WrightSpeed founder Ian Wright was one of the original founders of Tesla Motors. He severed his relationship with the company after Elon Musk took control of the company. Wright disagreed with Musk’s “let’s build a really expensive premium electric car first and worry about building electric cars that are affordable later” strategy. In fact, Wright wasn’t that interested in building passenger cars at all. His primary focus was on raising the average fuel economy of heavy trucks and buses. Those vehicles may not be glamorous, but they burn up millions of gallons of diesel fuel every year. More diesel means more emissions. Wright thought he had a better idea.
It took a while, but Wright and his team have devised a unique hybrid powertrain. In order to stuff enough batteries into a garbage truck to let it run all day without recharging, the weight of the vehicle would dramatically reduce the load it could carry. Instead, a special light weight gas turbine drives an electric generator. The generator keeps the battery charged. The system has about 30 miles of all electric range when fully charged.
Because the turbine runs at a constant speed, it can be optimized for maximum efficiency. Wright says his system can reduce fuel consumption by half to two thirds for heavy vehicles like garbage trucks and urban buses. The turbine’s exhaust is so clean that the combined emissions are lower than an all electric vehicle recharged from a grid which includes electricity from coal fired generating plants. The WrightSpeed system is more costly than a conventional diesel powertrain but costs less than a fully electric system.
WrightSpeed has just signed a $30,000,000 contract with NZ Bus, that country’s largest urban bus operator. It will convert hundreds of those buses to its gas turbine hybrid systems. Every drop of gasoline or diesel fuel has to be imported to New Zealand. Typically, they cost 2 to 3 times what they do on the US mainland. Slashing fuel consumption will help pay for the conversions. The fact that the WrightSpeed technology will lower emissions — particularly in urban areas — is an added bonus.
FedEx and others have been testing the WrightSpeed powertrain for several years with positive results. The company has just moved to a larger facility and is ready to put to begin full production. WrightSpeed is a Republican’s dream. Ayn Rand herself would endorse the concept. The primary benefit of the WrightSpeed system is that it saves business owners money. The fact that it reduces emissions and will help save the planet is secondary. It’s a win-win situation for both capitalists and environmentalists.