Stuttgart puts battery-operated Fuso Canter e-cell trucks through their paces

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:
Zero-emission battery-operated Fuso Canter e-cell trucks manufactured by the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, part of the Daimler Trucks Group

Did you know that Stuttgart, the capital of south west Germany’s Baden-Württemberg state, has had vineyards as far back as 3AD and that it is the only German city with a municipal wine estate which covers 17.5 hectares?

Set between hills, the highest of which boasts an elevation of 511m, Stuttgart also makes the ideal site for challenging municipal trucks going about their daily business – particularly battery-operated light-duty trucks that have yet to be put through their paces in tough everyday and hilly road conditions.

April saw the launch in Stuttgart of the first fleet test of zero-emission battery-operated Fuso Canter E-cell trucks manufactured by the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, part of the Daimler Trucks Group. As well as partnering with the municipality of Stuttgart, Daimler and Mitsubishi Fuso are also working with the logistics specialist Hermes who is going to use the Canter E-Cell for urban parcel deliveries. Two vehicles with hydraulic tipper bodies will be employed in road construction and landscaping while the other two Canter E-Cell with box bodies are scheduled for municipal furniture transport and waste bin delivery tasks.

Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks & Buses, says: “Today's internal combustion engine is highly efficient, eco-friendly and, above all, clean and will long remain without alternative in long-distance transport. [However] the situation is different when it comes to urban short-radius distribution, where a switch to electric trucks will be a technical and economic possibility within a few years' time. In this way, we are making a small yet important contribution to urban mobility in Stuttgart. Daimler Trucks, together with the municipality of Stuttgart, is taking a key step towards market maturity."

Stuttgart's Lord Mayor, Fritz Kuhn, explains why Stuttgart is so keen to host the fleet test: “We've decided to make a change to our fleet: all new cars purchased by the municipality will be electric. I think this sends out a very strong signal.”

In fact, Germany says its objective is to have one million electric vehicles on its streets by 2020. In 2012 the German government selected four ‘showcase regions for electric mobility’ and Stuttgart is one of the cities that is receiving €180 million in funding for demonstration and research projects.

Stuttgart is not the first location where the light-duty Fuso Canter E-Cells trucks have operated.

Fuso gathered initial experience with eight fully electric Canters in Portugal in 2015. The trucks were not only used by courier and freight-forwarding companies, but also by local authorities and urban horticultural businesses. According to Daimler Trucks, the batteries took around seven hours to charge at a 230 volt/32 ampere power point, while the time dropped to just one hour when using a fast-charging system (390V/100 A).

“The results of this one-year practical trial show that the vehicles stood the test of daily use in short-distance delivery and urban transport,” states Bernhard before adding: “With a range of over 100 kilometres, the Canter E-Cell vehicles exceeded the average distance that many trucks used in light-duty short-radius distribution cover each day. Based on the current cost of diesel and electricity in Portugal, the trial also produced savings in operating costs of up to 64% compared with a conventional diesel truck.”

Marc Llistosella, president and CEO of the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC) and head of Daimler Trucks Asia, says: “Even though Germany presents different climatic conditions, with the municipality of Stuttgart posing a topographical challenge owing to its location in a basin, even this is a task the Canter E-Cell will master based on our past experience. It will also demonstrate that it is not just environment-friendly, but also economical in operation. In the trial in Portugal, it achieved savings of around €1000 per 10,000km in comparison with a diesel-engined truck.”

So is this confidence justified?

On the outside, the only difference between the Fuso Canter E-Cell and its diesel-engined or diesel-electric powered counterparts is the battery packs which are mounted on either side of the frame and together weigh 600 kilograms. An electric powertrain takes the place of the three-litre diesel engine behind the unchanged Canter cab. The permanent-magnet motor delivers 110kW (150hp) of power to the rear axle via a single-speed transmission.

