'Essex's Elon Musk' says his electric trucks will be dominating the global market in ten years time
PUBLISHED: 21:07 30 July 2018 | UPDATED: 21:08 30 July 2018
Asher Bennett is fast gaining a reputation as 'Essex's Elon Musk', and its not hard to see why.
The electric trucks operated by Tevva Motors, his company based in Chelmsford, are emblazoned with the words ‘the world’s greenest truck.’
Its a claim that the Israeli entrepreneur feels is justified because the trucks’ unique range extenders enable them to stay on the roads for longer than other electric vehicles.
Mr Bennett shares Elon Musk’s lofty ambitions, claiming Tevva Motors will become the world leader in electric trucks in the next decade.
Mr Bennett has just secured £10m funding from the Indian engineering giant Bharat Forge, which values Tevva at about £30m, to develop his technology and expand into India. “We also got another £2m from our existing shareholders and investors,” he explained. “We are very focused on Europe, India and China.”
Mr Bennett learnt about electric battery technology while manning submarines in the Israeli navy. “At that time, it was completely new technology,” he said. “Then for a few years I was building battery systems for electric cars and buses, thinking ‘why is all this effort going into electric cars, but nothing into trucks? I realised we needed to solve this issue.”
After making money from a cyber-security start up in Israel, Mr Bennett founded Tevva Motors five years ago in Brentwood and moved its factory to Chelmsford three years later. “We chose Essex because it has a very strong automotive eco-system, there are lot of good engineers within commuting range of here,” he said. “I have some engineers who drive for an hour and a half in each direction because they like working here.”
Today, Tevva is approaching 30 engineers and growing. “We are hiring great engineers at the highest level as soon as we can find them,” he says. “We just had to move into another building a few hundred yards away because we outgrew this space.”
After trialing Tevva Motors’ prototype truck for over a year in East London, UPS has just ordered 15 trucks from Tevva. “Now we’re gearing up for production and will start delivering these trucks over the summer,” said Mr Bennett. “We are now in a push to rent trucks to fleets for short periods of four to six months, so they can try one out without having to have any concerns about the long term technology risk and cost risk. We know they’ll be hooked because our trucks are more powerful, more fun to drive and they save so much money.”
Although you still can’t go to a dealership anywhere in the world and buy an electric truck, Mr Bennett believes that in ten years time, almost all new trucks will be electric.
Will the recent heatwave provide a further push for green energy solutions? “Environmental concerns are one aspect, but what’s also important is that our truck is significantly cheaper to operate than a diesel truck,” Mr Bennett explained. “Its about 50% more expensive to buy one, but there are significant savings on the energy side. And since we lease our trucks to the customers, they’re getting those savings from day one.”
But there are several other players in the electric truck market, including Mr Musk’s Tesla in the US. But Mr Bennett believes that his range extender technology gives them an advantage over their competitors by enabling their lorries to keep going after the battery has worn down. “Effectively we’re doing double the zero emission daily miles driven compared to a non-range extended trucks,” he said. “The extender is powered by fuel - diesel is one option, but we’re pushing for cleaner fuels such as petrol and natural gas. We also have a future concept in development using glycerine as a fuel. It’s quite exciting.”
Mr Bennett describes his range extender as being a type of insurance policy - “‘so we can say don’t worry about being out of range on the battery, we have your back up,’” he explained. “At the core, we are an electric truck. The only thing turning the wheels is an electric motor powered by a lithium iron battery, which is typically charged at night at the depot. But our range extender means that the operator can take a risk and use their battery to the maximum. Because no one wants to get stuck with a truck full of payload waiting to be delivered - that’s a huge pain.”
The patented cloud technology guiding the energy management of Mr Bennett’s trucks operates autonomously, “so the driver does not have to make the decisions about which energy to use,” Mr Bennett explained. In common with other automobile companies, Mr Bennett is looking to making his trucks almost fully self-driving in the future. “The technology for autonomous driving is rapidly approaching the point that it works, but it will probably take another year or two and our trucks will have the different systems for allowing autonomous driving.
“Its especially useful for trucks, so that the long motorway routes can be autonomous and the driver can rest. When the truck has to perform complicated inner city deliveries or reversing into depots, the driver will take over, but he or she will be more rested.”
If the UK logistics industry does fully embrace the use of electric trucks over diesel ones, it could spell good news for anyone who currently lives near to a busy road, because electric truck engines are quiet, and don’t give off emissions pollution.
“Truck drivers tend to really like driving electric trucks too, because of the quietness,” Mr Bennett said. “They accelerate faster, and to some extent are more fun to drive. While we limit the power of the truck for safety reasons, it does feel like driving a sports car to some extent.”
Mr Bennett praises the UK government for the launch this month of its Road to Zero Strategy, which aims to see at least half of new cars to be ultra low emission by 2030. He gladly accepted an invitation to bring one of his trucks along to the launch event. But Mr Bennett also feels the government could be even more ambitious in their goals. “There is really no downside to using electric trucks on the operational side, so why would you need to wait for a decade to convert to using this energy?”
Having moved to the UK to start his business, thankfully, the Israeli isn’t too concerned about Brexit. “It’s not at the top of my considerations. I think the UK is the best place for these technologies.”