Shyft Group, formerly known as Spartan Motors, has nearly five decades of experience designing and building fleet vehicles of all shapes and sizes including half of all last mile delivery vehicles. These delivery vans are what you think of when you think about a standard FedEx or UPS delivery truck. In today’s dystopian pseudo post-COVID world we live in, these vehicles are increasingly tasked with more mundane deliveries a la new socks, paper clips, and dog food to us, increasingly representing a critical piece of the global supply chain.
They invited CleanTechnica out to Michigan to learn more about the company and to be some of the first people outside the company to get behind the wheel of its new electric delivery vehicles. Disclaimer: The Shyft Group paid for the author’s travel to attend this event.
The Blue Arc Electric Delivery Vehicle
Shyft Group President and CEO Daryl Adams saw the transition to fully electric vehicles coming years ago which is why he launched an initiative within the company to build a new next generation fully electric delivery vehicle a full six years ago. Fleet vehicles start and end with the chassis and when they couldn’t find anything that really delivered on the promise of their vision for fully electric vehicles, they decided to just build it themselves. Blue Arc was launched as a new brand in the Shyft Groups family as the team continued to build out its fully electric delivery van.
The chassis continued to evolve as Blue Arc selected Proterra Powered as the battery supplier, with twin packs boasting a capacity of 240kWh total that sit perfectly between the twin frame rails of the chassis. The liquid-cooled NMC packs support a range of up to 150 miles per charge which is more than sufficient for a typical day of package deliveries. They are rated to support 4,000 cycles which is the equivalent of nearly 11 years of daily use. The vehicles support level 2 AC charging and for fleets looking to squeeze more use out of the vehicles, they also support DC fast charging, enabling a fully charge in 2-6 hours, depending on the speed of the charger.
Blue Arc has an eye to the future when it comes to batteries, with an integrated battery upgrade and buyback program for the packs when the reach their end of life. If recycled, Blue Arc expects its battery recycling program to recover a full 92% of the materials in the packs, ensuring maximum reuse of their constituent materials. The packs themselves are covered under a 5 year, 100,000 mile warranty.
Established component builder Dana brought its expertise to bear, designing a new e-axle that streamlines the gearing for maximum efficiency. Leveraging decades of relationships with established suppliers and its knowledge of fleet vehicles, Shyft Group was well positioned to bring together a next generation vehicle melding ideal motor design, gearboxes, DC to DC converters, and all the goodies that keep a modern electric vehicle humming along day in and day out.
These new vehicles do away with steel frames and jagged diamond plating in favor of lightweight, aluminum and composite body parts streamlined and optimized for not just durability and cost but also for manufacturing. The internal combustion engines that powered them for so long have also been tossed out the window in favor of a modern electric powertrain powered by lithium ion batteries. The traditional stacked leaf spring suspension has been replaced with a new, simplified suspension spring in the back with variable resistance for more predictable performance, regardless of the load being carried.
These delivery vans form the foundation of last mile delivery fleets, but are also regularly put to use as work trucks, in mass transit as shuttles, as as recreational vehicles, so the bold push into this segment from Shyft Group promises to have a much larger impact than is initially obvious. According to CEO Daryl Adams, they are already working with players in the RV and shuttle upfitting space and, “will have something to announce shortly.” On top of the fleet ready chassis, Blue Arc mounted a lightweight aluminum and composite body with a lightweight honeycomb shelving structure. These are industry standard and serve to maximize the volume and weight of the cargo being carried.
Customers are lining up for the new vans, with Blue Arc announcing a massive preorder for 2,000 of the new class 3, 4, and 5 electric delivery vehicles from the Randy Marion Automotive Group. The initial order is confirmation that Shyft Group was ahead of the curve in pivoting into electric vehicles with Blue Arc and provides a nice solid order book for them to looks towards as they ramp up production of the new vehicles. Shyft Group CEO Daryl Adams confirmed that Blue Arc’s Electric Delivery vehicle is on track to be road ready in mid-2023.
