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Clean Transport

Proterra Partners With Lighting eMotors for Commercial Electric Van

Lightning eMotors recently announced that Proterra, an established builder of electric transit vehicles (like city buses), will be providing the company with battery packs for its electric vans. The Lightning Electric Transit is a purpose-built commercial vehicle that can serve as a delivery van, ambulance, school bus, RVs, and more.

“Proterra’s batteries are premium technology for premium vehicles,” said Tim Reeser, CEO of Lightning eMotors. “We are very pleased to be able offer their batteries on our industry-leading Lightning Electric vehicles. We’ve delivered more zero-emission medium-duty commercial EVs than any other manufacturer in North America, and Proterra’s batteries will allow us to give our customers even more range, power, and features on our purpose-built vehicles at the price they need to scale up their electric fleets.”

According to Lightning eMotors, the Lightning Electric Transit is the only class 3 electric van available in the U.S. that can accommodate wheelchair lifts, custom floor rails, and custom bus doors. They also offer electrical hookups to run things like refrigeration systems, food-truck equipment, medical equipment, RV gear, and other upfitter add-ons directly from the main battery pack. This, of course, would cost range, but allow the van’s end users to do things that current vans struggle to do or require a beefed up alternator and lead-acid battery system to accomplish.

The van will be built at Lightning eMotors’ 231,000-square-foot facility in Loveland, Colorado. The company plans to build up to 100 vehicles in 2021, and up to 3000 vehicles by 2023. The first Lightning vehicles with Proterra packs are supposed to be delivered later this year.

“Proterra is excited to work with a market leader like Lightning eMotors to help power even more commercial electric vehicles,” said Gareth Joyce, President of Proterra Powered & Energy. “Together, we’re showcasing how American electric vehicle manufacturers are accelerating the shift to a clean transportation future. We look forward to building our relationship together as we support Lightning eMotors in the development of electric delivery vans, school buses, ambulances, and other vehicles.”

One of the reasons Lightning chose Proterra for this vehicle was their industry-leading energy densities for large vehicles. The company makes packs in a variety of shapes and sizes that can be customized to fit in a variety of vehicles, so it wasn’t hard to get Proterra batteries in the vans. Their experience (over 17 million service-miles) powering a variety of commercial vehicles and equipment was also a factor.

Lightning eMotors has been building a variety of electric fleet vehicles since 2010, with electric vehicles available since 2017. They’ve done cargo vans, passenger shuttle, work trucks, city buses, and even Class A coaches.

More About The Vehicle

The company’s page has more information about the Lightning Electric Transit van.

They offer battery-electric (BEV) vans in 140 and 170-mile ranges, and a hydrogen fuel cell version with a rated for 250 miles. Level 2 and Level 3 charging are both available, so the vans can run on routes longer than the rated range if this is in an area with charging infrastructure.

The vehicle starts at $46,000 in California, after incentives, but the company doesn’t give pricing for other areas. It’s certified by Ford under the eQVM program, and can be serviced at Ford dealers or other QVM partners.

The van can also be offered as a “repower.” If you have a Ford Transit van, you can take it to Lightning to have an aging ICE powertrain replaced with electric drive. The company doesn’t just slam electric drive components in and hope you’ll be happy. On their Repower page, they describe the details and promise to make everything work like it did before the conversion. Brakes, power steering, A/C, and heat all work in a completed vehicle just like their new ones.

Why This Matters

As I’ve pointed out in another recent article, larger vehicles are a compelling market for going electric. If you’re using the vehicle for work, nobody cares much about what power the vehicle as long as it’s reliable, has a competitive operating cost, and helps you compete in your market. The average driver may feel discomfort over switching from gasoline to electric and stubbornly persist not changing what they use for commuting or fun for decades, but there are no excuses for operating inferior equipment when you’re on the clock. If you can’t provide your service at a competitive price because you’re stubbornly clinging to old technology, your business fails. Period.

I found it interesting that Lightning mentioned RVs in the press release, but that’s a whole other challenge. When people don’t have to be competitive, and they’re often operating outside of areas with decent rapid charging infrastructure, it’s a much harder sell. There are advantages to electric RVing, but the average prospective RV customer probably doesn’t see it at this point. Hopefully that will change in the near future, but it’s going to require that we all push for it and support it the way we supported EVs 10-15 years ago.

Even then, it’s going to be a slog for a new company to drag the RV market along the way Tesla drug automakers along.

RVs aside, the other commercial uses are a big deal. There are tons of inefficient diesel and gas work vans, ambulances, shuttles, and other similar vehicles everywhere today. Some of them are particularly bad because they operate at low speeds and idle a lot (ex. airport shuttles). The more of these vehicles can be replaced by EVs, the better.

Big companies selling commercial vans, like Ford, Dodge, or Mercedes, have mostly announced their own future vans for electric options, but Lightning offers an electric van today. That’s definitely a big deal, and will give them a first-mover advantage over the bigger companies limping into the electric market in the next couple years.

On top of that, the big players want to sell you a new van, so they’re not going to offer to repower your high mile ICE vehicle the way Lightning does. In many ways, that’s a more environmentally friendly option when it works for a company with an existing fleet. Instead of building a whole new vehicle and scrapping the old one, you lower the impact a lot by keeping the existing van on the road.

Featured image provided by Lightning eMotors.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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