The global electric vehicle trend shows no signs of slowing. Prompted by the increasing demand for urban delivery vehicles and changes to emissions regulations worldwide, countless competitors have selected the growing market as a point of focus for their vehicle developments.
A number of electrically powered light-duty vans and trucks, medium-duty vehicles all the way to heavy-duty prime movers have been unveiled to the industry over the last year, joining the growing race to electric domination.
The first to reach series production for an electric commercial vehicle is Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC), whose eCanter first started production at the Kawasaki plant in Japan on 7 July, followed by the plant in Tramagal, Portugal, on 27th July.
Soon after, the company held a global launch in New York in September, where the company revealed that the first companies to receive the eCanters were Yamato and 7-Eleven in Japan, and US parcel delivery service, UPS. So far, 50 eCanters have been delivered, and the first series run will see 500 trucks produced and delivered globally.
The electric vehicle project is a mission close to the heart for Marc Llistosella, President and CEO of MFTBC, who took to the stage at the recent Tokyo Motor Show in Japan to declare the company’s dominance in the market in the country. One eCanter, he said, can save 16 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year when compared to a conventional combustion engine. While reducing carbon emissions produced by commercial vehicles is an important factor for the Fuso strategy, Fuso Head of Testing Asia, Hironobu Ando, poses a different question, “is it fun to drive?”
To find out, we took the eCanter on a few laps around the multi-purpose track at Fuso’s Kitsuregawa Testing Ground. The silence when stepping inside the cab prompts an initial reaction to turn the vehicle on. However, only the whisper of the heater fan can be heard when listening specifically for it. From the outside, the vehicle is just as quiet while running.
According to Fuso, the eCanter has proven itself in the same homologation tests as regulated for diesel vehicles, and has never failed. In fact, the eCanter registers a 71dBA reading, in what Fuso describes as a ‘massive reduction’ from the diesel Canter’s reading of 77dBA. “Trying to reduce the noise from a vehicle using alternative methods usually only makes a difference of half a decibel, so this is a huge achievement for the eCanter,” says Romesh Rodrigo, Engineering Manager at Fuso Truck and Bus Australia.
The eCanter is loaded with around three tonnes of payload to sit at a 7.5-tonne Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). Marc says the eCanter has only a five to seven per cent payload disadvantage over the diesel Canter, carrying between 200-250kg less in the back. For how quickly the eCanter accelerates from a stationary position, the cargo seems to have no effect whatsoever, and the electric drive train gains speed without pause, reaching our testing track’s enforced speed limit of 50km/h in no time at all – faster even than the diesel comparison, which in this case was only loaded to 4.5t GVM.
The vehicle’s electric powertrain contains six high voltage lithium ion battery packs with capacity 420 V and 13.8 kWh each, which are being supplied by Fuso’s German parent company Daimler. Marc admits that charging the batteries is a ‘pain point’ that requires cooperation from other electric vehicle manufacturers, electricity providers and service stations to resolve. Already, Fuso has 7,200 DC charging points in Japan, and is investing millions in infrastructure globally to support its electric technology.
Theoretically, the batteries will last for 3,000 charge cycles in their first life, and each charge currently takes 40 minutes on DC power to reach 80 per cent capacity, or overnight on AC. However, Marc says the company is hard at work to reduce that charging time to a target of five minutes – a goal he says is achievable within the next three to four years. This series-production eCanter is, after all, only the ‘eCanter 1.0’, Marc says, with the second iteration expected in two years.
To ensure early adopters like 7-Eleven and UPS aren’t at disadvantage, Fuso is supplying the eCanters on a leasing model, so customers can easily upgrade to the latest battery and software as the advancements in technology are perfected. For the first 1,000km of the lease, Fuso foots the bill as a trial run to collect data from its customers’ various applications on how the vehicles handle different driving techniques.
Whether braking, accelerating or cruising, the silence in the cab is pervasive as we make our way around the multi-purpose course. It is filled only by questioning the accompanying Fuso test driver, who admits that the eCanter is his favourite of the Fuso vehicles to drive – something he has done “countless” times around the 445m multi-purpose track.
On a 10 degree hill-start, the eCanter rolls back only the tiniest amount before the power kicks in and we continue our smooth ride up the hill. In the current models, the charge setting on the dash reveals when the brakes are collecting energy, which kicks in with the drive train switching to generator mode to act as a retarder as we travel down the hill.
The test track may be a short run, but Fuso says the eCanter has a range of up to 150km, with a 100km minimum, depending on the load and application. After a quick run, the answer to Hironobu’s question is clear – yes, the eCanter is fun to drive. It’s easy, responsive to controls and allows the driver to focus clearly on the task of driving, something that is of critical importance in the highly congested urban delivery task it will be used for. The smooth takeoff makes stop/start traffic effortless and the silence inside the cab keeps the tensions at a minimum.
Driving the eCanter doesn’t feel like driving a truck at all, which means the vehicle will appeal to small enterprises looking to take on their own delivery routes, such as florists or catering businesses. As such, it provides a stepping stone into the transport industry for a new generation of drivers.
It will be a little while before Australian operators can get their hands on the new eCanter, though. According to Fuso Truck and Bus Australia Director, Justin Whitford, the local branch of the Daimler-owned company is currently developing a plan to involve local customers in a trial that is planned to start next year, following on from the initial introduction in the US, Japan and Europe.
Marc Llistosella expanded on the trials at the Tokyo Motor Show, saying the company is limiting the vehicles to transport businesses who have the ‘right attitude’ when it comes to sustainability. UPS, for example, wants to be seen as more than just a delivery company, rather as a company that is taking action on emissions issues. Fuso is looking to position itself as a front runner in electric vehicle technology, Marc says, and series production of the eCanter is just the beginning.
Found 150km north of Tokyo in Japan, Fuso’s Kitsuregawa Testing Ground was opened in 1980 and spans 1,170,000m2. The expansive facility includes a 445m multi-purpose track, a 3.6km high speed track and a 5.3km cross country circuit. It also houses a number of test benches including an Electro Magnetic Compatibility (EMC) Chamber, Chassis Dynamometer, tilt table, component shaker, cab shaker, crash test rig, pendulum test tower and multi-directional axle test bench.
All of the new Eurocargo variants feature front and rear disc brakes with ABS, Anti-Slip Regulator (ASR), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Advanced Emergency Braking System (AEBS).
The Fuso eCanter is the first vehicle under Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation’s new E-Fuso brand, which was announced at the Tokyo Motor Show in October this year. According to Marc Llistosella, President and CEO of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus, the brand is a show of the company’s commitment to being a front runner in the electrification of heavy vehicles. The first heavy-duty electric vehicle in the E-Fuso brand, the Vision One, was revealed at the Show and will be launched in the next five years.