A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a public relations person at Workhorse to ask if I would be interested in test driving their shiny new e-truck built for WB Mason, the second largest privately owned office products dealer in the United States. Being an enthusiastic supporter of Workhorse, I was quick to agree.
Friday, October 20 was set as the date for the ride and drive experience. I drove to the WB Mason regional headquarters in Brockton, Massachusetts, where I met with Rick Lynch, head driving instructor and safety guru for the New England region. At the appointed hour, Rick introduced me to what is called the E-Gen, an electric truck delivered to them for testing just a few weeks ago. Four more E-Gen vans are coming soon.
The first thing one notices about the e-truck is how big it is. The bright yellow wrapper with green accents (green for environmentally friendly) does nothing to disguise what a large vehicle this is. In fact, the trucks the company uses now are 5 feet longer.
Like A Chevy Volt Only Bigger — A LOT Bigger!
So what is this beast? Basically it is like a really long Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius Prime. It is an electric truck with a built-in gasoline generator so the company and its drivers never have to worry about being stuck on a lonely road far from the warehouse. The generator has no mechanical connection to the driven wheels. Its sole purpose is to supply electricity to the battery, which than sends it to the electric drive motor.
Workhorse makes the chassis, then ships it to Morgan Olson, a company that fabricates truck bodies for commercial customers like WB Mason. From there, it gets painted and then wrapped in company livery. The range extender engine is supplied by BMW and is the same 650 cc two cylinder engine used in the i3 REx model. The battery is comprised of traditional 18650 lithium ion cells supplied by Panasonic. Total range is about 120 miles — 60 in electric only mode and another 60 with the generator in operation.
Superfast charging is not required in a vehicle that is parked at the warehouse for 8 hours or more every night. There is a charging port mounted in front of the curbside door that accepts a Level 2 40 amp charging connector. Rick Lynch is quick to point out that there is an interlock to keep the truck from being driven while the charging cable is connected.
The E-Gen electric truck from Workhorse has regenerative braking. The accelerator (We really can’t call it a gas pedal anymore, can we?) works very much like the ePedal that Nissan is introducing to great fanfare on the second generation LEAF. The amount of regen can be controlled by the driver using the accelerator. Keeping the pedal partly depressed results in moderate regen effect.
Taking one’s foot completely off the pedal results in strong regenerative braking that is enough to bring the truck almost to a halt. A touch on the brake pedal is all that is need to bring it to a complete stop. With such powerful retardation, the brakes on this electric truck should last 100.000 miles or more — an important consideration for a vehicle that stops and starts constantly all day long.
The Elon Musk Connection
The story of how the E-Gen electric truck wound up in WB Mason’s fleet is interesting. The CEO of WB Mason owns a Tesla Model S. Driving it convinced him that electric vehicles are the future. Elon Musk should be proud. He deliberately designed the Model S to appeal to people whose opinions shape community attitudes.
The second piece of the puzzle is that Workhorse has picked Ryder Systems to distribute and maintain its products. Ryder, as it turns out, already services all of the more than 1,000 trucks in the WB Mason fleet, so the owner already had a built in comfort level with them to go with his positive attitude about electric vehicles in general. In business, dollars and cents are important, but an established relationship with the people you are doing business with is important, too.
It’s All About The Money
When the conversation turns to economics, the E-Gen electric truck from Workhorse ticks all the boxes. Its MPGe rating is 40, which means it is five times more efficient than its diesel powered cousins. Its total emissions are 75% lower than a diesel truck also. One of its principal advantages for commercial customers like WB Mason is that it uses no fuel during the time the truck is stationary during deliveries. Out of a typical 10 hour work day, the truck may only be moving a third of that time. With a typical diesel truck, that means up to 7 hours a day are spent idling.
Warehouse workers load each truck overnight according to a predetermined plan that makes the delivery process as efficient as possible. WB Mason does something its competitors do not. It offers same day delivery of items ordered before noon. Around 1 PM each work day, a fleet of smaller vans leaves the warehouse with the last minute orders and brings them to a rendezvous point with the delivery drivers. The new products are transferred and a second round of deliveries begins.
With same day delivery guaranteed, the trucks making the deliveries need to be absolutely reliable. That’s another plus for electric trucks. Less downtime for diesel repairs and maintenance is also an important consideration.
So what is an electric delivery van like to drive? In a word, it’s a beast. It rides like a….truck! The steering wheel needs about 8 turns lock to lock. The turning circle is similar to that of a coastal freighter. Think of it as driving a one car garage down the street. Rick Lynch was very kind not to snicker at my driving skills, which were marginal at best. No doubt about it; the people who drive these things for a living work for their money. No matter how it’s powered, it definitely takes some getting used to.
A One Year Test Drive
Everybody who visits this site is pre-programmed to approve of electric vehicles. But electrics have to prove themselves in commercial service before fleet operators start preferring them to conventional trucks. WB Mason will test the five E-Gen vans from Workhorse during the next 12 months, keeping careful track of every expense incurred and all maintenance, both scheduled and unscheduled. (UPS is also conducting similar trials of trucks from Workhorse.)
At the end of the trial period, the company will decide whether is makes good business sense to begin replacing its existing fleet of diesel powered delivery trucks with e-trucks from Workhorse. Since the majority of transportation related carbon emissions come from trucks rather than private automobiles, that decision will have major implications for the US environment.
Photos by the author.