Jack be Nimble

The new, all electric van, currently under development by ArvinMeritor and body-builder partner Unicell, is both nimble and quick and emits less smoke than a candlestick besides. No wonder Purolator Courier jumped on the concept when the company decided it needed a whole new approach to package van design. Conserving fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important to us, and we've changed

The new, all electric “Quicksider” van, currently under development by ArvinMeritor and body-builder partner Unicell, is both nimble and quick and emits less smoke than a candlestick besides. No wonder Purolator Courier jumped on the concept when the company decided it needed a whole new approach to package van design.

“Conserving fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important to us, and we've changed our fleet operating practices to reflect that,” says Serge Viola, national fleet manager for Purolator Courier, Canada's largest overnight delivery company. “At the end of the day, though, you're paying for these vehicles with real money. You need to justify that cost. Our hybrid-electric vehicles are 37% to 40% more fuel-efficient, but they use the same body type as our gas-powered vans. ”

Starting with a clean sheet of paper and the goal of improving both productivity and fuel efficiency, the three companies created the “Quicksider,” which just may prove that you can have it all. The quiet, lightweight delivery vehicle, which has been in field trials since last fall in Toronto, Ontario, offers a long list of productivity pluses as well as all-electric, zero-emissions operation.

For starters, the floor of the van has been lowered from 31 to 14 in. off the ground to permit a more aerodynamic body design and reduce steps for the driver. If that isn't low enough, the pneumatic suspensions have 9 in. of travel, so the vehicle can kneel right down to curb level, enabling drivers to roll cargo on and off the van without steep ramps. The floor of the Quicksider is also flat throughout, which means drivers can wheel those carts through the front or rear doors of the van — or both. No problem.

The Quicksider, which has an operating range of about 40 mi. on a single charge, is intended for urban routes with about 80 to 150 stops. Instead of a combustion engine, differential and transmission, sodium nickel chloride batteries provide electric power, and electric motors at each rear wheel, called “drive corner modules,” deliver that power to move the vehicle. In addition to the motors, each corner module includes a traditional wheel-end package with disc brakes and an electronically controlled pneumatic suspension.

According to ArvinMeritor, the electric motors deliver a combined 187 hp. and a top speed of about 65 mph. Although production vehicles are forecast to cost about twice the price of standard gasoline-powered vans, Purolator says it expects a two- to three-year payback period thanks to greater productivity. Is the value proposition perfect? Not quite yet, according to Purolator. The current costs associated with leasing and charging the batteries offer no advantage over gasoline and diesel. “You still have to pay for the battery and for the electricity to charge it,” says Viola.

The developers, however, see a positive trend line. “After years of focusing on what is feasible, we are now looking at what is affordable,” notes ArvinMeritor's Dennis Kramer, hybrid program manager. In other words, market success may be just a short jump away.

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