Test Drive

Taking charge of metro deliveries

Fuso Trucks has amped up the race to full electric mobility with the recent release of the 100 per cent electric drive eCanter 1.1, lauded as Australia’s first commercially available, production electric truck.

The eCanter heralds in an exciting new era of urban logistics possibilities for businesses chasing green initiative targets and a reduced carbon footprint, via the eCanter’s zero local emission when in operation status.

Big Rigs was invited to evaluate the electric drive truck from the Fuso head office in Western Sydney, to see watt (sic) all the hype is about.

At first glance, (looking past the promotional signwriting), the eCanter does not look dissimilar to its traditional diesel or hybrid stablemates.

It’s only distinguishable from a distance by the brushed silver look covers, shielding four of the six, 370 Volt, 13.8kWH Lithium-ion batteries located along the outer side of the chassis rails where a traditional diesel tank would reside. The remaining two are located within the chassis rails.

Hopping in to the eCanter for the drive revealed a remarkably familiar environment.

The eCanter operates two separate voltage systems. Powering the drive for the eCanter is the 370-volt, high voltage system, identified by heavy orange cabling running around the vehicle, and a more traditional, 12-volt system used to power all of the accessory systems and pumps that would normally be driven from the diesel engine.

The high voltage system is used exclusively to provide power to the drivetrain, while the 12-volt system powers items such as the power steering pump, vacuum pumps for the brakes, coolant pump, heaters and voltage inverters.

Fuso engineers have opted to incorporate a cooling system for the Lithium-ion batteries. This system runs a coolant envelope around the batteries to maintain them at optimal temperatures for extended longevity. With this, Fuso offers a 10-year warranty for the eCanter batteries.

Hopping in to the eCanter for the drive, revealed a remarkably familiar environment. All present were the usual items found in any number of light trucks: steering wheel, brake and throttle pedals, indicator and wiper stalks and a regular auto transmission selector lever. It’s not until you take a closer look that there arise subtle differences.

What looks to be a standard fuel gauge actually has a little electric plug printed on it.

The left steering column stalk does provide switching for the windscreen wipers, however what would normally be the control for the exhaust brake, is now the actuator for the regenerative braking feature.

After a quick orientation and instruction session with Kevin Youngman, field service manager for Fuso Truck and Bus, I’m ready to roll.

What looks to be a standard fuel gauge actually has a little electric plug printed on it.

I insert the large fob key in its dock and press the start button as instructed, and nothing. All I hear are crickets, no whining throw of a starter motor engaging a flywheel, no shake of the cab from the eruption of an engine, all I hear is the faint whir of what I’m informed is the vacuum pumps (of which there are two) priming the braking system. It’s a bizarre experience for me.

While I have experienced hybrid vehicles before, I had not yet experienced a 100 per cent electric vehicle (as long as you don’t count forklifts).

My long relied upon sense of sound, which alerted me to the fact that my vehicle was good to go, was now defunct, I now had to observe the dash display and wait for the little green light to convey to me that we were in fact ‘ready’.

I gazed across to my passenger for reassurance that everything was ‘Ready’ as the text in the dash display was confirming: “Yes, select drive and push the throttle as you would any other vehicle,” Youngman reassured.

I gingerly amble out of the driveway and up to a T-intersection, at which point I decide to mash the throttle pedal to gauge off the line performance, and I was not disappointed. From the available 135kw of power and 390nm of torque, throttle response and up-take from a standing start was as zesty as it was linear.

Powering the drive for the eCanter is the 370-volt, high voltage system, identified by heavy orange cabling running around the vehicle.

From the moment the pedal is depressed, your request is conveyed to the rear wheels without haste or lag. It was not throw-you-back-in-the-seat, neck-cracking, whiplash stuff; just smooth, instant responsiveness, seemingly unhindered by the trucks 6300kg GVM for our test.

To bring the eCanter up to speed from a standstill on a gradient also detracted little from its performance, or at least it seemed so.

Perhaps it’s just that the long endured aural indicators of load and toil are gone. The repetitious ascending tone of a revving engine spiraling toward its limit before engaging another ratio and starting the concerto all over again have been removed, so while you can see a hill and instantly know that the truck must be working hard, the truck is no longer complaining about it through sound.

In place of a traditional exhaust brake for speed retardation, the same lever is now used to apply the regenerative braking system, which as a double-edged sword, reduces road speed without the use of the service brake, reducing brake maintenance costs, while at the same time generating added charge current which is directed back into the high voltage batteries.

The braking effect on vehicle speed was quite reasonable.

It took some time for me to come to terms with the unfamiliar ‘Zen’ of this workplace, particularly when sitting at traffic lights, the silence was foreign and a bit surreal.

After the best part of 30-years driving conventional powered trucks, if I had previously experienced that level of silence at a set of traffic lights, chances are I’d stalled it.

To hold a conversation within the eCanter, no longer requires competing with the engine noise. I really did at first, find the silence quite deafening.

Also greatly removed are vibration, both at standstill and while driving. I think the combination of a quieter atmosphere, with reduced vibration aided by eCanter’s Isri, mechanical suspension seat, would equate to a greater sense of calm while negotiating city environs (that has to be a good thing).

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