Published on May 13th, 2018 | by Kyle Field0
Tropos Technologies Has Built A Fleet Of Highly Functional Low-Speed Electric Utility Vehicles (#CleanTechnica Exclusive)
May 13th, 2018 by Kyle Field
Low-speed electric vehicle manufacturer and distributor Tropos Motors was founded out of decades of experience working across all levels of electric vehicle design.
We sat down with Tropos Motors CEO John Bautista and Sales and Marketing Director, Scot Harden for a chat about where the company came from and, more importantly, where the company is headed in the years ahead.
Having spent years building electric race cars at Clean Speed, and even faster electric motorcycles at Zero Motorcycles, John Bautista finally decided to kick things into high gear with a move into the low-speed electric vehicle (LSV) market by launching Tropos Motors.
Tropos started off with a small LSV truck that began its life on the back of a napkin. It wouldn’t stay on the page for long though, with the team developing the first two prototypes in a mere 9 months. The prototypes were toured around the trade show circuit to gauge customer interest and to solicit feedback from real customers. The team took all the learnings from the road show and tweaked the product to get it to line up better with the needs of the customers.
Somewhere along the way, John saw a modular electric vehicle concept that was designed to allow for modular flatbeds to be bolted and unbolted to compact LSVs and an LED light went off somewhere in his complex brain. Bringing together an extremely functional, low-speed electric vehicle with the modular flatbed concept just resonated with him.
The ABLE Platform
Fast forwarding a few years and John and team are touring around the Tropos ABLE line of vehicles that John says, “fall between a golf cart and a small pickup truck.” Make no mistake about these vehicles, though — they are anything but glorified golf carts. The Tropos ABLE specs tell the tale with a payload capacity of 2,000 pounds (1 ton | 900 kilograms) and a towing capacity of 3,000 pounds (1.5 tons | 1,350 kilograms) that speak to its automotive-grade components.
Rolling pickup components and specs together with its diminutive footprint pay out in spades with functionality. These narrow vehicles are able to get into places full-size vehicles can only dream about. “Our 12.5′ turning radius allows us to get around tight corners without making multiple turns,” John shared. The compact form factor and electric powertrain allow them to drive between buildings on a large corporate campus or hospital and even right into buildings for quick point-of-need service.
The Tropos ABLE can climb over 30% grade in the heaviest vehicle package and can start and stop on the hill, not just climbing it with a running start, thanks to its “torquey” electric motor. Power comes from “maintenance-free, sealed, gel lead-acid batteries.” The 72 volt system and standard batteries result in a range of 40–50 miles per charge, with the base vehicle package having an optional longer range battery that allows for 50–60 miles per charge. That might not sound like a lot, but for a maintenance cart, campus fire service vehicle, emergency services vehicle, or Tropos’ new Sweeper package, they won’t be spending much time on city streets buzzing around town.
Scot Harden reinforced just how sturdy the ABLE line is, “We are using automotive-grade components whereas some players in this space are repurposing other components for their vehicles.”
John shared that while the lead-acid batteries currently being used work well for the current use cases, they are actively working towards a lithium alternative. “We do have lithium batteries that are in development that get us to 80 miles of range in the base package or 100 miles nominal with the larger battery.” In addition to the extra range, upgrading to a lithium-based battery chemistry also allows the vehicle to handle heavier loads.
A Flexible Platform
The value equation for Tropos’s vehicles hinges on the compact form factor, the electric powertrain, and their flexibility. To maximize the utility of the vehicles, Tropos developed several “upfit packages” that can be unbolted and within an hour, swapped for another modular package that allows a fire response kit to be swapped out for a utility truck or even a full street sweeper package.
For smaller campuses, this means facility managers and first responders can use a single base vehicle for a multitude of functions that previously didn’t make financial sense.
John put it very simply, stating that, “all these great ideas can be mounted onto the vehicle.” There are currently four primary upfit offerings for fire response, emergency services, utility trucks, and the street sweeper package — with more on the way in addition to less mission-critical niceties, like an air conditioner option.
To swap from one Easy Swap package to another, the operator just needs to loosen a few nuts and bolts and lift it off or snap on a set of camper jacks. The kit can then be jacked up off the chassis, allowing the now naked vehicle to pull out from under it, just like trucks do with campers. There are currently easy swap packages for a cargo box truck, flatbed, pickup bed with fold-down sides, and a street sweeper.
An Eye to the Future
The Tropos team is excited about the early interest with strong traction from the agricultural sector. Scot Harden jumped in to share that the team is seeing interest from market segments the team and Tropos hadn’t imagined, noting that, “It’s a very functional vehicle that fits into a very interesting niche.”
Tropos is also seeing demand from closed-campus private enterprise and municipalities looking to add functionality and flexibility to their fire response teams. With over 32,000 fire districts in the US, the market for fire response vehicles has the potential to be anything but niche.
In addition, many facilities in the US are required by OSHA to have firefighting capability on-site, where the Tropos ABLE Fire Response Vehicle brings a surprising amount of functionality to the fight in a compact package.
As Tropos ramps up sales, it is also putting an equal amount of effort into establishing a robust dealership and service network. “We’re building out our dealer network and pursuing a lot of opportunities with the platform. … We are focused on customer service and customer support which we see as critical for our customers. We are not interested in just selling vehicles, we want our customers to use them and use them well.”
At present, Tropos Technologies has a handful of low-speed electric vehicles that can be purchased today to cut fleet emissions, including vehicles that add firefighting and emergency services capabilities to campuses and indoor areas. Does your city have a Tropos vehicle yet?