Pulling the Plug | TRUCK REVIEW – Electric ISUZU TRUCKS

Isuzu gets a plug for adding electricity to its portfolio – report by Ed Higginson

Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) has taken the lead for Japanese importers to the Australian market by launching two EV concept vehicles. With manufacturers across the world quickly rolling out all-electric cars, vans and trucks, its exciting to see Australia’s leading truck brand has locally developed two models specifically for our market, the N-series and F-series.

Phil Taylor, IAL director and chief operating officer, started the launch of Isuzu all-electric trucks by proudly claiming, “Isuzu Australia is now in the EV space. This is a major milestone for IAL”. He goes on to say, “Isuzu Australia is well placed to show the same market-leading reliability it has shown in its diesel products that has driven our success for over a generation. We believe we have the technology and know-how to make the best electric truck for Australia”.

Interestingly, IAL has used Australian resources to develop the electric NQR and FSR concept trucks, taking local ideas and coupling them to the best hardware sourced from leading electric suppliers across the world.

With Isuzu trucks enjoying the number-one positioning in the Australian market for 29 consecutive years, it’s important for it to stay ahead of its customers and lead the market. It has also been a result that has given IAL much respect in Japan with head office. Phil explains, “We have always been innovative in the Australian market, so there have been a lot of things we have done in Australia that find their way into Japan. They are very supportive of what we do here”.

Simon Humphries, IAL chief engineer of product strategy, explains, “The challenge with EV vehicles is the integration of key components, not just the hardware, but also managing the various components.

“With diesel trucks, manufacturers have been able to source components such as Allison transmissions, Hendrickson axles, etc. It’s the same with EV. We need to add electric batteries, motors, then replace the powered steering pump, air-conditioning unit, heating unit, air compressor and so on, for electric drive units. The integration is where the smart technology is”.

For the Isuzu concept trucks, Isuzu has chosen permanent magnet type motors, which will be sourced from Canada. The Li-ion (NMC type) battery packs will come from China, and, unlike some other trucks in development, Isuzu has decided to place the battery packs within the chassis rails.

Similar to the design layout seen on the SEA Electric trucks and reported on by PowerTorque, the placement of the batteries into the space where normally one would expect to see the diesel engine and transmission helps in numerous ways. Firstly, this layout protects the batteries, particularly in a crash, it also helps with weight distribution and makes the vehicle feel familiar, plus it also helps keep the outside of the chassis rails free for all of the other components that trucks will still need.

Isuzu is clearly targeting city deliveries with a GVM of 8000 kg to 14000 kg and a range of around 200-250 km. Simon explains, ‘‘Lots of Australian fleets want EV, but a 200 km range is a minimum, as we found with CNG”.

Through the experience gained when running fleets of Isuzu FSR 700 CNG trucks, many with Toll IPEC, IAL found that trucks wouldn’t usually go above 150 km in a shift, but drivers like to have a range in reserve, which is understandable, as nothing increases your stress during a drive than seeing the fuel gauge running towards empty.

Simon adds, “We learnt a lot from having CNG trucks. We proved they were reliable, powerful and could do the job. In fact, nearly all the CNG trucks we sold in the past 10 to 14 years are still on the road. But with only a handful of refuelling stations, the lack of infrastructure in Australia was a big barrier to mainstream volumes, unlike what has been seen in other markets around the world. But, with most commercial buildings having three-phase power, or access to have it installed to charge EV trucks, it’s a major difference to their potential”.

So, with the EV, Isuzu is currently focusing on the NQR and the FSR cab/chassis.

The NQR concept truck specifications are for a GVM of 8000 kg to 9000 kg. Power comes from a direct-drive permanent magnet motor producing 130 kW at peak power with a continuous rating of 100 kW. The battery parameters are 132 kW/h Li-NMC.

The FSR concept truck specifications are for a GVM of 12,000 kg to 14,000 kg with a 250 kW maximum and a continuous power rating of 150 kW using the same battery pack.

The battery packs will be lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (LiNMC), which are cheaper than other options, yet optimise density and specific energy, so are preferred for EV use due to their very low self-heating rate, making them safer.

They will store 132 kW/h to provide power to the permanent magnet type electric motors, producing between 130 kW and 250 kW of power.

Simon went on to say, “The NQR is slightly down on power but has more torque than the diesel equivalent, whilst the FSR has more power and torque than the diesel with up to 2500 Nm on offer”.

The electric trucks will be fitted with a 22 kW on-board charging system and cable, so drivers can plug them into standard three-phase sockets, expecting to take around six hours to fully charge the vehicle if empty. The trucks can also use the EV super chargers that we are starting to see at some service stations, usually branded for Tesla cars, in which case the charging time will be substantially reduced.

IAL believes that the batteries fitted to its concept trucks should have an 8 to 10-year life with standard use. But, considering the pace with which battery technology is changing, many may choose to change them earlier for units that provide a longer range, faster charge times, are lighter and potentially cheaper.

Simon believes the EV trucks will have a cost parity with diesel using current technology, in three to five years, based on operating lease costs. And with just a 5.0 percent weight increase over diesel, EV is becoming a serious option.

Once the concept trucks have been approved, hopefully within 6-18 months, IAL is looking for initial sales of 100 units a year. Predicting many will go to existing customers for parcel work, refrigerated, tow trucks and night deliveries, where quiet EV trucks are preferable to the noise of a diesel engine.

IAL also predicts that by 2030, around 30 percent of light trucks will be electric. However, this is based on existing technology and costings, so, considering the current pace of change, this estimate may be conservative.

Battery technology is already looking to the next big step from our current lithium-based options, moving towards high voltage or solid-state batteries in 3-10 years, then possibly Li-magnesium beyond that.

Back in 2010, lithium batteries cost, on average, $1000 per kW/h. Today, this sits around $200 per kW/h, but is expected to drop below $100 per kW/h by 2030. Coupled to improvements in motors and super-fast charging times, diesel won’t be able to compete, just as we saw with the transition from steam-powered trucks to diesel around the start of the 1900s.

Maybe the change will come sooner depending on technology and cost comparisons, but also government incentives as seen in Norway. In 2017, EV sales were between 1 and 2 percent of total vehicle sales in most developed countries, but 36 percent in Norway due to their high incentives.

With other well-known brands currently having working concepts on the road, from the likes of Mercedes, Volvo, DAF, MAN, Fuso and Hino, plus new entrants to the market such as Tesla, Arrival, EMOSS, and SEA Electric, you will need to get used to plugging in the trucks of tomorrow.

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