The transportation sector emits more greenhouse gasses than any other industry in the U.S., and falls second only to electricity and heating worldwide. Car manufacturers like Nissan and Tesla have tried to get out in front of this by mass-producing electric passenger vehicles. But commercial vehicles like trucks, vans, and buses have been slower to decarbonize.
Motiv Power Systems, a California-based company, wants to speed that process along. While most trucks and vans are custom-built to the needs of clients, says Jim Castelaz, CEO of Motiv, they generally all start with the same base frame, or chassis. Motiv, the winner of Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards in the Transportation category, created an all-electric chassis, built to the same configurations of a standard chassis. Starting to convert trucks to electric power would lower fleet fuel costs and reduce the environmental impacts of heavy-duty transportation. “Our business is freeing fleets from fossil fuels,” Castelaz says. “Trucks and buses are the workhorses of our economy, they move people and goods on a daily basis, and there were no good options for electrifying these vehicles.”
The Electric Powered Intelligent Chassis (or EPIC) aims to change that, and it can work in two ways. Fleet operators can swap out the diesel-fueled chassis in their older vehicles for the EPIC. Or, for new vehicles, they can order the EPIC ahead of time and integrate it seamlessly into the production line. This business model, Castelaz says, makes the switch to electric vehicles as quick and smooth as possible for vehicle manufacturers. If they don’t have to worry about actually developing the electrified components themselves, they can continue business-as-usual, just with a more sustainable outcome.
The EPIC is built to match the two most popular Ford chassis–the E-450 van base, and the F-59 and F-53 commercial truck supports–and with that, Castelaz says, he believes around 80% of commercial vehicles on the roads could switch to Motiv’s electric chassis. Motiv doesn’t disclose the cost of the EPIC, but estimates that switching to the electric chassis pays for itself in around two to three years, as fuel costs can drop by around 85%.
Motiv’s EPIC is still relatively new, but its structural approach to electrifying trucks and vans is already taking hold: The linen delivery company AmeriPride is slowly electrifying its California-based fleet, and in January, the U.S. Postal Service, which operates over 215,000 trucks, announced a small trial converting those vehicles to EPIC. “What we tell fleet operators is that if they have a reasonably high monthly fuel bill, yet their vehicles never exceed 100 miles a day, they’re going to be a great candidate for electrifying,” Castelaz says.