Amp Electric's Workhorse Wants To Be 'Tesla Of Trucks' For Electric Delivery Vans

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Workhorse Walk-In van, now produced by Amp Holdings and electrically powered

Workhorse Walk-In van, now produced by Amp Holdings and electrically powered

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Aside from economic recession and cautious buyers, one of the biggest challenges for companies that want to sell electrified commercial trucks turns out to be ... making or converting trucks.

Amp Electric, a surviving veteran of several generations of electric-truck development, decided to solve that problem head on.

In March 2013, it bought an entire truck company.

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And early this month, United Parcel Service (UPS) announced that it would acquire and test 18 of Amp's Workhorse E-Gen E-100 electric Walk-In Vans to be tested in the Houston-Galveston area of Texas.

The E-Gen truck is driven by a 200-kilowatt (268-horsepower) electric motor powered by a 60-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

The pack is sized to provide a comfortable range buffer for trucks with predictable daily use, and Amp quotes a range of about 60 miles.

 

Workhorse E-Gen range-extended electric powertrain for Class 5 and Class 6 electric trucks

Workhorse E-Gen range-extended electric powertrain for Class 5 and Class 6 electric trucks

Enlarge Photo
But it also equips the E-Gen with a range extender to eliminate range anxiety under unexpected circumstances.

The range extender is a small 18-kW (25-hp) engine that can be specified to run on either gasoline or compressed natural gas to power a generator that recharges the battery when necessary, but only while the truck is parked.

Emerging from carnage

Green Car Reports has covered the company started as Amp Electric for almost five years, and it has gone through several evolutions during that time.

As Amp Holding CEO Stephen Burns told us, "We're in a space littered with carnage."

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In 2010, it proposed to convert crossover and sport-utility vehicles to battery-electric operation, with test vehicles based on the Chevrolet Equinox and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

But the challenge, he said, is not in the powertrain but in developing the vehicle: Either Amp Electric would spend up to $1 billion to develop and test its own vehicle, or it would have to convert other makers' vehicles.

And, he said, established car companies have proven extremely reluctant to deliver "gliders," or new vehicles without their powertrains, to conversion companies--largely because it's still the automaker who will get sued if something goes drastically wrong with the vehicle after it's sold.

Workhorse E-Gen range-extended electric powertrain for Class 5 and Class 6 electric trucks

Workhorse E-Gen range-extended electric powertrain for Class 5 and Class 6 electric trucks

Enlarge Photo

Switching to trucks

By the end of 2012, the company had dropped that plan and switched its focus to the commercial truck sector, specifically Class 5 and Class 6 trucks.

As Burns noted, the regulatory burden on larger trucks is far lighter than that for passenger vehicles: There are no crash tests required, no airbags that have to be installed.

And, he said, the payback numbers are far more stark.

Workhorse Walk-In van, now produced by Amp Holdings

Workhorse Walk-In van, now produced by Amp Holdings

Enlarge Photo

Fleet operators used to the costs of buying fuel for 6-mpg delivery trucks will see a clear financial benefit to an electric truck from Day One if they're leasing it, Burns said, when lease payments, fuel, and maintenance are added together.

And that's even without the Federal tax credit for buying a plug-in electric truck, he claims.

ALSO SEE: AMP Electric Vehicles Stops Car Conversions, Focuses On Trucks (Oct 2012)

The lack of a transmission in electric trucks is particularly appealing to fleet operators, Burns said, who must typically spend significant money on regular transmission maintenance in trucks that operate entirely in stop-and-go traffic.

Many operators, in fact, will save more on the maintenance of their trucks than they do by eliminating or vastly reducing their fuel purchases.

Even for those operators who buy their trucks outright, the payback is between two and three years.

And, he said, three years is pretty much the longest period that an electric truck has to pay back its higher upfront cost, or fleet buyers will lose interest.

Buying a business

The big evolution for Amp Electric came when Navistar (formerly International) chose to sell its medium-duty delivery-truck business after the company ran into financial problems when its approach to cleaner diesel engines for its largest trucks failed in the marketplace.

Amp Electric bought the Workhorse truck group from Navistar for a mere $5 million, including its development engineers, a large assembly plant in Union City, Indiana, and an existing network of 440 dealers throughout the U.S.

So now, Amp Electric is a maker of trucks that run on gasoline, natural gas, propane, or electricity--though Burns admits that, for the moment, electric trucks are just a tiny fraction of its business.


 
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