In a move that has proved to be quite rewarding, one former West Coast company is now fully-plugged into the market for all-electric commercial trucks in the Lehigh Valley.
According to Rich Serio, CEO of Zero Truck Corp., it was no small coincidence that Zero Truck relocated to Allentown from California in 2011.
“We had conversations with California and New York, but Allentown seemed to be the best area to establish an assembly plant, since Allentown had Mack Trucks and the skilled workers needed for this kind of truck manufacturing,” Serio said. “There is a great truck story in the Lehigh Valley for a variety of reasons.”
After receiving a $250,000 grant from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2011, Zero Truck established itself at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in Allentown, which happens to be the site of a former Mack Trucks plant, acknowledged Serio.
The early-stage company selects the chassis and footprint of an Isuzu Motors truck to create an all-electric medium-duty truck. The company uses its proprietary design to assemble the Zero Truck, removing the internal combustion engine that is part of the Isuzu platform, recycle it and convert the truck to an all-electric propulsion system, Serio said.
The Zero Truck has an advanced technology drive-train and a lithium polymer battery pack that offers zero emissions and an array of body styles. These trucks are designed to reduce fuel and maintenance costs for companies with commercial fleets such as delivery companies, government-based operations and municipalities.
“What we have done is converted an Isuzu chassis and created an all-electric vehicle … We do not have an exclusive relationship with Isuzu to make Zero Trucks, but I would call it a positive and productive one,” Serio said. “No carbon is emitted in the air, so it is known as a green vehicle.”
The CEO cited a large pipeline of orders for Zero Trucks, and he reported that there is only one of these vehicles already on the road today. It was delivered to Santa Monica, Calif., where it is being used by an air quality management district.
Zero Truck Corp. was founded in 2008 by Ralph Bernard of New York and Tedd Abramson, the company’s chief marketing officer, who lives in California.
A few years after it became incorporated, the company began to search for a location where it could assemble its trucks. The partners found good resources with organizations such as the Allentown Economic Development Corp., which helped Zero Truck acquire the Bridgeworks facility on Harrison Street in Allentown.
In 2011, the company signed a three-year lease at Bridgeworks and began developing a prototype for a new, more energy-efficient transmission. Zero Truck has about eight employees.
“As we grow, we will be able to continue to assemble the trucks at the Bridgeworks facility,” Serio said. “We are absolutely getting ready to hire up to 20 people for assembly, engineers and management positions. The plan is for this to happen very shortly.”
Serio noted that an all-electric Zero Truck costs about $150,000, while in comparison, the gas/diesel of this medium-duty truck costs $55,000.
“The cost for electricity to charge the battery in the truck is far less than the cost of diesel or gas, and over time there is a cost savings and return on investment customers find appealing,” Serio said, adding that Zero Truck’s potential customer base was requesting both single orders and a fleet of trucks in some cases.
Serio estimated that the expense to charge the lithium polymer battery on the Zero Trucks will cost a customer about $8 a day to charge versus filling a fuel tank in a gas/diesel truck, which going by current fuel prices will cost the trucking company about $50 a day.
The future is looking bright for zero-emission plug-in electric vehicles as fuel prices are steadily escalating, new government laws and environmental protection policies are taking effect and the need for environmentally friendly transportation are giving a boost to the electric vehicle market.
The company’s website, www.zerotrucks.com, cited another grant that the California Energy Commission awarded to Zero Truck in 2011, which will allow Zero Truck and Electricore Inc., the nonprofit organization that administrates the grant for Zero Truck, to deploy up to 18 electric trucks to California fleets.
In a press release regarding the grant, Serio reported that electric vehicles are one of the most realistic solutions for fleets that want to reduce their carbon footprint, cutting air pollution and petroleum use.
The website also reported that the batteries found in Zero Trucks will last as long as 10 years, assuming one charge or discharge a day (they need to be recharged after about every 75 to 100 miles traveled). The numbers all depend on the battery pack in the vehicle and style chassis. The trucks can haul 4,000 to 6,000 pounds.
“The type of buyers we are looking for are large commercial fleet companies and municipal entities,” Serio said. “ … We are anticipating and hopeful to make $5 million on sales in 2013.”