Christine Lyon – Richmond Review
September 25, 2010 10:00AM
Eddy Tondowsky climbs into the cab of his three-ton delivery truck, turns the key in the ‘ignition’ and the vehicle gently hums to life.
He is behind the wheel of one of two 100-per-cent electric trucks acquired by Richmond’s Novex Delivery Solutions last June. The battery-powered three-ton trucks are the first of their kind in Canada.
A digital screen above the windshield indicates the battery is 99-per-cent charged as Tondowsky pulls out of the Novex parking lot onto Viking Way and makes a right onto Cambie Road. He coasts along in the right-hand lane as a diesel furniture delivery truck rumbles past on his left.
Tondowsky, a dispatcher at Novex, says the electric trucks are more pleasant to drive than diesel ones.
“The most obvious difference is the noise—the lack of noise…there’s no fumes, there’s no smell there’s no stink,” he said.
The almost-silent motor is ideal for late-night deliveries at hospitals and other noise sensitive areas.
A red light turns green and the vehicle accelerates quickly, producing the same gentle hum.
“It’s louder in the cab right now than it is outside. The noise you’re hearing, you can maybe hear a quarter of that outside,” Tondowsky says.
Fuel savings is another plus. It costs $12 to recharge the truck battery for eight hours, but upwards of $75 to fill the gas tank on a similar-sized diesel truck.
The main drawback of going electric is distance limits. On a full charge, the truck can cover 200 kilometres. Speed-wise, it tops out at 95 kilometres per hour, so excessive highway driving is out of the question.
“What kills this thing is speed; the faster you go the faster the battery drains,” Tondowsky says.
If the battery dies, everything shuts down and the truck will need a tow. It’s happened before, Tondowsky says.
The stop-and-start motion of city driving is ideal, since the truck’s regenerative brakes charge up the battery.
“As long as you keep this thing in town—Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, New West, that type of thing—it’s perfect. By the time it comes back it’s down to about 20, 25 per cent—you just plug it in again,” said Tondowsky.
After a 10-minute jaunt around East Richmond the battery is down to 95 per cent and Tondowsky heads back to Novex.
The two electric trucks are part of Novex’s 95-vehicle fleet, 25 of which are hybrids. Most of the fleet is one ton and under.
With a US$190,000 price tag, an electric truck is almost three times the cost of a diesel truck, and has an expected payback time of 10 years.
Richmond Coun. Ken Johnston is president of the courier company, which specializes in same-day delivery service across Metro Vancouver.
The company underwent a cultural shift in 2003, he says.
“We decided that we were going to take a direction that was more responsible for sustainability and the environment, which was odd for a courier company, which is usually grimy and dirty and spewing fuel,” he said.
That’s when Novex added the hybrid vehicles and earned its ISO 14001 environmental management certification.
Novex bought the electric trucks from Smith Electric in Kansas City. The company is also part of a project to acquire electric Ford Transits and the Nissan LEAF.
“We have a commitment to change our fleet over to 100-per-cent alternative fuel by 2015,” said Johnston. “We just believe it’s the direction that the industry’s going.”
The main cost associated with going electric is battery repair and maintenance. The trucks each have 72 battery packs, and technology is rapidly progressing.
Johnston expects battery prices to come down, making electric vehicles more affordable for everyone.
He hopes other courier companies will follow suit to help the province reach its emissions reduction target of 33 per cent by 2020.