Stepping up into the cabin of this truck, the first impressions of the Fuso eCanter is that it’s just the same as it is in any other truck. As the driver sits in the driving seat, they are presented with a layout which is very similar to the one which they are used to on a day-to-day basis.
The controls are pretty much the same as they are on the standard Canter truck. However, some of the controls perform different functions than they would in the diesel alternative.
It is difficult to guess what the electric truck ignition switch should be called, as of course, there is no actual ignition taking place. In this truck the way you get things going is using a large insertable ‘key’ which slots in to a socket on the dashboard. There is a start button next to it and this driver decided to have the driver’s door window wound down when pressing this button to hear the system start-up behind the cabin.
There is a clearly discernible whirring sound which indicates that the cooling and other systems have commenced operation. In fact, the truck still requires a 12 V battery to commence operation.
Next, it’s a matter of selecting a gear, except that the ‘gearstick’ is in fact simply a switch to turn the system on to drive or reverse. Next, the driver simply releases the parking brake and presses the accelerator.
Acceleration inside eCanter sounds pretty much like a tram taking off from a tram stop, without the metallic clanking of the wheels and rails. In fact, from the driving seat, the whole experience is eerily quiet.
Apart from the lack of noise the basic driving experience is very similar to driving this truck with a diesel engine and an automatic transmission. There will be little need for comprehensive training for a driver taking over a truck like this, the basic driving skills required are the same.
The factor which differentiates this truck from other electric trucks, including the prototype eCanter, which PowerTorque experienced a couple of years ago, is how well the vehicle’s main computer modulates the truck’s performance to keep the behaviour within acceptable parameters.
This is where the sophistication does come in. Simple electric trucks will tend to be able to accelerate very swiftly away from traffic lights and can require extra braking when slowing down for a red light. This is because the electric motor has full torque available from zero rpm and there is none of the inertia, which we experience in a diesel engine, when slowing down.
These two issues are overcome by programming the truck’s computer to only give the driver the kind of power required to accelerate smoothly and not too fast, plus enabling it to bring in degenerative regenerative braking in a controlled and reactive way to slow the truck up smoothly and effectively. In fact, the regenerative breaking not only charges the battery, but almost replicates the kind of deceleration a normal diesel engine brake can provide.
The overall impression for the driver is one of a very smooth experience, in setting off, in cruising along the road, and in decelerating when required. However, there are occasions in traffic where just a little bit more acceleration maybe required to stay away from a sticky situation or to get across into a gap in traffic.
When travelling at a normal road speed, a quick kick down on the accelerator will provide that burst increased speed required to make such a manoeuvre. There is absolutely nothing sluggish about this vehicle, even when loaded, as it was on this road test.
The performance of this truck does make the driver feel very comfortable. With the vehicle loaded to 6.5 tonnes it feels well balanced and sits nicely on the road.
Added security comes from the fact that this truck is fitted with all of the latest high-tech safety features which are becoming standard on truck ranges these days. All of the way from simple things like hill start aid to active cruise control, and onto advanced emergency breaking are available to the driver.
The computer modulation of the power system also comes into play when the driver activates reverse. The truck takes off very steadily in reverse and allows for smooth well controlled low speed manoeuvring in reverse. This is also aided by smooth and very positive steering on this model, probably a product of being so well balanced.