Silence is Golden

The Fuso eCanter is the first Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) all-electric truck available in Australia.

The eCanter is a result of the combined global engineering expertise of its Daimler Group parentage. For the Australian market the Canter trucks with conventional diesel engines are produced in Fuso’s Kawasaki plant in Japan.

The eCanters we are getting here are manufactured at the Tramagal factory in Portugal. An advantage of the European manufacture is the inclusion of an Isri suspended driver’s seat as standard equipment on locally delivered eCanters. As with the diesel 4×2 Canters, the eCanter also features plenty of safety features including Electronic Stability Control, Hill Start, reversing camera, driver and passenger airbags, as well as an Advanced Emergency Braking System and a Lane Departure Warning System.

By their design electric trucks typically operate in high density urban areas and the eCanter’s advanced pedestrian-sensing camera and emergency braking technology are major safety factors. The eCanter is equipped with six liquid cooled lithium-ion battery packs with two mounted on the outside of each chassis rail and a double deck pack between the rails.

That results in a combined storage of 82.8kWh which is enough to power the eCanter at full weight for more than 100 km. Power output from the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor is rated at 135kW (181hp) and the maximum 390Nm of torque is delivered immediately upon pressing the accelerator pedal.

Batteries with sufficient capacity to power a truck of this size are by necessity quite heavy and result in the test model having a comparatively high tare weight including the body of 3,280kgs and the eCanter’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) rating of 7,500kgs provides for a practical payload exceeding 4 tonnes.

The GVM requires a minimum of a Light Rigid licence for the driver.

The GVM also dictates the truck is unable to access certain urban streets which have lower gross weight limits in place, typically less than 4,500kgs.

We happen to encounter some of those restricted thoroughfares during our test drive and we avoid risking a ticket by following the friendly voice of the GPS, which has been programmed with the eCanter’s vital statistics.

If the relevant authorities are serious about encouraging this type of vehicle, they will have to rethink weight restrictions in inner urban areas in order for their citizens to benefit from the zero exhaust emissions and significantly reduced noise levels possible with vehicles such as the eCanter.

These last mile deliveries (and pickups) are a natural fit for electric vehicles because the routes can be planned to take advantage of the vehicles‘ range and recharging opportunities. The test truck is loaded with two tonnes of ballast to simulate a realistic payload, which in the real world would progressively reduce as deliveries were made throughout a run.

Regrettably, a confusion in communication leads to the eCanter not being fully charged when we arrive to take it on a test drive around the Western Sydney area. The eCanter has a predicted range display at the centre of its instrument cluster which, due to the batteries only being partially charged, indicates a range of only 58 kilometres.

The fast charging alternative will have the eCanter reach 80 per cent charge in just one hour but our plan is to travel a relatively short 50 to 60 kilometre test loop, so all should prove OK.

It’s not as if we can drop into the nearest servo and do a splash and dash to be able to get back to base, so we tentatively set off keeping an eye on the instruments. The calculations for the eCanter’s predicted range are based upon such parameters as the truck being fully loaded and driven reasonably aggressively.

They don’t, however, take into account the opportunities for coasting and also the regenerative recharging which happens in over-run situations.

Consequently, we are able to successfully and quietly navigate some urban and residential streets for 57.4 kilometres according to the odometer.

It is encouraging at the end of the drive program to note we still have enough charge left to cover an additional 20 kilometres. It should be pointed out that the predictive range is shown as zero once less than 20 kilometres is available, similar to the suggested range display on vehicles with internal combustion engines.

The time required to achieve a state of 100 per cent battery charge can be as quick as one to one and a half hours using a DC (Level 3) 50kW charger, and connecting to the more readily available AC (Level 2) power will take eight to ten hours using a three-phase wall connector.

The initial investment into any electric vehicle will, for the foreseeable future anyway, include a premium compared to the cost of a hydrocarbon powered equivalent.

Fuso are initially offering some innovative financing packages which can include the fast-acting 50kW DC charger. Once we cover just a few kilometres we quickly realise that we won’t be stranded a long distance from our departure point, so we relax and enjoy the experience of putting the eCanter to work.

The eCanter uses direct drive so the power application and acceleration is smooth and vibration free. If you turn off the radio all that can be heard is the hum of the tyres on the pavement.

Otherwise, driving the eCanter is no different than a diesel model with the exception of members of the public wanting to chat about it after seeing the graphics on the body spruiking electric power. The cabin is familiar to drivers of the regular Wide Cab Canter, but features a unique instrument cluster which shows the vehicle range and how much energy is being recouped through regenerative braking when the vehicle slows.

Other than the additional comfort provided by the Isri seat, driving the eCanter isn’t much different from driving a similar sized diesel powered truck.

The simple procedure is to insert the electronic key fob into its receptacle, put a foot on the brake pedal and press the start/stop button to wake up the various systems, which includes an electric vacuum pump to provide servo assistance to the braking and an electric pump to circulate the coolant which keeps the batteries at optimum operating temperature.

The driveline and associated systems are ‘deactivated’ by pressing the start/stop button.

Although there is no conventional transmission the dash mounted gear selector has Park, Neutral, Drive and Reverse positions, with Park using a locking pawl on the driveline to immobilise the vehicle in a similar fashion to ‘Park’ on a conventional automatic. Reverse operates by reversing the polarity and therefore direction of the DC electric motor.

The Fuso eCanter is a serious truck featuring what is relatively mature technology and delivers a payload exceeding four tonnes. It is not merely a wishful concept vehicle or an impractical environmental gimmick.

Probably because of the variations in the costs of the energy used there is yet no definitive equation as to the net running costs comparing electricity charging costs versus the cost of diesel in an equivalent application.

We can assume that the electric vehicle will represent significantly lower running expenses and as the eCanter is without an engine, or clutch or gearbox the servicing costs will be minimal.

The savings will include the pads for the four wheel disc brakes which we find we hardly have to use at all, such is the effectiveness of the electro-magnetic retardation delivered by the motor.

This electric equivalent of a diesel’s engine brake can be set to four different levels via a stalk mounted on the steering column.

The retarding function provides a better result than a traditional butterfly exhaust brake on a diesel because it maintains its effectiveness until the eCanter is almost stationary.

The additional loading on the driveline also maximises the batteries’ regenerative recharge rate. The eCanter comes with the confidence of its full factory warranty of five years or 180,000km and heralds a new age of electric mobility in Australian cities along with the inclusion of leading-edge safety features designed to protect occupants and other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

The technology behind the eCanter is mature enough for it to provide an immediate and realistic solution for deliveries to emission and noise sensitive areas with the benefits of significantly reduced running and maintenance costs.

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