Motiv Continues to Make Noise as its Electric Garbage Truck Quietly Takes out Chicago’s Trash

By:   Christian Okolski

Chicago’s Electric Garbage Truck

Motiv Power Systems has built the first clean, quiet, and fully-electric garbage truck in North America, and it is being used by the City of Chicago.  As noted in a recent press release, The Windy City’s new Electric Refuse Vehicle (ERV) has been servicing residential refuse and recycling collection routes that are up to 60 miles long, and it can transport up to nine tons of waste.  To meet the range and power demands of its routes, the ERV is powered by ten 20 kilowatt-hour battery packs, which can be fully recharged in 8 hours with Motiv’s Universal Fast Charger.  By running solely on electric battery power, the ERV will save approximately 2,688 gallons of diesel fuel a year, which will amount to $10,000 in savings if diesel fuel costs $3.72 per gallon, on average.  Moreover, the truck will reduce 23 tons of carbon dioxide each year, so it will not just appeal to the ears of Chicago residents but also their lungs

It is important to note that Motiv, a small start-up company that was founded in 2009 and is located just south of San Francisco in Foster City, California, did not build Chicago’s truck from the ground up.  The ERV combines a Loadmaster body commonly used for other Chicago refuse trucks, a chassis manufactured by Crane Carrier and furnished by Cumberland Servicenter, and Motiv’s own all-electric powertrain system.  That powertrain system, the electric Powertrain Control System (ePCS), boasts a modular configuration, so it can be tailored to fit multiple different vehicle bodies and chassis while also remaining “battery agnostic”.  Therefore, Motiv has simply taken the body and chassis of a normal garbage truck and outfitted it with a proprietary, electric powertrain.

While the mere existence of the Country’s first electric garbage truck is, on its own, music to the ears of electric vehicle enthusiasts, Motiv still has 19 more to deliver.  In November 2012, Greentech Media reported that Chicago had placed a $13.4 million order for a total of 20 electric garbage trucks, expecting Motiv to deliver all of them over the course of five years.  With that timeline in mind, Motiv should have all 20 trucks built by Fall 2017.  Although it may have taken the company two years to get the first ERV out the door, Motiv now has the designs and experience it needs to ramp up production and churn out 19 more ERVs at a much quicker pace.

Motiv’s Milestones

Motiv has certainly received substantial media attention from its electric garbage truck, but the company has been growing and gaining attention for a couple of years now.  Motiv first made headlines back in 2012, as it demonstrated the first commercial electric vehicle to use the ePCS with financial assistance from a California Energy Commission grant.  The vehicle was an all-electric shuttle bus operated by Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, a commuter, transit, and corporate shuttle service that primarily operates in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Bauer’s shuttle proved Motiv’s ability to build a reliable commercial electric vehicle that had a range of up to 125 miles and could operate at a cost of only $0.10 per mile, which is 83 percent less than that of a diesel counterpart.  Shortly after the successful demonstration of the Bauer’s shuttle, Motiv secured its order for 20 electric garbage trucks from the City of Chicago in November, 2012.

One year after the Chicago deal, Motiv teamed up with Trans Tech Bus to hit its next big milestone and developed a fully-electric school bus with up to 100 miles of range.  The bus was delivered to the Kings Canyon Unified School District in California and began operating this past winter as the first all-electric school bus approved to transport students in every state.  Moreover, CleanTechnica reported that Motiv and Trans Tech received total order for not just one, but four electric school buses.

In the past few months since delivering its first electric school bus, Motiv has continued to progress and hit new milestones.  At the beginning of the summer, Fleets and Fuels reported that the City of Mountain View, California, which is right in Motiv’s backyard, ordered four all-electric shuttle buses.  The shuttles will be able to hold 16 passengers each and provide mobility to the people who live and work in Mountain View as they go about their daily errands and activities.  They are also sponsored by Mountain View’s largest employer, Google, and will, therefore, be free of charge to use.  In addition, Motiv was able to leverage its successful business development and product rollouts to secure $7.3 million in private investment from multiple investors but primarily Colorado-based Magness Investment Group.  The infusion of funding was revealed in a June 30 press release, which also noted that Motiv had just delivered its second electric school bus to Kings Canyon Unified School District.

A Business Model That Is Working

Motiv is certainly discovering its niche in the market, as it has primarily focused on outfitting large, all-electric commercial vehicles with the ePCS.  Having a business model of furnishing existing vehicle chassis and bodies with its electric powertrain system, Motiv gives its customers the option to electrify virtually any type of commercial vehicle.  This freedom is undoubtedly enticing to fleet operators, since they often place unique demands on their vehicles and require varying vehicle configurations.  A shuttle service and a delivery company, for example, require very different types of medium-duty trucks, but Motiv can fulfill each of their specific needs.  Ultimately, this flexibility allows Motiv to expand its market base.

Chicago’s electric garbage truck is proof that Motiv’s business and product work as intended.  Despite the fact that Motiv has primarily electrified shuttle buses over the past couple of years, it has been able to successfully develop a totally different product, the ERV, and the result is the same.  As with electric shuttle buses, Motiv’s electric garbage truck mitigates the release of harmful emissions, saves significant money in fuel costs, and, most importantly, meets the unique operational needs of the fleet it serves.  Motiv may not be as flashy as Tesla, but the California startup is certainly playing a very important role in the industry by showing that large fleet vehicles can go electric too.  Chicago’s ERV is only the latest proof of the extensive versatility and capabilities of commercial electric vehicles.

Granted, Motiv still runs a small, niche operation, and it will be interesting to see if the startup can scale up its sales and production to a point where it is truly making a dent in the commercial vehicle market.   In fact, the demand and capability for the company to make such a move is still unknown.  At the very least though, Motiv is proving that large, commercial electric vehicles do work, and they work well.  Hopefully, more fleets will soon take notice, but until then, there are 19 more ERVs to be built.


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