Five all-electric zero-exhaust-emission Fuso Canter E-Cells are going on a 12-month trial with fleet operators in Stuttgart, Germany. Like Mercedes-Benz, Fuso is part of the Daimler family and its products are sold and supported by the Mercedes-Benz van and truck network in the UK.
Four Canter E-Cell 6.0-tonners are joining Stuttgart city council’s fleet. Two are bodied as tippers and will be used by highway repair and landscaping teams while their stable-mates are fitted with box bodies and will be used to deliver items such as furniture and waste bins.
The fifth E-Cell will be deployed by parcel carrier Hermes on a regular shuttle service into the city from a distribution hub on the outskirts to local delivery bases. The vehicle will carry 600-700 parcels and packages at a time.
In the recent past, Hermes has tested the electric Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell on delivery routes in Berlin and Hamburg. The Stuttgart trial follows a similar exercise carried out by Fuso in 2015 with fleets in Portugal, where Canter is assembled, but will place the compact electric truck in a hilly city further to the north and subject to lower winter temperatures. Fuso says the Portuguese trial has already revealed that E-Cell’s operating costs are up to 64% lower than those of a diesel truck of equivalent size.
“It achieved savings of around €1,000 (£790) per 10,000km (6,213 miles),” said Mark Llistosella, president and chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation and head of Daimler Trucks Asia. Fuso is already working on a next-generation E-Cell which it says will be even more economical. The company admits, however, that the front-end price of E-Cell is likely to be higher than that of a diesel 6.0-tonner when it comes to market.
As things stand, no UK Government grants are available to bridge the gap. It will be interesting to see if that situation changes when E-Cell appears on this side of the Channel – possibly in two years’ time. At that stage it should be in series production and available for sale.
By that time the price gap between the diesel and electric models may have narrowed, because the price of lithium-ion batteries is likely to have fallen further. “They’ve come down by 25% over the past 12 months alone,” said Llistosella. The next five years could see a further fall of 20-25%.
Maximum range between recharges is upwards of 62 miles, although this is likely to fall to closer to 43m in winter months, as operating conditions become more arduous and the driver switches on the (electric) cab heater. The lithium-ion batteries can be fully recharged overnight in around six to eight hours but fleets with access to a Chademo fast-charge facility will be able to recharge them to 80% of their capacity within 30-60 minutes during the day.
In developing E-Cell, Fuso has been able to draw on its experience with the diesel-electric Canter Eco Hybrid. Some 3,000 are in service worldwide. The only difference between E-Cell and its diesel and diesel-electric Canter counterparts is the drive-train.
Sitting on either side of the 3.4m-wheelbase chassis, E-Cell’s four lithium-ion traction battery packs together weigh 600kg. Delivering 48kWh they power a 110kW (150hp) permanent-magnet asynchronous electric motor that uses a single-speed transmission to drive the rear wheels. Maximum torque is 650Nm with a continuous 400Nm.
Weighing 2,990kg, the E-Cell chassis cab can accommodate bodies up to 5m long. Fit a box body and you increase the weight to 3,530kg leaving you with a gross payload capacity of 2,470kg.
No decision has been taken as to whether the batteries will be sold with the vehicle or leased separately. Nor has Fuso announced what the warranty on the batteries will be other than to point out that the Eco Hybrid’s are warranted for 10 years.
E-Cell uses what looks like a conventional ignition key and a lever offering a choice of drive, park, neutral and reverse.
The performance on tap is almost identical to that of a conventional diesel/hybrid Canter but requires a slightly different driving technique if you are to maximise the range between battery recharges. Hermes is training its drivers accordingly. It is an approach that involves lifting your foot off the accelerator pedal at every opportunity, especially if you are in hilly terrain, because doing so prompts the truck’s electronics to switch to energy recovery mode.
What this means is that the electric motor becomes a generator. As the vehicle rolls down a slope it feeds the energy generated into the batteries. If you are descending a steep hill then you can increase the degree to which energy is recovered by flicking a stalk on the steering column. Doing so you will enjoy the same effect as you would get if you engaged a retarder, slowing the rate of your descent without having to touch the brake pedal.
A display on the dashboard tells you how much charge is left in the batteries and the extent to which they are being replenished by regeneration.
E-Cell accelerates smoothly and runs extraordinarily quietly; a key advantage if it is required to make deliveries outside normal working hours when nearby householders may be asleep. “We’re talking about 50db – what you get from light rain – compared with 75db from an equivalent diesel truck,” Llistosella says.
The absence of noise has not resulted in other potential sources of noise on the vehicle (suspension, tyres and so on) becoming more noticeable. While that means noise pollution is kept to a minimum, it also means that pedestrians and cyclists may potentially be put at risk. They often use their ears as much as they do their eyes and as a consequence may be unaware of E-Cell’s presence.
That is why it is equipped with VSP – vehicle sound for pedestrians. Press a button at low speeds and it generates a buzzing noise that they and certain other vulnerable road users should be able to hear. However, it is not loud enough to cause widespread disturbance if the driver is making deliveries late at night.
The button is one of the few differences in E-Cell’s controls when compared with the mainstream diesel model. As a consequence, while training is important, fleet drivers should be able to adapt reasonably quickly should they be asked to switch from one to another at short notice.
While electric trucks are viable so far as short-haul urban distribution work is concerned, the range required by heavier trucks and the weight of the batteries that would be needed to provide it would make building an all-electric 40-tonner a lot more challenging, according to Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member responsible for trucks and buses.
Models such as the E-Cell can make a major contribution to cleaning up city environments, because they do not emit NOx or particulates, he points out.
“It represents a response to a major global trend towards urbanisation,” said Berhrad.
“Half the world’s population already lives in big cities and that percentage is increasing. Run electric trucks that are emission-free and almost silent and you are improving their quality of life.”
Looks well worth considering if you are on short-haul city centre delivery work with easy access to charging points. Low running costs should be appealing but a lot will depend on the front-end price and the availability of Government subsidy. Direct rivals are thin on the ground.