Two Isuzu prototype electric truck models are currently traversing Australia’s urban road network, another indicator that the move towards electric light commercial vehicles is quickly gaining momentum. Greg Bush writes
Two Isuzu prototype electric trucks are currently on trial throughout Australia’s urban road network
ISUZU AUSTRALIA has officially entered the electric truck challenge, last month announcing the existence of two prototype models based on the diesel equivalent FSR and NQR. The battery-powered trucks, which are still under development, have been built in collaboration with Melbourne-based electric vehicle (EV) developer SEA Electric. Simon Humphries, chief engineer product strategy, says the timing of the prototype trials mirrors the increasing interest from customers in the electric truck technology. “It’s almost an overwhelming interest,” Humphries remarks. “There’s not a week that goes by where we get an enquiry about ‘when are you going to sell us an electric truck?’.”
Previously, the limiting factor was managing the balance of price, payload and energy range.
“You don’t want to be expensive, you don’t want to be too heavy, but you do want to provide the performance to do a day’s work,” he says. “Our research and our experience with CNG trucks for the past 10 or 15 years has shown that the absolute minimum for just about any application, whether it be return to base or any urban-type arrangement, is that Australian operators won’t be comfortable until they can get at least 200km out of their truck.”
“So if we can get something that gives at least a 200km range, we think will work for Australia. The battery technology is improving at such a rate that roughly every six months you get 10 to 15 per cent increase in range for the same weight and cost,” Humphries says.
The FSR and NQR models appear to have been obvious choices for the electric truck prototypes.
The FSR is rated at 14-tonne GVM, but can also be rated down to 12 tonne. The NQR, the largest of Isuzu’s N-Series models, is rated between 8 to 9 tonne. The NQR EV concept boasts 130kW maximum power, slightly less than the diesel equivalent. However, Humphries adds that the 1500Nm maximum torque in the EV version is much
more, with continuous torque around 800Nm. On the other hand, the FSR EV boasts a more powerful motor than the 191kW diesel model, with a maximum of 250kW and 2500Nm of torque.
“We’ve got a well-specified pair of vehicles there,” Humphries says. “The two Isuzu EV models have a permanent magnet-type electric motor which is among the most efficient. It’s well up around the 98 per cent efficiency, which combustion engines can’t even possibly hope to achieve.”
Isuzu chose the nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) type battery pack, a sub-class of the lithium-ion battery.
“The lithium-ion class of battery is where all the technology development is at the moment. The NMC type is developing fast; about every six months we get a 10 or 15 per cent improvement in energy storage for any given size and cost of battery.”
The NMC battery pack’s other selling point is, because it’s more energy dense than some other types, it doesn’t need external cooling.
Isuzu’s overall target was for a performance that matched or exceeded the equivalent diesel motor.
“So we specified the electric motor and the battery pack to provide the performance so the driver will not suffer, he will actually want to drive this truck,” Humphries continues. “The range on the full charge suits Australian requirements and that’s very important because what we’ve heard about around the world, some of those trucks have a range of about 50km. If you’re talking range anxiety, if you’re getting out of the depot on a full charge and you know you’ve only got a maximum of 50km, that would stress me out.
“My low fuel light comes on before then,” Humphries smiles. “So having the 200 or even 250km range, knowing you can do that in most conditions in Australia, is important for our operations.
“The other thing that’s really important is we don’t have welldeveloped electric vehicle charging infrastructure. So these trucks have got an on-board charging unit and the cable supplied; it reduces the reliance on EV charging stations because you can plug into a commercial three-phase power outlet.”
Humphries says the charging unit software controls how fast the vehicle is charging, turning the process of when it’s fully charged. Interestingly enough, Isuzu’s charging unit is compatible with the expanding Tesla Super Charger network, particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
“There are Tesla Super Chargers popping up all over the place, at wineries, hotels and lots of places you wouldn’t have thought of. And Tesla is quite happy to encourage users of other brand EVs to use their superchargers,” Humphries says.
“You don’t need to have a proliferation of refuelling infrastructure in this country to be able to plug into one of those. Just about every commercial building, warehouse, workshop has three-phase power, or can have it installed for very little cost. It is increasing ease of being able to charge an electric vehicle which is countering the disadvantages of CNG-powered trucks.
“The lack of infrastructure is one big barrier to the proliferation of CNG trucks. We proved that they’re great, they’re reliable and they’re powerful. They do the job.
“I think every CNG truck that we sold over the past 10 or 14 years is still on the road. But there’s only a handful of refuelling stations in Australia. CNG never really took off in any great way as in some other countries, so that’s a major difference.”
However, Humphries warns not to expect electric powered longhaul trucks anytime soon.
“Beyond that 14-tonne mark it’s going to take a lot more batteries to get the useful range, and it’s going to take a lot more cost. So there’s still room at the heavy end of the market to remain either diesel or diesel range extender with electric drive for a long time yet.”
Above L to R: Isuzu’s FSR electric truck is expected to reach a range of 250km; Vehicle charging is becoming easier as many commercial premises have threephase powerOpposite bottom: Simon Humphries – Isuzu Australia’s chief engineer product strategy