Interview: Tevva’s Asher Bennett on range extended trucks

03 October 2017

Tevva Motors is a company with big ambitions. On its website, it claims to be “creating a world in which zero emission road freight vehicles are the norm, not the exception.”

A bold statement, but also one not without foundation. Founded in 2013, Tevva specialises in extended range technology, with trucks of between 7.5 and 18 tonnes.

Strictly speaking, it’s a low-emissions technology expert. It describes itself, at present, as an up-fitter, rather than a manufacturer, as the range extender units are bolted to existing chassis.

The firm has been honing the concept at its base in Chelmsford, Essex, for the past four years and, following a year-plus trial, its first order of 15 trucks is to enter service with logistics giant UPS in 2018, based on the Mercedes Vario.

Founder and CEO, Asher Bennett, said, “We are huge believers in the future electrification of trucks, and we also believe that range extenders go a long way to solving the operational and range anxiety issues.”

“Operators run their trucks for eight or 10 hours a day – not one and a half hours a day like cars do – so cars can be pure electric, and that works well. But trucks work longer hours, and if you run out of energy with a truck full of stuff, there’s a larger risk than if you get stuck with your car; you can’t just order a taxi to complete the journey. Range extension really solves all of that, and in actuality, it also makes the vehicles greener, because the operators are not running the trucks with larger [energy] reserves, rather maximising the zero emissions range that you can get out of the battery.”

The vehicles are fitted with a lithium ion battery pack and an electric motor. The former takes three hours to charge from the mains, after which it’s good for an electric range of 100 miles. They also use a 1.6-litre Ford diesel engine (though petrol, CNG and other variants are possible) to make up the extra capacity, but the engine sends power to the battery, which in turn, continues to drive the wheels.

“The only thing turning the wheels is the electric motor; the range extender is a small back-up,” says Bennett, “it’s a type of a generator, and all it does is recharge the battery on the go. Effectively, it just means there’s no operational range limit to the truck. While it may not be the main purpose of this truck, you can drive it from London to Manchester if you want to, and it won’t run out of power just because you reach the limitation of the batteries.”

Tevva is currently targeting companies with fleets that return to their point of origin at the end of a route or a day’s work, simply because it allows the vehicles to charge up again. “Initially, we’re focussed on trucks that are back-to-base, so they can cover a wide variety of ranges – even long range – as long as there is a base or a charging infrastructure on either side of the delivery cycle,” says Bennett, “we don’t need complicated infrastructure, we just need access to three-phase wall sockets, and that is usually quite available in depot environments.”

The firm claims hauliers could achieve “a 23% saving in lifetime cost of ownership in comparison to a normal diesel truck on the same type of back to base delivery route,” while Bennett says companies could effectively claw back the higher lease cost of an electric truck, as a result of running it on electricity.

Tevva’s range-extended trucks feature pioneering technology

“Because fuel is such a large segment of the cost of running a normal truck, if you lease [a range extender] truck, you could be saving money from day one. Yes, you are paying a higher lease cost, but you save so much on fuel, that it covers the cost of comparable lease price.”

“Any forward-looking fleet manager can see the writing on the wall, and around the world, more and more governments are declaring the end of the internal combustion engine. You have to start getting into [plug-in vehicles] now, if you don’t want to be legislated out of the marketplace – or paying very high low emission zone charges, which is already happening today.”

Bennett says the firm is looking to establish an additional site in the north of England, and plans to venture into vehicles above its current top-end weight of 18 tonnes. There’s also talk of new forms of range extender technology and expanding to Europe and beyond.

Tevva is working with other types of alternative fuels, including fluids traditionally associated with sweetening and preserving food. “We will soon be coming out with petrol and natural gas range extenders and we will have glycerine powered range extenders.” Bennett adds, “The advantage of glycerine is that, for customers that have a need for complete zero emissions, it is basically carbon neutral, has a very controlled combustion cycle. To use that example again, you could drive from London to Manchester, zero emissions the whole way, without stopping to charge.”

A sweet syrup used in food preparation, cosmetics and antifreeze, among other areas, there is obviously no infrastructure for glycerine fuel provision at present. Bennett says it is not in short supply though, and could, theoretically, be delivered to and stored at truck depots.

“Currently, the market has a lot of unwanted glycerine, because it’s a by-product of other manufacturing processes, so there’s plenty of it. But the one big advantage of glycerine is, even though there’s no infrastructure for supplying it as you do petrol, that’s easy to solve, because it’s non-toxic and non-flammable.

“Had it been toxic and flammable, it would be a very expensive solution, and a non-starter. Basically, I can [transport and supply] canisters of glycerine with a pump, and I don’t have to dig holes in the ground where I would be keeping fuels. And remember, in a range extender, the generator is usually only operating for a short period per day, so it’s not like you need huge amounts of fuel”