Plug-in battery-powered trucks coming to a road near you soon
- Credit: Archant
An East Anglian firm is leading the way in the electric truck market.
With more than 30,000 plug-in cars sold across the UK in the first seven months of 2019, interest in electric cars continues to grow but less is known about the market for electric lorries and trucks.
One East Anglian company leading the way in this area is Tevva, which this month announced a "breakthrough" deal to provide prototype electric delivery vans to logistics firm UPS.
The Chelmsford firm's focus is on battery system development, telematics, power electronics, and software, and its technology is in 15 hybrid electric vans at UPS' Birmingham and Southampton depots.
UPS say the new vehicles - part-funded by The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and Innovate UK - will boost the range small electric vans have had up until now to an impressive 400km.
This new line of range-extended electric vehicles (REEVs) uses Tevva's geofencing technology to automatically switch to pure electric mode when reaching a predetermined boundary, such as prior to entering an urban environment or clean air zone.
This same technology allows the vehicle to switch to an on-board 'range extender' that uses a small diesel engine to recharge the battery, when it is required, such as when it is on a motorway connecting neighbouring towns and cities, or making a journey back to the depot.
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Try before you buy
The team at Tevva, which now numbers more than 60 personnel, has been working on the technology since the firm launched in 2013. Now, six years later the company is preparing to take its products to market in a big way helped by a £10 million investment from Indian engineering company Bharat Forge last year.
According to sales and marketing director David Thackray, during 2020 Tevva plans to make 50 electric trucks available on a rental basis to selected fleet operators, so they can test the technology in the field. The firm also intends to work with operators in a number of European countries.
Mr Thackray said for fleet managers it's a case of "try before you buy".
"This approach will enable us to touch a large number of potential customers before we reach full volume production in spring 2021," he said. "It will also allow us to develop fleet case studies, which will inform our marketing effort. By the end of 2021, we expect to have 2million kilometres of operational data from 250 different customers - that will be a fairly inarguable body of data."
Mr Thackray says that by focussing on commercial vans and trucks, the firm can have a greater impact in terms of cutting carbon emissions. He says commercial vehicles account for 27% of transport related CO2 and while an average family car burns 800 litres of fuel in a year, a commercial van uses 11,000 litres of diesel.
He says the company has made a commercial decision to focus on trucks and vans in the seven to 14-tonne class, which takes in operators in the 'urban distribution market' such as food and parcel delivery, linen deliveries and waste and recycling vans. Typically, vehicles in this class return to the depot every afternoon, meaning they have a short range and can be charged every night.
As well as Tevva's partnership with UPS, it is also working with another logistics provider, Kuehne + Nagel, to develop a heavier, 14-tonne vehicle for urban, temperature-controlled distribution.
Long-term, according to Mr Thackray, the company aims to move on to the next weight class - trucks weighing anywhere between 18 and 26 tonnes,
Mr Thackray says there is "no reason why you can't electrify any size of lorry" but says there are "technical challenges with long-distance articulated lorries" such as how to package the batteries onto their relatively small chassis and accommodate their need to travel much longer distances.
The Tevva story
Not many automotive businesses can say that the inspiration for their existence began under miles of icy water.
But that is where Tevva founder Asher Bennett first conceived the idea of an electric truck and technology company.
In a former life, Mr Bennett was an officer on diesel-electric submarines and, among the many issues with which he grappled, was the question of battery power range.
The British-built submarines he was working on were essentially diesel-electric hybrids and used battery electric propulsion with the option of a small diesel generator to recharge the battery while the vehicle was in motion. The submarines also used a sophisticated battery management system to optimise battery power and usage.
Tested and developed in the harshest possible environment - deep in the ocean - this same technology provided the spark of inspiration that led to the creation of Tevva in 2013.
For, although the ocean is a world away from East Anglia, Mr Bennett realised that the very same problems experienced by his submarines exist also in the medium duty truck urban distribution industry that is Tevva's initial focus.
Given the environmentally sensitive nature of the business Mr Bennett founded, he chose a name that, in his native Hebrew, translates as 'nature' - Tevva.