World's Biggest Electric Truck Is Put Into Service in L.A.

By Scott Doggett May 23, 2008

What's green and white, can pull a 60,000-pound cargo container at a top speed of 40 miles per hour, and has a range of 30 to 60 miles between battery charges?

If you said, "It's the world's most powerful heavy-duty electric truck," the beer's on us.

With little fanfare, the first of potentially thousands of the emissions-free plug-in electric trucks, built in Los Angeles by Balqon Corp., was officially put to work at the city's port last week following four months of on-site testing. Balqon says it will soon open an assembly plant in L.A., with an initial staff of 47 green-collar employees.

Built as a demonstration project co-funded by the Port of Los Angeles and a regional air-quality agency, and designed specifically for short-haul operations, the truck shown here was the result of nearly a year of development and testing.

It was delivered to the port in January for performance testing of speed, range, payload and charging capabilities. Port officials said there were no operational failures and the truck's performance exceeded expectations.

On a kilowatt hour of energy cost basis, the vehicle costs 20 cents a mile to operate. On a per-mile cost basis, a common diesel truck costs nine times as much to use.

The officials said that a fleet of electric trucks would be especially useful to the port and to the adjacent Port of Long Beach, because on an annual basis more than two million short-haul trips occur between the ports and nearby rail and warehouse facilities, creating some of the worst air pollution in California.

A calculation of net emissions reductions still needs to be performed in order to take into account the emissions created to generate the electricity used to charge the batteries of a fleet of electric trucks.

But based on the average emissions generated by the existing fleet of diesel trucks that serve the ports, officials estimated the zero-emissions trucks would eliminate more than 35,605 tons of tailpipe emissions annually. That would include 22 tons of diesel particulate matter, which is known to cause heart disease and various cancers.

The Port of Los Angeles has ordered five electric trucks at a cost of $208,500 each.

"The operating cost of the electric truck is 15 percent of the current fossil-fuel-powered vehicles used in similar application,” Balwinder Samra, Balqon's chief executive, said last week. “Due to high idling time that drayage (short-haul) trucks typically endure, we think the annual savings for truck operators could be $35,000 or more."

Because the Port of Los Angeles placed Balqon's first production order, the truckmaker has agreed to provide a royalty payment to the port for each vehicle it sells or leases worldwide.

Now that's a sweet deal.

Scott Doggett, Contributor

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