Just like there is no one right answer when it comes to fueling the trucks of tomorrow (see my blog post, Do alternative fuels have to be about winners and losers?, if you are not sure what I am referring to), it seems there is no one right answer, when it comes designing an electric vehicle either.
This is not simply about hybrids vs. battery electric trucks, but it is about different ideas on where to locate the batteries, different means to getting power to the rear axle and even different ideas about the size of the batteries needed to power a medium- or heavy-duty truck.
A side note here: a colleague of mine was talking to a battery-testing engineer who came from the automotive market. The engineer was floored by the number of trucks carrying battery boxes outside the frame rails. Most would agree that is not an ideal solution, but there are space restrictions with the chassis designs that we typically see with ICE engines and transmissions. There is concern about a “thermal event” (aka fire) in the event of a side crash.
We all know how easy it is for new technology development to grind to a halt if there is a major catastrophe with prototype or limited production vehicles. It begs the question should we be looking at entirely new chassis for commercial battery electric vehicles rather than trying to get things to fit on a tradition chassis? But traditional chassis are proven to survive in the harsh environments of trucking. I am not taking sides here; I am just asking questions.
But back to my main point. We are in what is called the “storming” part of innovation. This is where every idea is being pursued. In time the market and the industry will thin out the options based on how they perform, their durability, their ROI, etc. However, right now no one knows the future. Trying a lot of different ideas on real trucks used in real-world operations is a great way for fleets to weed out innovations that are less good for them and allows manufacturers to concentrate on fine-tuning the innovations that are better solutions.
I am sure you have all heard the phrase “fail fast, fail forward.” Quick failures means you can get to better solutions more quickly. Failure can breed success. In fact, that is even a mantra of our friend, Sir Richard Branson.
The bottom line is I am happy to see all these developments in the CBEV space both from traditional truck manufacturers and from new entrants into trucking. I say, let real ideas compete in real trucks before we jump to conclusions. The way the trucks perform will tell us exactly what we need to know.
Let the testing and innovation continue.