Wrightspeed’s aftermarket microturbine-powered plug-in series hybrid powertrain is gaining momentum, with more orders and a new facility planned in the immediate future.
The company’s main product is the Route, a retrofit Range-extended Electric Vehicle (REV) powertrain built for commercial vehicles. Typical applications include medium-duty trucks, such as delivery trucks, and heavy-duty purpose-built vehicles, like garbage trucks.
In the last year, Wrightspeed has received 42 orders to retrofit trucks with FedEx and recycling company Ratto Group. According to USA Today, founder Ian Wright now plans to relocate the company from its original 30,000 plant-square foot (opened five years ago in San Jose, Calif.) to an airplane hangar outside of Oakland that’s more than three-times the size. In the next three years, Wright predicts that the company will grow from 23 employees to more than 200.
The need for aftermarket powertrains already exists, explained Wright, one of the early key employees at Tesla. Wright says his REV is an option that will save fleets money in the long run.
“Of the 2.2 million medium-duty trucks in the U.S., about 10-percent of those get a new powertrain every year,” Wright told Charged Electric Vehicles Magazine. “You can take out the diesel engine, the transmission, the rear axle, fuel system, instrument cluster, and replace the whole thing with our powertrain. When you’re done, then you’ve got basically an electric truck with a range extender generator, and in our case it’s a gas turbine, and the turbine will happily burn natural gas, or diesel or biodiesel. Suddenly, instead of getting eight or ten miles to the gallon, you’re getting 25 or 30, depending on your drive cycle.”
This isn’t the only company manufacturing hybrid powertrains for fleets. VIA Motors, who also retrofits smaller-class commercial vehicles with hybrid powertrains, operates under a different business plan. Its focus is smaller vehicles, buying pickups and vans direct from General Motors before installing an electric motor and battery stack, and then selling the vehicles directly to commercial clients.
Wright estimated that it costs under $200,000 to retrofit a garbage truck with his REV, which he said can be recouped in about four years.
“It makes the most economic sense to focus energies on a sector where you can displace the most fuel,” Wright noted. “When you switch a garbage truck to electric power, you’re saving about $60,000 in fuel and $30,000 in maintenance a year.”
Garbage trucks retrofitted with a Wrightspeed powertrain are not only more fuel efficient, but they’re also quieter.
“Most of that racket is the engine revving up to allow the truck’s hydraulics to compress the garbage, but that will drop drastically with our engines,” Wright said.
For a brief period, Wright worked at Tesla in the company’s early stages. He credits Tesla for educating the public about the possibilities of electrified vehicles, but says Wrightspeed has the potential to offer even more.
“What Tesla has achieved in terms of changing people’s perceptions about electric cars, from golf carts to vehicles that compete with Mercedes and Porsche, is beyond my wildest dreams,” said Wright. “That said, we’re going after high polluters, and in that sense our economic proposition could allow us to scale bigger than Tesla.”