Freightliner to Make All-electric Vans

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2012

By Kathy Chaffin
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation has announced plans to manufacture all-electric, walk-in vans at its Gaffney, S.C., plant as part of a new “Green for Free” program.
The program is being launched in partnership with Enova Systems, a leading innovator of electric vehicle and hybrid electric vehicle drive system technologies. Green for Free will make the all-electric vehicle first introduced by Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) in 2010 more accessible for fleet operators by providing a third-party investor to cover the difference between the initial cost of a fuel vehicle and an electric vehicle, according to Jonathan Randall, director of sales and marketing for FCCC’s Gaffney plant.
Randall said the initial price seems to be the biggest hindrance to fleet executives purchasing electric vehicles. So when Enova Systems approached FCCC – a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC, about the Green for Free Program – he said it made all-electric, walk-in vans more affordable.”We’ve been working on this since August of last year.” 
FCCC is the first chassis manufacturer to bring the hybrid-electric vehicle and all-electric vehicle to market, and hopes to sell 3,000 all-electric vehicles over the next 24-to-36 months. All will be manufactured at its Gaffney plant, which employs about 500 people. 
Randall said it takes anywhere from three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years to use the savings in fuel costs to pay back the third-party investor for fronting the additional acquisition cost of manufacturing electric vehicles vs. fuel. After that, 100 percent of the savings in fuel costs goes to the owner.
Maintenance costs are also lower in electric vehicles. For example, brakes last longer, he said, because of such technology as regenerative braking, which recoups some of the energy lost when the vehicle is stopping and saves it in a storage battery to use later to power the motor.
Plans call for FCCC and Enova to start manufacturing Green for Free all-electric vehicles no later than the third quarter of this year. “We’re now in the process of battery supplier selection,” Randall said. “Once that’s in place, we’re looking to go into full production.” 
FCCC’s all-electric chassis is built upon its MT-45 chassis, which is known for its durability and capability of handling heavy payloads.
“This business model has the potential to stimulate tremendous and rapid growth,” said Mike Staran, Enova’s president and CEO, “helping achieve economies of scale through cost reduction, resulting in an excellent value proposition for the commercial fleet operator.”
Enova continues to build on more than 20 years of innovation, he said, and traces its roots back to General Motors’ EV1 electric car.”    
Randall said the target market for the all-electric, walk-in vans include package delivery companies and bread or linen companies which are heavy stop and go routes and have set routes and are home each night (or day depending on the operation). “The fleets that we’ll work with know how many miles they’ll run every day,” he said. “They’ll come home to a centralized depot, where they’ll be plugged in.” 
With gas prices expected to reach $5 a gallon, Randall said electric vehicles have become “part of the social fabric of what consumers are looking for and quite honestly, are willing to pay for.” Commercial fleet operators are no different, he said, but face an even higher upfront cost to convert.
The commercial vehicle market has relied on government funding for alternative fueled vehicles with some success. However, the Green for Free program is the first that will eliminate the overall incremental costs of buying and operating an all-electric vehicle, making it attractive to operators of large and small fleets.