Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) promise tremendous potential benefits to fleets, OEMs, and society at large. And whether interest is driven by regulatory pressures, civic responsibility, or concern over not being left behind, the momentum toward fleet electrification is intense, to put it mildly. But with the industry fervor comes some well-founded trepidation.
In addition to the common topics of range anxiety and charging infrastructure are more practical issues of the compatibility of new electric chassis with existing equipment functionality. With their broad range of body types and vocational applications, nowhere are these types of concerns more prevalent than in the arena of the work truck.
There is no shortage of BEV manufacturers, each with their own proprietary slant and accompanying pitch to the industry. However, when you start looking at the practical side of mounting the wide range of work truck bodies on the majority of these electric “solutions,” some significant problems emerge.
BEVS IN VOCATIONAL
The key problem with most BEV platform offerings—at least in their current or proposed states—is that they are largely incompatible with the broad range of existing bodies, as well as the accompanying equipment attached to and run from those bodies. Among the shortfalls are a lack of cab and chassis configuration flexibility, incongruity with existing OEM body styles, deficits in overall system integration with battery capacity, auxiliary electronics, hydraulics, air, and telematics systems, and a lack of parity with equivalent diesel platform productivity.
“We have over 1,000 transportation assets in our fleet and an ambitious goal of 100% zero emissions vehicles and equipment by 2030 and have made good progress on some fronts, like removing the last gasoline-only sedans from our fleet in 2019,” says Paul Lau, CEO and general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). “But it’s been more challenging with a larger medium- and heavy-duty trucks because the electric options are limited.”
Lau explains that when SMUD began looking for electric replacements for Class 4, 5, and 6 diesel vehicles, the team was concerned because of the lack of options. “Zeus Electric Chassis was the only electric chassis manufacturer in North America for these vehicles,” Lau says. “Zeus also offered flexibility through customized configuration of the chassis, cab, and body. This meant we could test medium-duty trucks in our commercial fleet in many parts of our utility business, which was really exciting.”
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Founded in 2018 and based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Zeus focused on developing a severe-duty, eMobility solution from the ground up. Well-networked within the work truck industry, the company engineered a highly versatile, BEV cab and chassis platform that enables fleets to use their existing, trusted OEM body partners, system integrators, and upfitters for Class 4, 5, and 6 applications, such as bucket trucks, cranes, dump, and service bodies, to name just a few.
Unlike others, the system architecture of what Zeus calls its Power Platform™, allows hydraulics and onboard tools such as winches, air compressors, booms, and welders to be powered directly from the main batteries, and the whole system is monitored by a fully integrated telematics solution for data collection and remote diagnostics.
With the Zeus Power Platform, a fleet gains all the benefits of converting to an electric vehicle, while retaining all the truck-mounted equipment functionality that their workers are familiar with and rely upon.
“We’ve placed orders for five Zeus trucks, each with unique configurations,” Lau says. “One box truck, one dump truck, one flatbed, one open-body service truck, and one closed-body service truck. We’ll use them in a variety of applications from facility management to our line asset groups to substation work. The Zeus trucks will replace existing equipment, so we’ll start seeing carbon emission saving from day one.”
The versatility of the Zeus Power Platform has not escaped the notice of one of the industry’s largest vocational vehicle body OEMs, JB Poindexter and Co., and its newest business unit, EAVX. The company recently announced an agreement with Zeus to collaborate on “next generation” commercial truck bodies, utility truck bodies, and vehicle cargo management systems for North America, enabling Zeus to align with other JBPCO business units, including Morgan Truck Body, Morgan Olson, Reading Truck, Masterack, and Truck Accessories Group.
“EAVX’s mission is to envision and develop the next generation delivery and work truck bodies and accessories, integrated with the most sophisticated EV- and AV-powered chassis and technologies,” says Mark Hope, chief operating officer and general manager of EAVX. “We collaborate with the most advanced electric and alternative power chassis producers, allowing our chassis partners to focus on their revolutionary and proprietary technologies.”
According to the company, EAVX and the individual business units of JBPCO intend to become the bodybuilder of choice for chassis producers serving present and future EV and alternative fuel markets.
“When it comes to BEV chassis, EAVX is agnostic,” Hope muses. “However, when we started speaking with Zeus and saw that their central focus was on building a severe-duty electric Class 4–6 cab and chassis platform, we were impressed because nobody else was doing that.”
Indeed at this moment in time, Zeus is the only BEV manufacturer offering a fully-configurable Class 4–6 all-electric vocational work truck cab-chassis solution. The relationship with EAVX was a natural fit for Zeus, since the core of its business model is to align with market-leading vocational work truck body manufacturers, enabling them to bring highly-effective EV solutions to industry fleets that can out-perform existing diesel counterparts.
The Zeus Power Platform is a truly ground-up design that offers holistic integration of both mechanical and engineered systems between the cab-chassis, body, and auxiliary functions, including a suite of telematics software solutions.
