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Addressing the opportunity of low cost, lightweight commercial EVs

17 December 2020 #Features & Interviews #TNB News

As the industry prepares for an alternatively-fuelled future from 2030, electrification technologies present a significant opportunity beyond light commercial and heavy goods vehicles. For example, a number of companies and partnerships are focusing on optimising last-mile and urban deliveries.

There are currently several projects exploring lightweight, durable and highly modular EV platforms for last-mile delivery applications. A project led by Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) and Pashley Cycles, for example, is currently developing an electrically-assisted delivery trike.

Featuring a tilting suspension system to aide stability, ALECS (Articulating Electrically-assisted Cargo Solution) will, says WMG, “form the platform for a new generation of configurable products to meet the rapidly growing market for zero-emission last-mile cargo services.”

The Group explains that ALECS is designed to carry cargo on a versatile and customer configurable, multi-functional rear platform. This makes it particularly suited to parcel and package deliveries in an urban environment where operational efficiency and ease of multiple deliveries are key. Project manager Dr. Alex Attridge says the project, set to be completed in April 2021, provides an opportunity to help “a consortium of UK SMEs to bring a new, zero-emission delivery vehicle to a rapidly growing market.”

A further MWG project, part-funded by Innovate UK and bringing together a consortium including Coventive Composites and engineering specialist D2H, is developing a low-cost lightweight chassis design. Initially intended for Indian and Asian markets to replace the venerable Tuk-Tuk style vehicles, the chassis type would be an ideal base for UK L Category vehicles working within Low Emission Zones (LEZ).

“The potential market for L Category vehicles, which includes everything from motorbikes to heavy quadricycles, is much bigger than the passenger car segment, which accounts for circa £75m sales a year,” explains Wicker Kist, CEO at Oxfordshire-based electric motor specialist, Saietta. Referring to one of his company’s ‘live’ projects – a new ‘skateboard’ platform, which significantly increases load capacity in a smaller footprint than current internal combustion engine (ICE) delivery vehicles – he adds, “Inspired by the rise in demand for home deliveries during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is feasible to transfer a significant amount of goods delivery into smaller electric vehicles as part of a new approach to servicing city centres.

“It is estimated that delivery routes in cities can be 20 miles or less, so efficiency will be key,” he says. “L Category vehicles are significantly simpler than passenger cars, especially in terms of the electrical system the motor has to be integrated with. This means that it is quicker and easier to bring vehicles to market.”

Key criteria for industry adoption of these types of EV as a delivery vehicle is cost, efficiency and simplicity: achieving more with less. For example, the lightweight chassis developed as part of the Innovate UK project has already been previewed with a durable, lightweight body concept in both flatbed and box-van configuration. The modular platform will be manufactured using a fibre-reinforced thermoplastic polymer, providing durability and light weight.

Matthew Hicks, D2H engineering director, says, “Many electric vehicle projects target high-performance, high-value chassis concepts We identified a need for a very low cost, zero emissions utility vehicle which can be adapted to different configurations and offers the potential for much greater uptake.

“We have carried out a detailed design study to create a novel chassis which can be built locally to the market it is intended for,” he continues. “Incorporating materials and manufacturing processes which are simple to use, abundant in market and considerate to environmental issues, while providing consumers with the option of an accessible electric-powered utility vehicle.”

Consortiums and collaborations, alongside private investment, are crucial for technology and vehicle commercialisation ahead of the 2030 deadline – optimising chassis and powertrain development.

Kist surmises, “Lots of people talk about lightweight design, but they are usually talking about the structure of the vehicle and not the powertrain. Lighter, more efficient motors mean increased range from less battery capacity and hence less battery size, weight and cost, and so it continues. Our first motor variant is in production and provides maximum torque density at low voltage – which means it is particularly efficient on urban duty cycles.

“As we move to tackle urban pollution, it is vital that we understand the theory of fitting the type of vehicle to the task it performs,” he concludes. “We’re not suggesting that smaller, lighter EVs will totally replace vans and trucks, but there’s a point at which a mixed fleet will provide the best solution and allow the industry to service its customers more effectively.”

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