucks also are seen as a way to slash maintenance costs. Electric motors and transmissions have few moving parts and don’t need oil changes, filters, exhaust treatment systems or even regular tune ups.

Daimler’s Fuso electric truck unit already is delivering the battery-electric eCanter medium-duty truck to customers in the U.S, Japan and Europe, including UPS, DHL and the Japanese arm of retail convenience store chain Seven-Eleven.

Start-up EV maker Chanje, which also has signed Ryder as its distribution partner, has sold 125 of its vans to the logistics supply company. The medium duty vans for Los Angeles-based, Chinese-backed Chanje are built by China’s FDG Electric Vehicles.

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