“Zeus is ahead of the crowd, because it has designed an electric work truck chassis that is broadly configurable for a wide variety of Class 4–6 applications,” Hope says. “Unlike others, the Zeus cab and chassis system is engineered to both power and control a virtually unlimited number of third-party tools and equipment.”
Hope explained that by mounting the wide variety of JBPCO bodies on Zeus electric chassis, EAVX will be able to offer unmatched versatility, providing exactly the mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, and telematic features that fleet managers want.
“Fleets get all the associated benefits of converting to electric vehicles, workers can continue to use the same truck-mounted equipment they’re familiar with, and everyone benefits from having next generation, severe-duty work trucks that can take on the rigors of whatever the industry throws at them,” Hope adds. “It truly is a game-changer.”
CLASS 4-6 BEVS
The non-exclusive collaboration agreement will initially focus on the Zeus Z-19 (Class 5, 19,500-lb GVWR) and Z-22 (Class 6, 22,300-lb GVWR), and will expand quickly to the Z-26 (Class 6, 26,000-lb GVWR), which are all available with a variety of cab options. Initial market penetration will use current and next-generation JBPCO body designs and will be available for commercial fleet pilot programs in 2022.
“The vocational work truck industry is poised for a step function change towards electrification,” Bill Brandt, chief revenue officer at Zeus, observed. “It’s more than simply installing existing OEM bodies on BEV chassis, it’s taking a holistic approach and collaborating with industry leaders such as JBPCO and bringing innovative next-generation solutions to market.”
Zeus will also leverage the JBPCO North American operational footprint to help establish a nationwide service and support network for its products. With thousands of service and dealer locations nationwide, JBPCO is well positioned to locally support its fleet customers as the new electric vehicles are deployed.
PLATFORM FOR GROWTH
The Zeus Power Platform features a completely configurable and scalable wheelbase, modular battery structure, and muscular payload capacity. The powerful Zeus BEVs offer users over three times the torque of their diesel predecessors without any of the related noise and exhaust.
The Zeus chassis was engineered to exceed validation and compliance requirements to accommodate virtually any vocational work truck body and to interface with the body OEM’s system architecture. Whether the body is configured to serve a fleet engaged in utility and telecom, construction, service, landscaping, or delivery, and whether it has to support a crane, bucket, dump feature, or refrigeration unit, the Zeus Power Platform is designed to deliver.
“Many cities and states are accelerating the electrification of their fleets by imposing EV mandates,” says Robert Grinstead, founder and chief technical officer of Zeus. “This has left fleet managers scrambling to find a suitable EV solution that doesn’t compromise their crew’s standard operating procedures, productivity, and their ability to get the job done.”
Dubbed a Mobile Office Space™, the Zeus cab structure is all aluminum, features an impact resistant hood and fenders, and can be configured to meet the workspace mobility requirements of any fleet. Multiple cab configurations are available, and each includes durable and ergonomic seating, unmatched storage capabilities, and comfort. The company also recently completed safety crash testing on its cab design.
Human machine interface controls are intelligently incorporated into the cab’s interior design. Displays and keypads are intuitively positioned for easy access. Integrated mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, telematics, and other vehicle functions are all conveniently accessible from inside the cab.
The Zeus single-source battery, software, and thermal management solution is scalable from 105 to 420 kWh. The system’s modular flexibility enables fleet managers across a broad spectrum of industries to precisely spec vehicles for their specific power and application needs.
During the vehicle specification process, algorithmic simulations use factors such as truck-mounted equipment type, duty cycles, and climate and operating geographies to determine the correct ratio of modular battery packs and the type of thermal management required to optimize battery performance and lifespan.
The sturdy battery packs have been tested using rigorous ISO 12405 standards for shock, vibration, and load. The entire battery system was designed and validated to meet Automotive Safety Integrity Level (ASIL) analysis under strict ISO 26262 standards and is safety compliant under ISO 6469. The system’s Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) qualifications include ECE R10 v6.0 certification and CISPR 25 compliance.
The batteries have an expected life span of approximately 3,000 charging cycles, which should equate to about eight to 10 years. Level 1, 2, and 3 charging, as well as DC fast charging are all supported.
The rugged, military-grade all-wheel-drive vehicles are propelled by dual-liquid-cooled PMAC motors capable of generating a robust 3,430 lb-ft of torque. Zeus chassis feature independent suspensions with a front axle weight rating of up to 14,600 lbs and a rear axle weight rating of 16,000 lbs. The Zeus chassis has a payload capacity of up to 14,000 lbs.
“By attracting high-profile customers like SMUD and collaborating with forward-thinking and innovative OEM body companies such as JBPCO and others, Zeus can ultimately deliver market-leading productivity, safety, and speed-to-market with each product we launch,” Brandt says. “And that is going to change the BEV equation for many fleets and OEMs alike.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Find out more about Zeus Electric Chassis, visit www.zeuselectricchassis.com.