A Guest Post by Islandboy

Just over ten years ago on April 9, 2009 the original article “Electric Commercial Vehicles” was posted at The Oil Drum web site. The article was prompted by an exchange in the discussions following a “Drumbeat” post about nine months earlier in which I had rattled off a series of links to articles from the web site autobloggreen.com that were specifically about electric or hybrid commercial vehicles of one kind or another. I should note that autobloggreen.com is the one of the first places I saw the term “Peak Oil” and when I saw the term more than once I decided to do look it up, which eventually led me to theoildrum.com. As they say, the rest is history.

In this post, I have looked back at what has happened to the companies and products featured in that article and will elaborate on what I found. I will attempt to discuss as many of the companies and products mention in the article as possible. If you visit the original 2009 article, all the pictures are now missing since links to external images were used rather than images hosted at theoildrum.com. I am somewhat surprised that I was able to find many of the pictures that I used in the 2009 article and will be using them in this article as much as possible. The first picture below was the lead picture for the 2009 article.

Battery Electric Vehicles

Battery Electric Vehicles are a class of electrified vehicles that use only electric motors for motive power and rely on batteries for the electricity to power their motors. BEVs carry no fuels on board except in the case of those which may use fuels for heating but, there are no internal combustion engines of any kind built into the vehicle.

Balqon

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This truck was part of a Zero Emissions Technologies project at the Port of Los Angeles and involved the use of several of these trucks in and around the port. The original prototype used lead acid batteries but, in 2010 a lithium ion powered version was introduced. The most recent news on this company I have seen was from about five and a half years ago and was not good:

Balqon’s Latest Financial Report Hints at Possible Bankruptcy; Interview With Balqon CEO Balwinder Samra (video)

Their web site is blank (internal server error) as is their facebook page, so it appears they have quietly disappeared.

Smith EVs

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From Wikipedia, Smith Electric Vehicles (also known as Smith’s) was a manufacturer of electric trucks. The company, founded in 1920 in the north of England, moved its headquarters to Kansas City, Missouri in 2011. In 2015, Smith idled its manufacturing and it ceased all operations in 2017.[1]

Smith was a manufacturer of the world’s largest range of zero-emission commercial electric vehicles, with gross vehicle weights (GVWs) from 3,500 to 12,000 kilograms (7,700 to 26,500 lb). From 2010 to 2015, the company produced over 800 commercial electric fleet vehicles. Formerly based in Washington, Tyne and Wear, it manufactured vehicles for the European, Canadian, Southeast Asian and US markets.“

The following is a rather sad story of the attempt by the company to set up manufacturing operations in New York City

What killed New York’s electric truck?

It concludes:

In the end, Smith sold only two trucks in the city, both to Down East Seafood of Hunts Point, a sustainable-seafood supplier.

“They were some of the best trucks I ran,” said Down East’s president, Edward Taylor, who purchased the pair of vehicles in 2011 for $200,000 each. But they have since broken down, and without anyone from Smith to service them, Taylor is nearing a decision to scrap the vehicles.

“If we can get a hold of schematics for the trucks from the company, I might be able to bring them to a mechanic or engineer who could try to fix them,” said Taylor, who runs a fleet of 15 conventional vehicles, which cost roughly $60,000 apiece but belch noxious fumes. “I believe in clean energy, and it’s important to my customers as well. I hate to see the electric truck project end.

In a somewhat strange twist I found this:

Smith Electric JV with FDG emerges as Chanje

Made in China

Chanje’s investors include Smith Electric and FDG Electric Vehicle Ltd. FDG is a Hong Kong-listed firm based in Mainland China. It was formed by grouping together various electric vehicle assets, which includes Sinopoly, the battery supplier to Chanje.
The name Chanje is a play on Changjiang, the Chinese name of an electric vehicle produced by FDG in China.

Hansel wouldn’t reveal more about the ownership structure. However, speaking with Wards Auto, Suresh Jayanthi, vice president, energy services at Chanje says, “FDG is our parent company.”

