SHOCK TREATMENT | Light Truck Review- Fuso Canter Electric

FUSO goes electric as Ed Higginson takes at the wheel

Electric power has become the common buzzword when talking about new-vehicle developments. All the major vehicle manufacturers have announced electric vehicles (EVs) and some have already hit Australian showrooms, with even Harley Davidson announcing an electric motorcycle!

Over the past two decades we have seen alternative fuels try to break the dominance of diesel and fail, such as biofuels then natural gas. Each time it was clear that four key factors need to align to fundamentally change the industry.

Firstly, operators need to show they want change, which we’ve seen repeatedly from companies such including Australia Post, Woolworths and TNT.

Next there needs to be technology that works. We’ve seen many aftermarket suppliers try to convert trucks from diesel, but costs and warranty disputes haven’t helped, leaving many to wait for the truck manufacturers to offer a competitive alternative that is reliable.

Once operators and manufactures are onboard, the next biggest challenge in Australia then becomes infrastructure that can compete with the convenience of diesel-fuelling stations. This is where electricity may have an edge.

With safety and environmental concerns, trying to install a compliant refuelling bowser has become incredibly expensive. Installing a group of 3-phase charging points by comparison may be much easier.

And finally, we need the Australian government to get onboard. We’ve seen this around the world where EV adoption has been much faster, but not yet so in Australia. This is where either tax incentives or additional weight allowances would certainly help.

No one expects to see electric trucks pulling road trains across the Nullarbor anytime soon, but for the home delivery market, small electric trucks like the eCanter offer a real alternative to diesel.

Many have talked of their electric truck developments, but FUSO is the first to register one here in Australia for trials and Delivery Magazine took it for a trip around Melbourne to see how it compares.

Daniel Whitehead, President and CEO, Daimler Truck and Bus Australia Pacific explains; “This is the first series-production electric truck developed with the might of the world’s largest truck manufacturer with a global reach. It was not bolted together in a shed but developed and tested by Daimler over a number of years, starting life as the Canter E-Cell prototype that operated in its first public test programme in 2015.”

“The eCanter is not yet available in Australia, but when it is, it will come with all the benefits of being backed by an established truck maker, including the assurance of parts, service support and warranty coverage provided by our national FUSO dealership network,” Mr. Whitehead added.

FUSO has already placed around 500 units into operations with several major logistics companies in countries such as the UK, Portugal, Japan, and the US. From these real-world trials you can be assured that when the eCanter is released for sale, it will have the full backing of the Daimler Group.

Delivery Magazine  took FUSO’s Canter 515 for a run around East Melbourne and was impressed by the driveline and smooth Duonic six-speed automated transmission. FUSO’s four-cylinder in-line twin overhead-cam 3.0-litre diesel is a great engine with 110 kW of power and 370 Nm of torque at 1350-2840 rpm, helping the little Canter to get going even when fully laden.

When compared with an electric driveline there simply isn’t any similarity in the performance and acceleration. The eCanter is 100 percent electric, using an AC synchronous electric motor coupled to a single-speed reduction drive. Producing 135 kW of power and 390 Nm of torque it’s a fair estimation that it would be quicker than the diesel alternative, but with the 100 percent torque from start the acceleration is both instant and linear, making the EV version much faster off the line.

Faster acceleration from standstill might probably not be something you necessarily want for your delivery drivers, but we expect this could be controlled if programmed by individual operators, especially if you are looking to extend the range.

When departing the Daimler Australia Pacific head office in Mulgrave, a few other points certainly stood out during the drive.

Firstly, it’s super quiet. Without the diesel engine you only hear the wind and tyre noise along with the driveshaft, which will probably be replaced with motors at the wheels as the developments progress.

FUSO claims that the diesel Canter produces 77 dBa versus the eCanter with a claimed 70 dBa, but the difference seems much greater. This does cause some concern however when driving around heavily congested areas as pedestrians simply don’t hear the vehicle approaching, especially with everyone now glued to their mobile phones.

This change also means that you need to drive by the vehicle’s instruments rather than listening to the note of the engine, a reversal from the driving style to which we’ve all become so used to.

The other noticeable difference is the lack of engine braking you get with a diesel, particularly with no exhaust brake. Here, FUSO has replaced it with an electric two-stage regenerative retarder and electro-hydraulic braking system with dual calipers on discs, offering an effective alternative.

Visually the eCanter looks the same as the 515, except for a few blue highlights from the marketing team and batteries instead of the fuel tank. Jumping into the cab, again the eCanter is familiar and comfortable with a suspended driver’s seat with a left-hand folding arm rest, lumber support and weight adjustment (on wide-cab models only).

All the usual features are present in the eCanter, such as the multimedia satellite navigation unit with bluetooth and aircon. It could however be interesting to see how switching on all the electric devices plus charging a phone would affect the overall range.

For the batteries, FUSO has opted for six Daimler sourced, liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery packs for a total of 360 Volts 82.8 kWh. Under normal operating conditions, FUSO is suggesting a 100 km range which we believe is conservative. However, for many this would be more than enough.

During the day, we covered 79 km whilst empty on various inner-city routes typical for a small 7.5-tonne delivery truck, which resulted in the battery charge dropping to 41 percent.

On our return to the Daimler-Benz office, it was easy to plug the truck into the newly fitted Tritium Veefil charging station, before packing our bags and finalising paperwork. After just eight minutes, the charge rate efficiency of the eCanter had gained 8 percent.

Whether this would mean 59 minutes would get us to 100 percent would have to be tested. But it does suggest that by plugging in the eCanter whilst on a break or during reloading the truck for a second run it could easily compete with its diesel alternative.

If charging from empty, FUSO expects that with DC charging level three, it will charge in under two hours, whilst an AC charging station level two would take roughly four hours.

Interestingly, when I took the diesel Canter 515 for a drive a month earlier it had been left with minimal fuel as there were no refuelling tanks onsite, meaning we had to find a fuel station nearby. In many ways that need to source fuel was much less convenient than simply unplugging the eCanter at the start of the shift.

After being able to drive basically the same truck, firstly with the diesel engine and then with the electric driveline, it was interesting to see the benefits moving to the eCanter could bring.

It certainly won’t suit every operation as the first models hit the roads. But with the support of government incentives available to early adopters and with drivers able to top up the battery at every opportunity, electric vehicles could become a real possibility.

The only question now will be the difference in purchase price. Daimler suggests that the running costs of the eCanter could be just 16 cents per km, so if the payback period is relatively rapid, we may see a faster than currently expected take up of the small electric delivery truck concept within the next couple of years.

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