The chassis frame is approved for a total weight of six tonnes. The 3400-millimetre wheelbase offers space for bodies up to five metres in length, the weight of which must be subtracted from the three-tonne chassis load-bearing capacity. Daimler Trucks believes that “the remaining payload of just over two tonnes is more than adequate for most urban short-radius distribution tasks”.

The German truck manufacturer also points out that a torque of 650 Newton-metres gives the six-tonne truck almost the same acceleration as a passenger car. Although as with all vehicles in this weight class, the top speed of the Canter E-Cell is limited to 90km/h.

There is a real buzz in the project team who is eagerly looking forward to information gleaned during the trucks’ fleet test. For instance, with a far greater range of temperature in Stuttgart (where temperatures can vary between -20 degrees in the winter to plus 35 degrees Celcius in the summer) compared to Portugal where temperatures in Algarve swing between an average of 24 degrees in July to 12 degrees Celcius, the team is keen to see how the batteries perform.

“Battery performance depends on temperature and topography,” explains Marc Ehlers at Fuso. “If temperatures fall to minus five degrees, this can affect the battery performance. Added to which, if the driver wants the cabin heated, it will require 4,000 watts to power a heater in the cabin as well as reduce the electrical ratio.”

And then there is the issue of payload. With four battery packs weighing over 4,000lbs, if more batteries were to be installed, valuable payload would be lost.

“Some customers want more payload and less range while others prefer more range and less payload,” adds Ehlers.

So what better excuse to regroup in Stuttgart and its challenging topography in 12 months time to see what the Fuso Canter E-Cell team has learned? Not to mention the opportunity to toast the results of the pilot project with Stuttgart’s finest home-grown products from its vineyards.

From the driver’s seat

The Canter E-Cell is started by turning the ‘ignition key’. As with an automatic transmission with torque converter, the driver can choose between the gear selector positions D, N, R and P. The practical crawler function in gear selector positions D and R is also comparable to an automatic transmission (D for Drive, P for Park, N for Neutral, R for Reverse).

When the driver comes off the accelerator, the electronics switch to energy recovery mode, the degree of which can be set to two different levels on the right-hand steering column stalk. The electric motor then becomes a generator, feeding the braking energy generated during the rolling phase back to the lithium-ion batteries on the frame. “Drivers who regularly use energy recovery in the Canter E-Cell can achieve a range of more than 100 kilometres on one ‘tankful’,” says Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks & Buses.

To prevent the Canter E-Cell's silent operation from being a hazard to other road-users, the truck is fitted with the acoustic vehicle sound for pedestrians (VSP) warning system which the driver activates by pressing a button. It produces a buzzing sound to alert other road-users of the truck’s presence. “This makes the E-Cell ideally suited for use in noise restriction zones at night or in the very early hours of the morning,” adds Dr Bernhard.

Techie bits

  • The truck is powered by four 390volt 48.8kWh lithium-ion batteries
  • Along with the 110kW AC motor, the batteries provide 150 horsepower and 479lbft of torque at start-up
  • The truck currently has a gross vehicle weight rating of 13,230lbs along with a payload capacity of 6,470lbs
  • On the road, the FUSO Canter E-CELL only produces 50 dB of noise, the same as rain
  • The electric motor has no wearing parts and doesn’t require oils and fluids or a gearbox
  • The batteries can be charged to 80% capacity in under one hour. Ideal for midday (lunchtime) charging
  • With 650Nm the electric motor delivers almost the same acceleration as a passenger car
  • The top speed of the FUSO Canter E-CELL is limited to 90km/h
  • The permanent-magnet motor delivers 150hp (110 kW) of power to the rear axle via a single-speed transmission
  • The FUSO Canter E-CELL can be powered by renewable sources (wind, sun, water)

Other electric trucks offerings

Renault Trucks say their aim is to present “a cost-effective zero-emission solution by 2020”. Like Daimler Trucks, the French truck manufacturer has been testing different technologies under operating conditions in partnership with clients.

Renault Trucks is currently working on an all-electric Maxity Electric 4.5t truck equipped with a fuel cell along with a 16t all-electric truck currently being tested under operating conditions by Speed Distribution Logistique on behalf of Guerlain, the French perfume and cosmetics house.

