Is An Electric Heavy Duty Pickup In Your Future?
By: Mike Levine Posted: 10-14-07 03:05 PT
© 2007

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You don’t often hear 'hybrid' used in the same sentence as heavy duty pickup, but if alt-power entrepreneur Ian Wright has his way, that's about to change.

Mr. Wright is the founder of Wrightspeed, a company dedicated to developing an electric car, called the X1. The X1 prototype (pictured above) is a proof-of-concept along the way to a practically produced roadster that will be capable of outrunning most of the world’s fastest petrol-powered supercars. The prototype can zoom 0 to 60 miles-per-hour in 3-seconds with a 100-mile battery range.

But it's not the hoontastic goal of having a speedy, battery-driven two-seater that’s driving Mr. Wright. That kind of car won’t save the planet.

If you want to make a dent in oil dependence and CO2 emissions, you need to target the vehicles that make up the biggest portions of those items. To Mr. Wright, that means pickup trucks.

Mr. Wright isn't picking on pickups. The native New Zealander proudly owns a used 1997 Ford F-350 7.3-liter diesel dually Super Duty that he uses to haul lumber, 12,000-pounds at a time, to a saw mill on his personal property. The truck has 178,000-miles on the odometer.

"If you want to do something about oil consumption, you can't ignore pickup trucks. The numbers in the U.S. go something like this: 69% of the oil we use is for transportation. 81% of that is highway transportation. Only 9% is air and 5% is marine. Rail doesn't count for much, only about 2%. If you look (more closely) at highway transportation, about 95% is trucks and high fuel consumption cars. Then, if you look at the truck portion only (about 57% of highway oil consumption), 95% of truck sales have 14,000-pound gross vehicle weight ratings or below [Classes 1, 2, or 3]. Big rigs are only around 250,000 out of 8,000,000 trucks sold. (Big rigs) do a lot more miles, but the fleet population is low. And big rigs are pretty good loaded on a gallons per pound/mile basis. An 80,000-pound big rig does well (fuel economy-wise). What aren't good are the pickups we drive. When I'm towing 12,000-pounds, it's not bad on a gallons per pound/mile basis, but when I drive it to work with just me in it, it still doesn't do better than 14 miles-per-gallon. Three out of the top five selling vehicles last year in the US were full size pickups, so pickups are a big opportunity to save oil for the US, because, to a first approximation, that’s what people drive and to a first approximation, that's where all the fuel goes," describes Mr. Wright, outlining his position for focusing on pickup truck fuel efficiency.

Mr. Wright's solution to the low fuel economy ratings of pickups is to design a hybrid electric powertrain. The alternative engine technology developed would be licensed or built in cooperation with a third party supplier and sourced to the truck manufacturers during assembly.

Hybrid powertrains come in three flavors: parallel, two-mode, and serial.

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