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Electric trucks already deliver ROI, says Lion founder

Posted: March 19, 2019 by John G. Smith

A prototype of the Lion 8 electric truck was attracting attention during a trade show linked to the annual meeting of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC).

ATLANTA, Ga. – Most of the fleets linked to the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) still work with diesel-powered trucks, but Marc Bedard arrived with a message for them this morning: “The business case for electric makes sense.”

“You can have savings of $35,000 or more every year per [electric] truck,” the president of Quebec-based Lion Electric said in a keynote address during the group’s annual meeting. “When you do have incentives – and in some regions there are a lot of incentives – then your overall savings grow.”

The manufacturer, already known for producing electric school buses, recently unveiled an electric Class 8 urban truck known as the Lion 8. It features up to 480 kWh of power, with an electric motor rated up to 350 kW, and a range of about 400 km. And it was drawing crowds on the tradeshow floor the night before.

Lion Electric president Marc Bedard

“I’m no Elon Musk, and I didn’t smoke any weed when I came up with this idea,” Bedard said, referring to the Tesla founder. “All we have done is commercialize what you told us that you needed.”

There has been an undeniable shift in the conversations. When he began discussing electric vehicles eight years ago, almost no one had heard of Tesla. Four years ago he was talking about electric school buses with a 65-mile range. Today, the focus has shifted beyond environmental benefits to discuss an electric truck’s return on investment.

Maintenance on an electric truck will cost 60% less than the work associated with diesel engines, he said. An electric motor, for example, has 20 parts compared to the 2,000 in a diesel engine. Across the vehicle, there will be about 7,000 parts compared to 30,000. There is no exhaust system, diesel particulate filter, transmission, or oil. The regenerative braking alone promises to triple the life of service brakes.

“The total cost of ownership is lower than a diesel truck,” he added, referring to electricity costs that tend to be three to four times cheaper than diesel.

Incentives simply increase the rate of return. The California Hybrid Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Program, for example, offers $150,000 per truck. With that, a return would be realized in four years. The New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program is another example of support.

Legislators are clearly making their own case for electrification. Some urban centers plan to force fleets to adopt a percentage of zero-emission vehicles, which could reduce noise and emissions alike.

“Transportation is responsible for over 30% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, so this is a good way to fight climate change with a solution that makes business sense,” Bedard said.

Referring to proposed U.S. legislation that would allow 18-year-olds to drive commercial trucks across state lines, he also said electric trucks could be a powerful recruiting tool. “They’re attracted to jobs that are sustainable, safer, and are technology-inclined,” he said of the younger candidates.

For now, though, he recognizes the ranges limited by existing battery densities.

“We should target what’s possible with the proven technologies,” he said of the focus for urban use. “An urban truck makes sense because we can offer a range that is achievable now.” Bedard believes that longhaul applications are still a “few years” away and “just not possible” with the technologies of today.

There are some interesting possibilities for the future, though. He referred to the way power can flow in more than one direction. Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) systems could plug parked trucks into power grids, drawing from the batteries during peak times of the day. In a vehicle-to-vehicle setup, the batteries could be used to charge other vehicles, whether trucks, buses, or cars. Vehicle to Building approaches could even power fleet facilities during power shortages.

The Lion president openly challenged those who focus on electrifying vehicles designed for diesel power, referring to Tesla’s early efforts to make its cars by retrofitting Lotus models. That proved to be an impossible venture at a fair price, he said. “We believe that electric trucks need to be purpose-built to be electric … It will not make any sense to sell a diesel engine on Craigslist.”

The Lion 8 urban electric truck features up to 480 kWh of power, with an electric motor rated up to 350 kW, and a range of about 400 km.

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