Zeus Electric Chassis, which manufactures Class 4-6 electric vocational truck chassis, unveiled what will be one of its first deliveries to the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) — a Z-19 with a stake bed body. The company unveiled the vehicle at a California Mobility Center event in Sacramento, California, on March 17.
The Class 5 vehicle delivers 290 hp, 2,040 lb.-ft. of torque, and a range of about 150 miles. It is one of five vehicles the company will deliver to the California utility in May; others include a box truck, a dump truck, an open body service truck, and a closed body service truck. The vehicles are designed and manufactured in the U.S.
Customizing Range and Capability
Bill Brandt, chief revenue officer for Zeus, said vehicles are fully customizable in range and capability. The company can analyze the vehicle application and estimate the power draw for running tools, then determine how many batteries it needs to get to the range desired by the end user.
That’s up to a certain point, said Bob Grinstead, founder of CEO of Zeus. While there are certain tweaks he can make to accommodate more batteries and their added weight, it’s ultimately limited by the chassis. But since most of SMUD’s vehicles go only 60 miles per day, a 150-mile range is more than enough.
The company plans to develop more complex vehicles in the future.
“The reason that these five we're doing with SMUD don't have a lot of tools is they're testing our chassis; they're testing our technology. But the next ones we're doing are going to be more complicated. So…maybe they have hook lifts, or they've got welders or air compressors,” Brandt said.
Depending on specs, vehicles can cost between $200,000 and $250,000, although the company estimates users can get a return on their investment in seven to eight years.
Charging time depends on the battery size and the charger. On a 20-kW Level 2 charger, it could take five hours to charge a 100-kWh battery pack. On a DC fast charger, it could take an hour, Brandt said.
Filling a Gap
As Zeus finalizes producing its first vehicles for delivery, SMUD has made the commitment to further electric vehicle research and development — not only for its own needs, but also for other utilities and industries.
“Right now, there's a gap in the market for Class 4-6 [electric] vehicles, for medium- and heavy-duty," said Paul Lau, CEO and general manager of SMUD. "So, we said we're going to work with a U.S. manufacturer to design a truck with different base chassis that we can actually use."
Once testing is under way, SMUD plans to share data with the public. A third-party company will evaluate data from the SMUD pilot to evaluate key performance indicators, and the data will be shared so other fleet operations can learn from it.
“I think most fleet managers, when you talk about going to a new fleet, they really want the data,” Lau said. “What is the cost of operation? What is the O&M [operations and maintenance]? What is the savings? Does it actually make sense? And what is the payback? So that we can say, hey, this works for us, does it work for you?”
The vehicles can replace traditional fuel vehicles at SMUD, with 4WD and comparable or better safety features, towing power, and power on board. The only thing that may change in switching to an electric vehicle is “thinking in advance to plan for the day and whether that range will meet our duty cycle for the day,” said Casey Fallon, SMUD director of purchasing, warehouse, and fleet. However, he anticipates this will only be a few days a year, such as during storms and emergency conditions that necessitate a vehicle to be used longer than normal.
Fleet staff and engineers worked with Zeus on vehicle development, and technicians will be trained to maintain and repair the vehicles. Fallon said he expects to keep the vehicles five to 10 years, if not longer, and the main thing the fleet must anticipate is a potential battery replacement. He noted that a battery replacement is much simpler than an engine replacement on an internal combustion engine vehicle.
SMUD already owns many light-duty electric vehicles — in fact, all its sedans are battery-electric vehicles. The new trucks will be housed where they can use existing charging infrastructure.
These vehicles cost SMUD $200,000 each on average, but SMUD expects to receive $69,000 per vehicle in state funding. If that goes through, Fallon said getting a return on investment can be as fast as three years.