In mid-2015, Smith Electric and FDG announced they were forming a joint venture to produce electric vehicles. Chanje is that JV.

The JV is incorporated in Delaware. Smith Electric has since ceased to produce electric vehicle. It is still a minority partner in the JV.

Maybe Smith Electric Vehicles will live on through this joint venture. More on that in part two of this series.

Modec

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From Wikipedia “Modec was an electric vehicle manufacturer in Coventry, in the United Kingdom, specialising in Commercial vehicles in the N2 category.[2] It unveiled its first model in April 2006 and announced its intention to commence series production in March 2007, with the first production vehicles destined for Tesco.“

Towards the end of the Wikipedia page there is this

Closure

Following a long-term decline in sales with a total production of around 400 vehicles, and following the failure of a rescue deal with Navistar, Modec entered administration in March 2011 with debts of over £40m.[6] Navistar subsequently bought the intellectual property rights from administrators Zolfo Cooper.[7]

Following the closure of the business and sale of the assets, Liberty Electric Cars hired the entire Modec engineering team and set up a new subsidiary “Liberty E-Tech”.[8] After failing in January 2011 to agree a deal with Navistar to buy the brand, in July 2011 Liberty launched a service called “e-Care” to service and maintain Modec vehicles, which presently covers the UK, France, Germany and Dubai.[9]

Canadian Electric Vehicles

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From the Canadian Electric Vehicles, “About Us” web page, Canadian Electric Vehicles (CEV) has been designing and manufacturing electric vehicles and electric vehicle components for over 20 years. With world-wide sales CEV is a successful global business. Vehicles in service range in size from three ton aircraft refueling and LAV trucks to the Might-E Tug, an electric towing unit which tows a variety of carts and equipment weighing up to 10,000 pounds. The primary CEV product is the Might-E Truck, a custom heavy duty electric utility vehicle. Might-E Trucks are in operation at Universities, Government Sites, Industries, Parks, Municipalities and private companies.

Canadian Electric Vehicles appears to be still in business with a functioning web site.

Series Hybrids

Series Hybrids are a class of electrified vehicle that use electric motors only for motive power but, also include an internal combustion engine (ICE) that drives a generator to charge a relatively small on board battery and may also provide additional power for the electric motors under periods of extreme load. In a Series Hybrid, there is no mechanical connection between the ICE and the wheels whatsoever.

Daimler Orion VII

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Back in 2007 Daimler disclosed that it had cumulative orders for over 2600 of the Orion VII hybrid electric buses, see:

Daimler Announces Orders for 1,052 Orion VII Next Generation Diesel-Electric Hybrid Buses

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario, Dec. 17 — Daimler Buses North America has received orders totaling 1,052 Orion VII Next Generation diesel-electric hybrid transit buses from some of North America’s largest transit authorities.

MTA New York City Transit has ordered 850 and the City of Ottawa (OC Transpo) 202 Orion VII Next Generation diesel-electric hybrid transit buses. These buses will be powered by BAE Systems’ Hybri Drive(R) diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system and delivered into 2010.

With already 1,100 diesel-electric hybrid transit buses on the road, 460 pending deliveries and the announced new orders of almost 1,052 units, Orion received over 2,600 orders since the launch of the Orion hybrid bus in 2003.

Apparently the system proved unreliable. According to a post at nyctransitforums.com:

MTA Bus has a fleet of hybrid electric buses that are exhibiting a steep downward trend in MDBF and a significant level of component failures compared to other fleets, due to the higher speed of operation for these buses.

In 2012, the Board approved a procurement to convert one hybrid bus to clean diesel propulsion.

Based on the successful conversion, MTA Bus is seeking to convert the remaining 283 (Orion VII) hybrid buses placed in service in 2006 and 2007, as well as the remaining 105 (Orion VII Next Generation) hybrid buses in the MTA Bus fleet that were placed in service during 2009 and 2010.

This is supported by a page from the Transit Toronto web site on the Orion VII that states, ”After operating the hybrid buses and finding that they were not generating the fuel savings that was promised, and were also suffering from some reliability issues, the TTC decided that it would switch the next order of buses back to the “clean” diesel model.”