Blue Arc also gave attendees the opportunity to be some of the first people outside the company to drive their new electric delivery vehicles and we were happy to oblige. Hopping behind the wheel of their pre-production electric delivery vehicles, it was immediately apparent just how capable they were. We were out on a closed test track at the M1 Concourse and the power pushed out by the 235kW Dana e-Axle was staggering. Granted, they’re still tuning the acceleration curves for the actual production build and I’m sure many fleet customers will want the acceleration curve to be flattened out to ensure maximum range, but wow. There’s no doubt that the single motor has more than enough power and torque to carry whatever load they need to haul.
The Blue Arc Power Cube
It may sound like one of Thanos’ weapons for taking over the hearts and minds of all living creatures in the universe, but the Blue Arc Power Cube is much more terrestrial. Having said that, it is still a powerful weapon with the potential to attack emissions and increase the resiliency of the grid. At its core, the Blue Arc Power Cube is a massive battery housed in a container with a variable storage capacity from 500kWh on up to a staggering 3MWh depending on the needs of the customer. These NMC batteries are the heart and soul of the Power Cube, with the primary function of the storage being to push out power to a bank of 19.2 kW AC and 25-150 kW DC electric vehicle chargers.
The solution can be rapidly deployed in and can be connected to the grid to keep the batteries charged up. By rapid deployment, I mean rapid. Blue Arc designed the Power Cubes to be portable and that’s not something you typically say about a massive battery-filled unit weighing tens of tons. The prototype we saw tipped the scales at 28,000 pounds but the actual size and weight will vary based on the amount of batteries and other options.
Blue Arc says they can get these units up and running in as little as 2 hours. They are designed to be delivered on the back of a semi truck with a lowboy trailer. Once at the location, the Power Cube lifts itself up onto a set of four heavy duty wheels and can literally be driven into place with a wireless controller. Check out the quick video below from the event. It moves shockingly fast for something that doesn’t look like it should move at all.
As it stands today, the Power Cube is very much just a proof of concept and Blue Arc’s team is clearly still exploring all the possible configurations and use cases. The prototype we saw featured a motorized solar array with automated panel deployment and retraction. They hope to be able to install between 5 and 10 kW of folding, tracking solar on the roof, depending on the needs of the customer. That’s a nice boost to the base storage capacity of the unit, but it’s probably not sufficient for keeping the unit fully charged up if it’s being used to charge a fleet of vehicles.
The Power Cube was designed to integrate with just about any power input to keep it topped up for maximum flexibility. It can use the rooftop 4-axis tracking solar system, a grid connection, a traditional generator or even a hydrogen fuel cell generator. The Power Cube ranges in length from 4 feet to 30 feet depending on the storage capacity and features requested by the customer.
After pitching the initial concept and showing off the prototype to customers, a range of potential new use cases including smart peak load management, disaster response, temporary power for a business, portable EV charging, off grid houses, and much, much more have popped up. Blue Arc plans to continue to refine the Power Cube, shaping it up to hit as many applications as possible while maintaining the base functionality. The base product is extremely capable and it’s not hard to imagine it being well received once pricing and a handful of standard configurations have been defined.
Check out the product page here or dive straight into the sales sheet for more info about Blue Arc’s Power Cube.
The Shyft Group is clearly making a huge push into electric vehicles. President and CEO Daryl Adams said, “we are the anti-startup,” meaning that while they are making a move into a new market, they are doing so with all of the manufacturing and supply chain expertise, established customer base, existing service network, partners across the industry, and the capital to fund it.
From the looks of their early progress, Blue Arc isn’t just a side project. It represents a full pivot of the company towards battery electric vehicles as a competitive, lucrative new segment for the company. “The future is EV fleet,” Adams said. We couldn’t agree more.
Featured image courtesy: Blue Arc
Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.