At first sight the Fuso eCanter looks just like any ordinary small truck delivering goods in any city in Australia, but the question on many people’s lips is, how well does an electric truck go? There is a distinctive blue piping around the grille and some other components to give hints about the different power plant under the cabin.
In fact, the truck tested here is a typical Canter, a test bed for the concept and being used as a proof-of concept for etrucks in this market. Engineers have taken the design and changed those components needed to make an electric truck, but left some others which would normally appear in a diesel truck. As an example, the dashboard still has a fuel gauge with a small image of a fuel bowser on it, but the needle indicates the level of charge left in the battery.
The cold hard numbers about power and torque available on the Fuso eCanter tell us very little about how different the driving experience is in this truck. Sitting down in the drivers seat and turning the key before the engine fires into life does not happen. Instead, the driver simply plugs in the key to the dashboard and pushes the start button.
There is no engine start-up clatter but there is some mechanical whirring noise at this point. The first manoeuvres with this truck, out of its parking place and onto the road, are similar to the slow manoeuvring we would expect in a diesel truck at tick over.
It is when we arrive on the open street that the difference suddenly becomes extremely clear. Yes, the truck is virtually silent, and the truck is moving slowly away from the parking space. Then, as a driver, you do something perfectly natural, you press on the accelerator to get it up to speed.
This is when the new experience differs vastly from anything you have experienced before. Simply pressing the accelerator does not create any extra sound, but the truck takes off like a bullet. The driver is pushed back into the seat by the swift acceleration and the most eerie part of the feeling is the fact that it is not accompanied by any noise.
This swift acceleration has the effect of modifying the way the driver puts their foot onto the pedal from then on. That initial explosion of acceleration makes the driver wary of pushing it down too hard. Next time around, all of a sudden, it is gently, gently on the right foot.
This feeling of shock and surprise only lasts a few minutes until the communication between the brain and the right foot works out how much pressure is required to get sensible acceleration and deceleration from this electric power source. Within 10 minutes it is perfectly natural to expect quite a swift take off from traffic lights with just a gentle push on the accelerator.
However, there is a temptation to try to beat all-comers away from the lights when they turn green. Having worked as a city-based parcel delivery driver in an earlier life, I suspect that some degree of modulation on the calibration of the throttle may be needed to rein in the worst excesses of the racing parcel delivery driver.
The main impression from driving this truck is just how easily it appears to do the job. As the drivers of diesel vehicles, we associate engine noise with hard work, and that does not happened here, at all.
Another surprise is just how effective the retardation is. The small exhaust brake lever on the left-hand side of the steering column on a Fuso Canter will normally make a change to the engine note and provide a little bit of retardation. Doing the same thing on a Fuso eCanter is completely different.
Retardation here is simply using the driveline to drive the electric motor to recharge the battery. This means there is quite a lot of energy transfer from the wheels into the battery. Pulling the engine brake on pulls the truck up pretty quickly. When it is engaged, as soon as the driver releases the accelerator, the truck starts to slow and it will slow up to the point where only a small application of the service brakes will bring the truck to a complete halt at traffic lights.
As with all of these new technologies, driver training is going to become an important part of using this vehicle. Gentle acceleration matching the traffic around the truck will conserve power in the battery. Racing Ferraris away from the traffic lights is possible, but is likely to drastically reduce truck range.
Another thing drivers need to think about is the fact that this truck is basically silent. As it passes a pedestrian, there is some tyre noise and, if the truck is travelling fast enough, some wind noise. But that is it.
Travelling slowly along a street in an industrial area, this driver had to be aware of pedestrians who were thinking about crossing the road and not noticing there was a truck coming. This adds an extra element to the observation any driver of electric trucks needs to include in their behaviour.
An alternative solution it likely to emerge, whereby an electric vehicle will make some kind of distinctive sound as it travels along, so that pedestrians will be aware there is a vehicle in the vicinity. The truck will probably also have to send some form of signal to mobile phone users in the vicinity, as a warning.