The global local delivery scene is examining the latest development in electric delivery vans. This area is changing fast and Diesel News’ US Correspondent takes a look at a few of the developments in the US and Europe which may eventually find their way to Australia.
At the April Work Truck Show in Atlanta, Workhorse showed its all-electric delivery van and talked about its drone-delivery combination. Workhorse is signing up to the bandwagon that Mercedes-Benz rolled out nearly two years ago with its Sprinter-based concept ‘last-mile’ delivery van that featured a pair of drones that would deliver to retail customers. That concept involved customer lock-boxes to keep shipments safe until collected by the recipients.
Workhorse is looking at something a little different. In a demonstration with parcel carrier UPS, the van manufacturer is exploring an improved efficiency model that has rural routes covered by a van equipped with a drone. The driver continues the conventional ‘brown’ solution of deliveries to the door, while the drone makes flights off the top of the vehicle to other locations, multiplying the number of drops per route the driver can make. And those over-the-air drone deliveries are at 95 per cent less fuel used than delivering by road.
This, more than any, illustrates the innovation and pace-to-market at Workhorse – a company that started life as a step-van manufacturer, taking on a business that General Motors had not the foresight to see as an opportunity rather than a drag on profitability.
Today, Workhorse Group is incorporated as an American manufacturing company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, currently focused on manufacturing electrically-powered delivery and utility vehicles. The company was founded in 1998 by investors who took over the production of General Motors’ P30/P32 series step-van and motorhome chassis. In 2005 they were taken over by Navistar International, which had been selling Workhorse the diesel engines it was using. Navistar shuttered the plant in 2012, to cut costs in its life-saving restructure.
In March 2015, AMP Electric Vehicles took over Workhorse Custom Chassis, changing the company name to Workhorse Group Incorporated, and began offering a range of electrically powered delivery vans.
And therein lies the future of Workhorse: electric vehicles for commercial use, be it on the ground or in the air. For as well as drone development, the company is well advanced on personal people movers with its SureFly Octocopter. This currently is a two-passenger personal aircraft based on the drone principle of a propeller at each of four corners. It is still in airworthiness trials, but has a bright future as a people mover and traffic jam buster for people who can afford the US$200,000 projected price. By all accounts it should be way easier to drive than a helicopter without the collective controls of the helo, and with electric drive and an automotive gasoline-engine range extender, significantly less expensive to maintain.
But despite its public low profile to date, Workhorse is likely to become a household name as it gets its all-electric W-15 ute into the marketplace later this year as a prototype and full production model in 2019. Using a combination of carbon-fibre and plastic cab and ute bed for minimal weight, this electric ute is bound to drive a wedge into America’s most profitable vehicle segment with a full-size crew-cab ute with a range of 80 miles (128 km) per charge and with an on-board gasoline-engine range extender. It will draw strong sales from the utilities and municipal market, but it will likely also appeal to ute aficionados who can make the range combination work for them.
And it’s not an unattractive looking ute. No-one should be embarrassed to have one in the driveway in front of their house to trumpet their social responsibility in having an electric rather than a gas guzzling full-size ute.
And Workhorse also has smaller delivery electrics proving the concept in the deployment of four of its N-Gen trucks in the San Francisco Bay Area. The carbon-fibre and plastic vans weigh only 5,500 pounds (2.5 tonnes) but can carry a one-ton payload and have a range of up to 100 miles (160 km) from a 60-kW h battery pack.
Workhorse unveiled the N-Gen van late last year, promising to launch real-world testing in the first quarter of this year
Workhorse has not been a name on the lips of consumers. Or for that matter, Wall Street. But it seems to be poised with a portfolio of products that have matured in line with the changing modes of distribution, people transport and long-term sustainability. It’s a far cry from banging together bits of GM hardware that the mega-corporation could not make a business case to do itself.