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USA: Electric cargo truck developers have to be ready for a long haul

The CEO of a Poway company says there is still much work to do to make electric trucks a viable alternative to those that run on gasoline or natural gas.

Ian Springer prepares one of two electric truck prototypes that TransPower of Poway, Calif., unveiled at a PortTechLA event in San Pedro. (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles Times / September 5, 2012)

Building an electric car is one thing. But move too fast in developing a heavy-duty electric cargo truck and bad things happen, according to the head of Southern California company that is trying to succeed where others have failed before.

In the past, electric trucks ran out of juice less than halfway through an eight-hour shift at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Parts of some of the trucks melted or caught fire. Some electric trucks were sent out on the road too soon, with too little power and too little endurance.

“There is often a lot of pressure on companies to rush their products out,” said Michael Simon, chief executive of TransPower, a Poway, Calif., company. Simon was referring to many failed efforts to produce a big electric truck that is durable and dependable, and that won’t be crippled by unrealistic cost-cutting.

“I’m trying to be careful and not oversell our product,” said Simon, who unveiled two of his company’s electric trucks in San Pedro on Thursday. The industrial trucks will be put to work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest cargo container complex.

The trucks give no outward hint of their ability to save on fuel and maintenance costs — estimated at as much as $50,000 each a year — or their pollution-cutting powers — a projected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 100 tons each a year. Inside, their diesel engines and drivetrains have been removed and replaced with an electric motor, drivetrain and lots of batteries.

The trucks were showcased in San Pedro along with new technologies in energy use, security and cargo movement at an annual event put on by PortTechLA, a business incubator operated by a coalition that includes the port and city of Los Angeles.

Simon’s approach might serve as a lesson for others seeking venture capital funding and assistance from entities such as the Port of Los Angeles, the California Energy Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Sometimes “no” is the right thing to say.

“Can I build an electric truck now for the same cost as a diesel or natural gas truck?” Simon said. “The answer is no. We’re not there yet.



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