This Wikipedia entry has more information on the Orion VII including some on the reliability issues and about 20 references to articles, studies and brochures on the bus. Through an archived copy of a Daimler brochure, I discovered that the picture of the Bus above is the same one I had used ten years ago “from the bus manufacturers news page”.

The Wikipedia entry states that, “DaimlerChrysler withdrew from the transit bus market in 2013”. This was also reported at the link below:

Daimler closing Ontario bus factory that supplies TTC

The division of German automaker Daimler that makes transit buses for Toronto, Ottawa, New York and other cities across North America is closing its lone Canadian factory as it winds down operations.

Daimler Buses said Wednesday that the business of making transit buses “suffers from low public sector investments by municipal government agencies” and is “likely to remain depressed over the next several years.”

Designline (now EPV Corp.)

Back in 2009 I had linked to a report on a successful evaluation of bus from a company called Designline, a series hybrid that used a small turbine to generate electricity to charge the batteries with an electric motor doing traction duty. In December 2009 ZDNet published the following article which include the picture above:

With a turbine for an engine, experimental hybrid bus eliminates noise in cities

A new bus called the EcoSaver IV Hybrid Electric made by a company named DesignLine is being tested by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Instead of a constant rumble and roar at acceleration, the EcoSaver offers “little more than a low groan,” reports the New York Times.

In fact, the bus’ air-conditioner is louder than its engine.

The reason why current buses are so loud is because they use that old standby, an internal combustion engine. With pistons firing and crankshaft spinning, the engines can make quite a racket.

The DesignLine bus does away with all that, operating instead on a spinning turbine that recharges a lithium-ion battery. (The battery recharges each time the driver hits the brakes.) With fewer moving parts, there’s less overall clatter.

The MTA is testing three buses in a pilot program, each of which cost $559,000. If deemed a success, the city will order 87 more as part of a $60 million contract with the bus’ U.S.-based manufacturer.

The experiment with these buses did not turn out well. A web page from the web site Gothamist reports:

DesignLine’s Hybrid Buses Not Good Enough For New York

Here’s the MTA’s statement regarding the late DesignLiners:

Based on testing that was conducted on DesignLine buses from August 2009 through December 2010 it became clear that the 30KW turbine engine did not provide enough power to operate in regular passenger service in a multitude of conditions. A larger 65KW turbine was fitted on a test bus but after extensive testing in service operation, it proved to lack an acceptable level of reliability for NYCT passenger service. We will return the five buses that were in Evaluation Service and all monies that were given to DesignLine will be refunded to NYC Transit.

The Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board (CPTDB) Wiki has an interesting page on the Designline Ecosaver IV including a list of all known Olymbus / EcoSaver IV buses ever built

Another article on this bus comes from The BALTIMORE BREW web site:

Consultant advice: Ditch dud Circulator buses before contract is rebid

Out of the original DesignLine buses, only four were still in regular service as of last summer, according to the Berger report.

The others were removed from service, most between 2012 and last year, the report stated.

The buses went out of service because their “sensitive electronics [are] not suited to heavy demands of near-constant operation, the jostling and jarring of city street conditions, and the extremes of heat and cold. . . DesignLine buses reportedly have trouble operating on hills, in hot weather, and in damp weather,” the report stated.

In 2011, Veolia, the Circulator’s operator, sued DesignLine, seeking $2.2 million in damages, claiming the buses were defective and did not get promised mileage.

The consultants report can be found at the following URL:

http://archive.baltimorecity.gov/portals/0/agencies/transportation/public%20downloads/Charm%20City%20Circulator_Operations%20and%20Financial%20Analysis_Louis%20Berger_Final%20Report.pdf

According to the CTDB In August 2013, DesignLine filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Wonderland Investment Group purchased the assets of DesignLine, which included their product line, in October 2013 for $1.6 million. The company was renamed “Environmental Performance Vehicles (EPV Corp.)” in 2014.

