Sure, premium luxury sedans with exotic technologies are fine, but the real sexiness has always been in garbage trucks. As any boy under the age of 5 and they'll tell you the same thing. Garbage trucks are where the action is. They're also where Ian Wright thinks the real advantages of EVs will happen.
Ian Wright was one of Tesla's five founders and is now the CEO of Wrightspeed, who we covered years ago when they converted an Ariel Atom into a 2.9 seconds-to-60 electric racecar. Now, the company is focused on converting fleet vehicles to electric (with gas-turbine range-extender) power.
In that sense, their business model is a lot like Via Motors, but with fewer acrobatic Suicide Girls and ghosts of inventors. Also, they're going for a much more comprehensive approach — where VIA is retaining the engines of their GM donor cars, the Wrightspeed Route "Repower Kit" replaces the donor truck's entire drivetrain with an up to 250 HP electric motor and a microturbine range extender that can run on CNG, landfill gas, or even a more conventional gas/diesel/biodiesel piston engine.
The decision to tackle fleet vehicles instead of high-profile, premium cars is, while less glamorous, quite sound. If you want to maximize the fuel and emissions-savings benefits of electric vehicles, large, inefficient trucks that travel on very pre-determined routes is a great way to do it.
Some of the advantages they describe are ones that may not occur to you initially. The idea that trucks need heavy, complex clutch systems for their synchronized-gear transmissions, for example:
Traditional multi-speed transmissions use clutches (synchro rings, multi-disc wet clutches, twin-clutch arrangements) to achieve synchronization before engagement; this makes them, heavy, expensive, and less efficient. But with electric motors, it becomes possible to control the motor speed so precisely, and change it so quickly, that the shifter dog-clutches can be engaged without clashing. The sync function that used to be performed by mechanical means has been shifted into software control of electronics, driving the electric motor with precision. The system is therefore lighter, cheaper, and more efficient. Wrightspeed's control software weighs nothing, costs nothing to manufacture, doesn't wear out, and uses the electronics that are already present to drive the motor.
That's an interesting point — of course a computer can rev-match the motor to the transmission — it's running the whole show as it is! And if you can reliably rev-match you can ditch the heavy clutch and a bunch of other crap that was designed because we're all slow, squishy, flawed humans. As they say, they're converting mechanical mechanisms to software algorithms, and algorithms hardly weigh anything. Here's that system in action:
The fleet-vehicle market — things like garbage trucks, buses, delivery vehicles (FedEx is trying some of Wrightspeed's converted trucks) is huge, and the only real metric that's going to convince any fleet owner to even look at these things is if they work and save money.
That's it. No one cares about looking cool or being trendy — it either works, and works cheaply, or it doesn't. The limited route length and often recurring routes let these vehicles really plan and maximize energy reclamation and help mitigate the limitations inherent in battery technology, and the range-extending turbines offer a good guarantee that no matter what, the route gets covered.
Northern California will be using 17 of these trucks soon, and I'm quite curious to see how this all pans out. The less gas used by delivery vehicles and similar slow old mastadons that trod their same route habitually, the more left over for us idiots to put in our absurdly inefficient vintage cars. As gearheads, we should all support electric fleet vehicles for that reason alone.