Canadian companies collaborate to roll out cool electric project

The first all-electric refrigerated commercial Class 6 truck in Canada has been servicing customers in British Columbia for the past three weeks. Four Canadian companies – Cold Star Solutions from Victoria, Volta Air from Burnaby in B.C., and Lion Electric from Quebec – worked together to get the Lion6 truck rolling. Kelly Hawes was the driving force behind the project.

The CEO of Cold Star Solutions needed a new five-ton truck, which are hard to come by these days. His fleet includes 25 trucks that run on CNG (compressed natural gas), and he naturally started looking at green options. CNG trucks are also not readily available, so an electric truck was his next best bet.

Picture of Kelly HawesKelly Hawes, CEO of Cold Star Solutions. (Photo: Leo Barros)

He contacted Lion Electric, but the initial conversation was not promising.

Hawes’ calculations showed that he could only haul 2,600 lb. due to the weight of the truck, batteries, reefer, cargo box and tailgate. Volta Air has been manufacturing reefers for the past 12 years and began making electric models for Classes 5 to 7 trucks since 2015. Hawes spoke to CEO and founder Steve Zaari and found out the reefer unit only weighed 300 lb.

He had just shed 2,000 lb. from the equation.

Picture of Steve ZaariSteve Zaari, founder and CEO of Volta Air. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Zaari says the unit can draw energy from the vehicle’s batteries or can use batteries provided by Volta Air. The unit has solar panels on top to add operational hours and reduce battery weight. Hawes needed a cargo box with added insulation as Volta Air’s reefer does not have the BTUs (British thermal unit) that those made by big-name companies have.

But this makes the cargo box heavier. Fourgons Leclair had a solution as they produce cargo boxes that are lighter-weight and have better insulation. “The panels have no urethane or thermal bridges, it’s the Tesla of truck bodies,” says Marie-Claude Gohier, sales and business development manager at Fourgons Leclair.

Picture of Marie-Claude Gohier and Aleandre LeclairMarie-Claude Gohier, sales and business development manager Fourgons Leclair, right, and Alexandre Leclair, sales and customer service representative, Western Canada. (Photo: Leo Barros)

The panels never absorb water as they as sealed and fusionized, she said, and so maintain the same weight as long as they are in use.

Engineers from the four companies got together and started building the truck. Hawes said everyone was worried about cost. “I said to them, ‘Don’t worry about cost, let’s worry about if the technology is doable. Can we get the weight down and still get the range we need?'”

The result was a truck that can haul 14,000 lb. of cargo. “Our standard diesel truck can only haul 12,500 lb.,” Hawes says. One set of batteries was removed, dropping the range to 230 km. Two sets of batteries provide a range of more than 400 km.

The Cold Star route for this truck is 150 km. A today’s prices, diesel for the route costs £136 a day. Running the Lion6 on the same route costs only £4.50 a day.

But electric trucks are not cheap. The Lion6 cost £477,000. Hawes has applied for B.C.’s £100,000 Go Electric Specialty Use Vehicle Incentive program.

He is also hoping to offset costs with a £100,000 federal government grant that is likely to arrive in the fall. That would bring the price down to £277,000. A Cold Star CNG truck spec’d out the same as the Lion6 costs £225,000.

Picture of John McBeanJohn McBean, national sales manager, Lion Electric. (Photo: Leo Barros)

John McBean, national sales manager, Lion Electric, says it is important to understand that electric trucks will not do everything.

But they are excellent for certain applications and routes. He said the Lion6 drives like a truck. But when you are sitting in a diesel truck it seems like you are sitting on a washing machine.

“When you’re sitting in our truck it seems like you are sitting on your chair in your living room,” he said.