The company maintains an active web site as does the maker of the turbines used in these buses Capstone Turbine Corporation

London

Back in 2009 the original ECV article linked to the following article:

First hybrid London double decker bus delivered

Transport for London and Metrobus have just taken delivery of the first of seventeen new hybrid double decker buses. The two-story buses have been iconic image of central London for over half a century and now they are rolling forward into the 21st century. The new buses are being built by Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) using hybrid drive systems from BAE systems. The BAE system is a series hybrid configuration with a diesel about half the size of what’s used on a conventional bus driving a generator. The generator feeds the motor that drives the bus with a lithium ion battery pack providing extra juice for acceleration when needed. During regenerative braking the energy goes back to the battery pack. There are currently about 1,500 buses with BAE HybriDrive running in several North American cities.

The number of buses deployed with the BAE HybriDrive system in London (pictured above) was significantly smaller than the number deployed by any of the cities in North America that tried buses based on this technology. They joined an existing small fleet of twelve “Electrocity” single decker hybrids built by Wrightbus (pictured below).

There is an informative web page outlining the history of the Electrocity here:

London Hybrid Cadets: Electrocitys

This page describes some severe reliability issues with this first set of Electrocitys

During February there were numerous problems, with seldom more than two of the available five in service. Not a good start. Chronic unreliability continued to dog the small class. During the spring of 2006 it was a good day when one was in service!

I had the personal experience of seeing one of these buses hooked up to a tow truck somewhere near the Royal Abert Hall on a visit to the UK in 2009. I took a picture of the bus hooked up to the tow truck but, I can’t locate it. The organizations involved appear to have been determined to solve the issues and the buses went through several engineering changes ,with the article finally reporting:

Re-engineering

During the summer of 2010, after a period when availability of WHY1-6 was back down to one or two a day, the early batch were sent off to Wrights for re-engineering. The batteries were changed over from lead-acid to lithium-ion, and the paltry 1.9 litre Vauxhall engines were replaced by Cummins 4.5 litre engines. The hybrid management system was converted from Enova to Siemens. Externally they appeared much the same – except for the LARGE white pods on the rear roofs, used to house the batteries. They came back in April/May 2011, and resumed service on the 360 after a short period of testing.[snip]

Also in August 2011 another six WHYs arrived, to the new specification. They came to Camberwell too, to complete the allocation on the 360. They seemed to have cracked the reliability problem and they soon began to appear on other routes

Since the article was written in 2009 London has deployed a significant sized fleet of “New Routemasters” which appear to have had their fair share of problems according to the following article from July 2015:

London’s new hybrid Routemaster buses have major battery issues

The TfL says that, in total, some 200 of the new buses will need to have their batteries replaced, but that’s at odds with reports from bus drivers, which peg the failure rate at 90 percent (so, 450 out of 500). Fortunately for tax payers, the TfL says the batteries will be replaced under warranty by the bus manufacturer, Wrightbus.

As for why the new Routemaster is having such difficulties, it depends on who you ask. A spokesperson from the Unite union told the BBC, “The batteries just aren’t fit for purpose. It’s not that the technology isn’t there it’s just the wrong technology.” The bus uses lithium-ion batteries, however, which shouldn’t completely die in just a couple of years. One possibility might be that the design of the bus was rushed, resulting in an important feature of the power system—such as preventing the batteries from overheating—was overlooked.

The TfL, for its part, except for acknowledging the battery deaths, hasn’t really commented on the new Routemaster’s issues. A spokesperson said that new deliveries of the bus—300 more are coming between now and 2016—feature “an improved battery design,” which would seem to suggest that the original design was indeed a bit rushed

Despite the travails, the city of London appears committed to continue to invest in low emissions technology for it’s bus fleet as stated on the Transport for London web site at,

https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/buses/improving-buses#on-this-page-0

further reading on low emissions buses in London can be found at the following URLs:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_emission_buses_in_London
http://clondoner92.blogspot.com/2016/02/10-years-of-diesel-electric-hybrid.html

Parallel Hybrids

Parallel Hybrids are a class of electrified vehicle that use both an ICE and an electric motor to drive the wheels. A typical Parallel hybrid can move using the ICE only or the electric motor only or both, depending on which option is provides the most energy efficiency and the best driving experience.

