Keep On Truckin’

Balqon-e-30Plug In America board members Paul Scott, Mike Kane and I recently had the privilege of meeting with Balwinder Samra, CEO and founder of Balqon Corporation at the company’s headquarters in Harbor City, California. Balqon Corp was founded in 2005 when AQMD and the Port of LA partnered to fund the production of 25 of the world’s most powerful all-electric short-range trucks.

Before giving us a tour of the company’s cavernous warehouse facility, Balwinder Samra (who prefers to be called “Samra”) regaled the three of us with humorous — yet maddening — tales of entrenched governmental, union and corporate resistance to electric truck and heavy-duty equipment production. He described a “we-need-more-study”, obfuscation and status-quo mentality that he finds in his experience not to be present in the Asian and European markets.

Balqon Corp has thus far rolled out 16 of the 25 all-electric trucks slated for the Port of LA, each capable of hauling a 60,000 pound payload. The first few prototype Balqon trucks utilized lead acid battery packs resulting in a more limited 40-mile range. As of 2009, however, the company began the process of upgrading the fleet and managed to “get the lead out” when the Autocar truck chassis currently utilized by Balqon were outfitted with 3,000-pound lithium ion packs. The result? Some models can actually travel 150 unloaded miles with a top speed of 60 mph for short distances on southern California freeways. The XE 30 electric truck can haul a jaw-dropping 30-ton load 30 miles and then recharge in four to six hours.

The Port of LA utilizes short-haul electric trucks primarily for dock to rail yard and warehouse container transport. Samra estimates that the lifetime fuel savings of each truck could amount to $35,000 per vehicle. It’s been demonstrated that these electric trucks will pay off big time, even given the 40% initial cost premium over a standard diesel truck or the 7 to 8 percent cost premium over a comparable LNG truck. He also estimates that life-cycle costs will move way over into the black side of the ledger in approximately five years. It’s absolutely true, of course, that diesel trucks continue to have inherent and challenging maintenance costs that electric trucks will never have. For instance, a standard diesel truck is subject to severe vibration-induced damage — which couldn’t be further from the sort of “Good Vibrations exalted by the Beach Boys in their 1967 hit of the same name ; ] Another benefit: No diesel tank soil remediation is required — the list goes on.

Without revealing any details, Samra indicated that Balqon Corp is currently investigating production of electric trucks and heavy-duty equipment in Asia and Europe. He does not mince words when he declares that it is much easier to engage with overseas port, governmental and business entities than it is here in the good old USA. In Samra’s experience the United States does not merit a gold star as a good early adopter of more efficient transportion technology.

And speaking of efficiency, Samra advises using the words “clean and efficient” when advocating for electric transportation — whether we’re talking about battery-powered industrial or personal transportation. Efficient electric trucks that work in the short haul to help ports and industry slice expenses in the long haul will prove to be the best way to convince industry to plug into power. No greenwashing necessary.

Posted by Linda Nicholes

Photo courtesy of Autobloggreen

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