Since February 2015, Renault Trucks and the French Post Office have been operating a 4.5t Renault T electric truck powered by a hydrogen fuel cell developed by Symbio FCell which it is claimed doubles the vehicle’s operating range extending it to 200 km. “This fuel cell solution makes it possible to overcome two of the major limitations which have so far hampered the development of electrically-powered vehicles: their operating range and recharging time, since the time taken to refuel a vehicle with hydrogen is comparable to that of a vehicle running on diesel fuel,” said a Renault Trucks spokesperson.

The all-electric Renault Trucks D has been undergoing tests under operating conditions for the past 18 months by Speed Distribution Logistique, a specialised Ile-de-France carrier for Guerlain. Said to generate no noise or polluting emissions during its nightly deliveries to Guerlain’s boutiques Paris, the Renault Trucks D carries out full 200 km delivery rounds in all-electric mode, taking advantage of partial recharges carried out according to its battery capacity and a carefully planned delivery route.

Tevva Motors’ electric range extended drivetrain (the system in a motor vehicle which connects the transmission to the drive axles) can be fitted into an existing 7.5 tonne truck either as a retrofit package or on the production line during the build process.

Comprising a single 120kW electric motor, capable of producing 1800Nm (1325 lb ft) from zero rpm, the drivetrain is powered by a 66kWh battery located in two packs either side of the chassis. The powertrain also includes a range extender unit which uses a small capacity diesel engine to maintain battery charge charge while on the move.

The dual battery modules are charged overnight from the grid through the on board battery charger which is compatible with any three phase charging point.

Tevva has produced three prototype vehicles, including one for use by UPS in its regular UK fleet. The vehicles are undergoing testing and are available to use as demonstrator vehicles for potential customers, investors and the media. According to Tevva Motors, the current plan is to develop a further set of pre-production prototypes, including a number of additional vehicles for UPS.

Paneltex, a UK-based vehicle manufacturer, has built a range of battery electric van chassis based on the Isuzu Grafter. The electric vehicles combine a brushless permanent magnet electric drive train with lithium ion phosphate battery technology. The vehicles can run up to 120 miles per charge (depending on conditions); include LiFePO4 batteries (seven plus years’ life) and include a four-hour plus recharge. However, while clients operate the vehicles already manufactured by Paneltex, a company spokesperson tells RWW they are currently not being manufactured.

The Rossi Satellite refuse collection vehicle IS offers 5.5 cubic metres capacity, writes Tim Byrne. The bodywork and compaction plate is constructed of high strength aluminium, the type used in the plane manufacturing industry. Aluminium construction gives a significant weight saving and returns a healthy payload when collecting municipal waste: 1,200 kgs. The equipment has a comb lifter which can handle containers from 80 -1100 litres capacity to DIN 30740 specification as well as trunnion arms to DIN 30700 specification to handle containers of 660–1100 litres capacity using the trunnion pins on the sides of the container.

The equipment is mounted onto an Isuzu 3.5 tonne electric chassis, produced by Italian manufacturer Pretto. The chassis has a maximum speed of 90kph and can collect waste for eight hours before the batteries need to recharge themselves. The vehicle has two electric motors, with a patented simultaneous management of two electric motors on the same transmission, with clutch and gearbox. This system maximises efficiency by controlling the temperature of the engine. The customer can decide on the number of batteries he requires. These can vary from four to twelve batteries, dependent on the customer’s specific requirements. The main advantage of the Isuzu electric chassis is low noise levels, important when collecting waste in city centres at night or early in the morning. Another advantage of the product is that it can collect waste in narrow streets in the historic parts of city centres. The electric unit can discharge into either a Geesinknorba ‘G or N’ Series rear loading refuse collection vehicle once full acting as a mother ship transfer vehicle for the Rossi satellite units. This saves time travelling to the waste treatment plant, helping to improve productivity.

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