GM/Allison Two mode hybrid

In the 2009 article the GM/Allison Two mode hybrid was mentioned but specific news stories about deployments of the technology in the transit sector have been virtually non existent. However the transmission manufacturer has a brochure available on-line that states:

Allison is the world’s largest producer of hybrid systems for heavy-duty transit applications.

• Approximately 8,000 Allison Hybrids delivered world-wide
• In 230 cities worldwide
• In 43 of 50 states in the United States
• Nearly 800 million miles (more than 1.2 billion km) of reliable operation
• 41,078,950 gallons (155,500,741 liters) of fuel saved
• 406,465 metric tons of CO2 prevented

 

It stands to reason that the absence of any negative news about the technology, it appears to be working well

For further reading on the technology see the following links:

https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/a-2nd-look-at-the-2-mode-hybrid-it-could-have-saved-more-gas-than-the-prius/
https://www.hybridcars.com/revenge-of-the-two-mode-hybrid/
https://www.allisontransmission.com/transmissions/hybrid

Volvo ISAM

This system was dicussed in the 2009 article. At that time it was being developed and Volvo had prototype vehicles undergoing testing.

The system has since been implemented in the Volvo B5LH (Wikipedia) and accoring to the wikipedia page “As of April 2014, 434 B5LHs were in service in the UK (1 example has been destroyed by fire in 2013 prior to delivery), with a further 73 on order. “

As is the case with the GM.Allison system, the absence of negative news suggests that the system is working largely without issues.

Mitsubishi Fuso Canter Eco Hybrid

This truck, also mentioned in the 2009 article appears to have met with modest success with an article at the web site autoevolution.com from , reporting in Oct 2010 that:

Fuso Canter Eco Hybrid Tops 1,000 Sales Milestone

Daimler announced today its Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC) has reached a major milestone in hybrid truck sales. The company has now sold over 1,000 units of the Canter Eco Hybrid light-duty truck since its market introduction in 2006. Most of the trucks have been sold in Japan, followed by Ireland, Australia and Hong Kong.

An article from November 2011. Fuso develops heavy-duty hybrid truck stated:

”The newly developed hybrid heavy-duty truck is based on the technology of the Canter Eco Hybrid, around 1200 units of which have been sold since it was introduced in 2006 and which has proved itself in numerous applications worldwide.”

The truck is listed on the Mitsubishi Fuso web site and there are no indications that it has been discontinued or is no longer available for purchase in the markets where it has been introduced. The absence of negative news suggests that owners are satisfied with the performance of these trucks.

Drive System Manufacturers

In the 2009 article several hybrid and electric drive system manufacturers were discussed.

Eaton

On September 4, 2014 Work Truck Online reported:

Eaton Discontinues Diesel-Electric Hybrid Trucks

Jim Michels, global business communications manager for Eaton’s vehicle group, told HDT on the eve of a press event at its facilities in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“We are no longer selling hybrid units in North America,” Michels said. “The reason we’re not selling in North America any longer is there really isn’t a market for those products. If the market comes back we’ll re-enter.”

Odyne

In 2009 Green Car Congress reported that was acquired by DUECO. Odyne Systems’ web site included the following as it’s most recent news release. From March 4, 2018:

Odyne Systems Secures Investment, Expands Electrification Technology for Large Trucks

An earlier article from Dec. 23, 2016 at the web site The Journal Sentinel reported:

$6 million project seeks to advance Odyne plug-in hybrid technology

Odyne Systems of Pewaukee will develop and demonstrate a more efficient version of the plug-in hybrid system it has installed on work trucks as part of a project that will receive nearly $3 million from the Department of Energy.

