Trucking’s Next ‘Magic Bus’?

March 1, 2010

Navistar’s joint venture with Modec Ltd. will produce Class 2c-3 all-electric vehicles for sale in North, Central and South America. Intended for urban applications involving heavy stop-and-go driving, they have a two-ton-plus carrying capacity and are projected to have a range of up to 100 miles per plug-in charge.

By  Jack Roberts

Navistar 0310

There was no shortage of spoiled, hyperactive millionaire British rock stars in the 1960s and ’70s. Like any super-rich rock star of the time, Keith Moon – the manic drummer powering The Who – took excess to the extreme. Moon had his own stable of expensive, collectible cars – even though he didn’t have a driver’s license. These included a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud MKIII, a Bentley S1, a Ferrari Dino roadster, a Corvette Stingray and a two-seat hovercraft.

The crown jewel of his collection, however, was an English milk float. Milk floats have been mainstays in English towns and villages since the end of World War II. They are 100-percent battery-powered delivery vans used most commonly by dairies to deliver milk to doorsteps every morning. Moon took his milk float, cut the body open and installed a fully-appointed Victorian-era English sitting room on the back of the van, complete with drapes, carpet, lamps, end tables, upholstered lounge chair and wind-up gramophone. That’s how eccentric English rock stars used to head down to the pub for a cold one.

I was reminded of the late Mr. Moon and his milk floats last month when Navistar signed a joint venture with Modec Ltd. of the United Kingdom to create Navistar-Modec EV Alliance LLC. Modec is a producer of electric vehicles – including milk floats – in the U.K., and the new joint venture will produce Class 2c-3 all-electric vehicles for sale in North, Central and South America.

Navistar says the new trucks are designed and purpose-built to be electrically driven. Intended for urban applications involving heavy stop-and-go driving, they are aerodynamically styled with a two-ton-plus carrying capacity, rely solely on plug-in power and are projected to have a range of up to 100 miles per charge. They produce zero tailpipe emissions and are the latest in a series of advanced clean-technology vehicles that have become part of Navistar’s portfolio.

“The commercial market is ready for electric vehicle technology to advance,” says Dee Kapur, Navistar Truck Group president. “This vehicle is road-ready for fleets to implement as a practical solution for many applications. It has an excellent eye-catching design that says, ‘This is something different, the future is now.’ We see this as an ideal vehicle for U.S. urban markets. We already have interested customers, including some of the most respected names in the industry.”

Although fuel prices are relatively stable at the moment, I have yet to find a trucking industry expert who thinks they will ever drop below the $2-per-gallon mark again. That’s why Navistar should be saluted for taking a proactive role in adopting this proven technology and bringing it to the United States and Canada. Questions remain here about durability and range, but electric vehicles may be unique in actually getting better performance as they age when newer, more powerful batteries are developed to replace the ones available today.

All-electric trucks clearly aren’t the answer for every trucking application. But if the history of the English milk float is any indication, they may find a profitable and productive niche in the States for fleets willing to take a hard look at this alternative to gas- and diesel-powered delivery trucks. And maybe even one of today’s American rockers will take a shine to them.