March 14, 2012 – Vol.16 No.52
RETHINKING ELECTRIC CARS -- PART 3.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
For this segment of this series the title is bit wrong. This segment is about compact electric trucks, not cars. But before I get started, a note: President Obama wants to raise the clean, alternative vehicle incentive. He wants the tax credit for the purchase of an electric, or other alternative fueled vehicle, to be raised to a maximum of $10,000 up from the current $7500. With that a Chevy Volt list price could be a few dollars under $30000, a Nissan Leaf in the high $20’s and A Mitsubishi i under $20K.
To further sweeten the deal, Obama wants the credit to be available at the time of purchase, instead of the following tax year. Giving the tax break at the time of purchase should allow for more to qualify for financing. Since the credit would be signed over to the dealer, the list price should effectively drop by the amount of the credit.
Should Congress go along with the plan, this will most certainly bring more buyers to alternative fuel vehicles at a time when gas prices are rising.
So call, write or email your Congressman in favor of the President's plan. (If you're worried that this tax break will add to the deficit, don't. Obama wants tax breaks to the oil companies stopped. The resulting increase in tax revenues should pay for the plan. However, in the past Congress has refused to eliminate tax breaks for big oil.)
Now on to compact electric trucks.
Back in time, over ten years ago, both General Motors and Ford sold or leased electrified compact pickup trucks based on vehicles available at that time, respectively the Chevy S10 and Ford Ranger.
General Motors built about 500 S10 Electrics and Ford about 1500 Ranger EVs, most vehicles were leased to utility companies. Technically, the S10 Electric used the front drive setup from the EV1 and Ford used a special rear drive with integral electric traction motor. Both vehicles began with lead acid batteries, but nickel metal hybrid batteries were later available. Range for the S10 with lead acid batteries was rather poor at 50 miles or less but increased to 90 miles or so with the NiMH batteries. The Ranger EV range with its lead acid batteries was less than 65 miles and improved to over 65 miles with the NiMH batteries.
Most S10 Electrics were leased and later recalled and crushed along with EV1s. Pretty much the same story with the Rangers. Some trucks of both models were sold and may still be out there somewhere.
Both vehicles were fairly basic, built for work not luxurious cruising. The market was to be fleet use, not personal use. Neither Ford nor GM went to great lengths to make these really good electric vehicles. Particularly, other than removing the gas engine and drivetrain, they did little to reduce vehicle weight necessary to accommodate heavy batteries and thus increase range. This seems a little odd since pickup trucks are prime candidates for weight reduction.
Aside from a few cars turned into trucks, pickup trucks use a body-on-frame, body-on-chassis design. A heavy gauge steel chassis holds the engine, drivetrain and suspension, while the steel body and bed are bolted to it. At first glance the heavy steel chassis is just that, heavy steel in order to carry lots of weight. They’re trucks; supposed to carry things. The chassis, too, is supposed to toughen up the vehicle for off-road use.
But there’s another reason for the heavy chassis frame: To keep the center of gravity as low as possible to keep the vehicle upright both on and off road particularly when there’s a heavy load on board.
So, if one were to reduce the weight of these vehicles to electrify it, the first obvious choice might be to replace the heavy steel chassis with an equally strong chassis of lighter material such as aluminum, magnesium or carbon fiber composite. This would take some reengineering, for sure, but at least the new light chassis is kind of a low-tech item compared with say expensive state-of-the-art batteries.
Other weight reducing measures would be to replace the bed (also just bolted on) with one of lighter materials than steel. Doors and the front hood could also be replaced.
Pickup trucks also inherently have another feature that would make them appealing for electric vehicle conversion: There’s a lot space under the vehicle between frame rails to hang batteries. Further, the bed design could be modified for more batteries while still providing ample space for carrying stuff.
Together lightening the frame and body and displacing that lost vehicle weight with batteries could make an electric vehicle with really long range.
As vehicles, light electric trucks built today might actually have a bigger market than electric cars. As with the S10 Electric and Ranger EV, electrified light trucks can be used in fleets where managers and accountants can monitor their costs. Further, there’s a large market for compact and medium sized pickups for personal use in the. For example, in the past ten years Toyota has sold more than 1.6 million Tacomas in the US for both personal and commercial use.
True, full-sized hybrid pickups are available and soon plug-in hybrids such as those from VIA Motors, but there could be a market for all-electric pickups. The key indicator of how small, compact electrified commercial vehicles are selling will be to watch sales of Ford / Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric.
If that little battery-powered van sells well, maybe the makers of small and mid-sized electric pickups will take a second look, put the vehicles on a diet and pack them full of batteries to make them really excellent and useful clean vehicles.
RETHINKING ELECTRIC CARS - PART 1
If EV’s don’t catch on at a quicker pace, manufacturers might have to go back to the drawing board.
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