Photo: Aaron Marsh / Fleet Owner
On display at the 2018 Work Truck Show, Isuzu's all-electric NPR-HD cab-over truck will be tested and evaluated under a range of conditions.

Isuzu testing out electric trucks

May 9, 2018
Beginning with an electrified Class 4 NPR-HD, Isuzu's group of battery electric cab-over trucks could make it into customers' hands later this year for fleet demonstrations.

While Isuzu Commercial Truck of America has noted that its forte is medium-duty trucks running 4-cyl. turbo diesels, the company rolled out an all-electric truck at the 2018 Work Truck Show that was headed straight for testing after the event. Fleet Owner caught up with Isuzu's Brian Tabel, executive director of marketing, to hear more.

"We're putting together a group of five of these, and we'll be evaluating, testing and monitoring them," Tabel said. "Hopefully in Q3 of this year, we'll be putting all five of them in customers' hands for real-world demonstrations to get feedback about what's working, what's not working, and how we can progress and monitor for the future as we look at developing this product for the U.S. market."

This first group of Isuzu's battery-electric trucks  will be based on the Class 4 NPR-HD, which has a gross vehicle weight rating of 14,500 lbs. Isuzu turned to Nordresa, a developer and manufacturer of commercial electric powertrains in Québec, Canada, to modify the N-Series truck with electric motivation.

The electric NPR-HD on display was quite young — it was finished just a few weeks ago — but nonetheless sported graphics and had a well-finished look. Tabel explained that it will be tested in a number of ways and environments including weight, load capabilities, charge times, and distances possible under various loads in a range of weather and temperature conditions.

"We'll be evaluating everything," Tabel said. "These vehicles will be around the country in different environments so we can get a true evaluation of the differences in how an electric vehicle is going to operate in cold weather, for example, vs. a hot, humid climate in Florida."

Climate and temperature variations can have a big effect on electric vehicles and their capabilities. Tabel pointed out how his own hybrid-electric passenger car shows a notable difference with heavier power drains like running the heat and electrically heated seats, for example, which effectively siphon power away from the electric motor.

As far as what duty cycles Isuzu thinks the electric trucks will be good for, it's likely to be things like pickup and delivery and use in urban environments. "That's really where you're going to excel with an electric vehicle," Tabel contended. But Isuzu acknowledges that electric trucks are a certain part of the future, he added, just as electric vehicles have already made inroads in the passenger car market.  

"There's definitely some big customers out there that are requesting it," Tabel noted of electric trucks. "They're big fleet customers looking five, 10, 15 years down the road at how their fleets are going to work.

"They're definitely looking at this technology and saying that this is the direction that they want to go," he continued.  

Meanwhile, regarding other alternate fuels, Isuzu now offers the Class 3 NPR Gas and Class 4 NPR-HD Gas with General Motors' 6.0L Vortec V8 gasoline engine that can be prepped to run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG).

"It's an abundant resource for us," Tabel said regarding natural gas in North America. "As fuel prices are so low, I don't think there's as much of that desire or need that people want to move to different fuels," he added, "but if fuel prices increase, the demand for alternative fuels will increase again."

Thus, the business demand for alternative fuels must be there to drive product development, but that's not all. For fleets especially, electric or alternative fuel vehicles need access to charging or fuel supply.   

"The infrastructure is the other thing that needs to be there," Tabel said. "There are a lot of places that don't have a CNG station near them, for example. But as the infrastructure improves and people have more fuel options, I think you'll see that trend where things will turn back to interest in things like CNG."

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