Wrightspeed gets a lot of love here at Gas2. Founded by Tesla Motors co-founder Ian Wright, the company is doing the same thing Tesla is doing — showing the world how to slash its carbon emissions — but in an entirely different market segment. While Tesla makes gorgeous passenger cars that rival the best from Mercedes and BMW, Wrightspeed concentrates on garbage trucks. The differences between the two approaches could not be more stark. They help explain why Wright walked away from Tesla to found his own company.
A truck made for hauling trash can weigh as much as 33 tons fully loaded. It may stop and start hundreds of times in a typical day. That burns a lot of fuel and puts a strain on brakes, transmissions, and engines. An all electric truck with a battery large enough to complete its daily rounds would eliminate carbon emissions, but Ian Wright says it would be so heavy, there would hardly be any capacity left over for hauling a payload.
So he designed a electric truck with about 30 miles of range and a gas turbine auxiliary engine that keeps the battery charged during the day. Running at constant speed, the turbine can be maximized for fuel economy and low emissions. In fact, it meets California’s strict emissions standards with no catalytic converter required.
This week in Las Vegas, Wrightspeed and Mack Trucks will demonstrate a trash truck at the annual Waste Expo show. Not nearly as fancy or glamorous as a Tesla, but the opportunities to cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector are actually greater with trucks than with automobiles. There are a lot more cars on the road, but heavy trucks create a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. Diesel engines also add particulates and nitrous oxide emissions that contribute to smog and health issues.
Wrightspeed plans to enter regular production by the fall of this year. “Until now we’ve focused on re-power kits that would enable customers to do cost-effective updates to existing vehicles without having to purchase all new,” said CEO Ian Wright. “This program with Mack is our first installation with an OEM.” Wrightspeed is partnering with a New Zealand company to repower its bus fleet as well. The first of those installations are underway at present.
Roy Horton, director of product strategy for Mack Trucks, says. “We’re going to do internal testing first with this truck to evaluate it before potentially doing some customer testing later. We see the potential for cost-effectiveness in the Wrightspeed system.”
Although diesel fuel remains historically inexpensive today, tighter fuel economy and emissions regulations in the future will make diesels less appealing. Wright says that fuel savings combined with lower maintenance costs will pay for his system in 3 to 4 years. After that, they will pay significant dividends for fleet operators for the rest of a vehicle’s normal 12 year useful life.
Here’s one more factor to consider: Mack Trucks is now owned the Volvo Group, which does business in all the major markets around the world. Wright says his company already has a backlog of orders valued at $40 million. If the world of commercial vehicles becomes convinced that the Wrightspeed system is the key to a profitable, low-carbon future, that backlog could grow exponentially.
Update: A prior version of this story indicated that Mack Trucks is owned by Dong Feng of China. That statement was inaccurate. We regret the error.