Odyne is the lead partner in a $6 million project that aims to improve on its electric motor and lithium-ion battery technology that’s used to help power diesel trucks that utility crews use to respond to power outages and downed power lines. The system’s battery system produces the electric power for its electric motor and for the vehicle’s air conditioning and heat, as well as for the tool systems and aerial devices which can be used with the vehicle’s main engine is shut off, such as at work sites. This leads to a 50% reduction of fuel and emissions.

Azure Dynamics and Enova Systems Inc.

Two of the drive system manufacturers mentioned in the 2009 article have gone out of business, Enova Systems Inc. and Azure Dynamics.

One cannot begin to imagine the difficulties faced by the owners of vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect, sold by Ford but, equipped with Azure Dynamics components and technology. For an insight one can read the ramblings of Jack Rickard over at evtv/me in his article All Your Drive Unit Are Belong to Us. Jack outlines briefly how one Byron Izenbaard of Kalamazoo Michigan convinced him to allow him to try and revive a dead Transit Connect, leading to a successful outcome. Having one person or even a handful of people with the expertise to keep your vehicle running is not helpful if the person or persons are not available locally. Jack has a long rant on the subject in his article Right to Repair – Why it Matters…

A more detailed half an hour account of how the Ford Transit Connect was revived is contained in one of evtv’s long videos (starting at about 38 min. 20 sec. into the 2 hrs. 3 min. video), which can be viewed or downloaded from the following link, “Waking a Dead Ford Transit Connect Electric”

According to this wikipedia entry, “Around 500 units were sold before Azure stopped production in March 2013.”

EVI

In March 2016 First Priority Group, a diversified manufacturer, upfitter and service provider of emergency and specialty vehicles, acquired the assets of Electric Vehicle International, LLC (EVI) of Stockton, California but, there is nothing on their web site to suggest that they are actually using those assets to produce anything, since the vehicles they are offering on their web site are produced by other parties.

Electrorides

Electrorides, maker of the “Zero Truck” still has a web site but, the telephone number listed at the web site is not in service. The most recent news on their news page is from August 2014.

BAE Systems

To conclude part one of this set of articles on electric commercial vehicles a look at the fate of BAE Systems is instructive. BAE was the supplier of the systems for the ill fated New York MTA and Toronto Daimler Orion VII hybrid bus fleets and one could be tempted to conclude that the system was a failure. However buses based on the system are still in service in London and news sugests that the system has been successful in other deployments. The web site MassTransitMag.com reported in April 2016:

King County Metro Receives BAE Systems’ 6,000th System

BAE Systems’ hit a major milestone in September, when it delivered its 5,000th HybriDrive hybrid-electric propulsion system to London’s transit operator, Arriva. Now, just more than six months later, BAE Systems has shipped another 1,000 hybrid systems to transit agencies all over the world, with one state in particular receiving its 6,000th HybriDrive system.

Seattle’s King County Metro received BAE Systems’ 6,000th hybrid system upon obtaining its recent order of New Flyer buses, all equipped with our HybriDrive Series-E system. With this latest delivery, Seattle now has 356 HybriDrive systems in its transit fleet, and with plans to receive more this year, Seattle boasts one of the greenest fleets in the U.S. and is expected to achieve its goal of an all-electric and hybrid fleet by 2018.

Then in October 2017:

BAE Systems Announces Production of Company’s 8,000th Hybrid Electric Drive System

BAE Systems, a leading provider of hybrid propulsion and electric solutions, has achieved a major milestone with the production of its 8,000th series hybrid electric drive system for transit buses. In the last two years, BAE Systems has delivered 3,000 electric platforms that save fuel and reduce emissions, double the number the company shipped in the prior four years.

It can be concluded that while early versions of the BAE System may have been problematic, the company persisted with the development of the system and appears to have produced more reliable systems that have found acceptance with a growing number of customers.

Conclusion

Overall it appears that while a good number of the entities that sought to begin the transition of commercial vehicles from purely liquid or gas fueled options, to hybrid electric or pure electric have failed, there are some that have survived and are still supplying solutions today.

In part two, I will look at some of the solutions that have been brought to market and delivered in the last few years that, were non existent at the time of writing of the 2009 article.

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