The future isn't as far off as it used to be. That was crystal-clear by just one spin I took in the new-from-the-ground-up Modec — a startlingly fresh interpretation of the midrange truck that was the star of the recent National Truck Equipment Assn. Work Truck Show in Atlanta.
For starters, it's an electric truck. No hybrid, this baby is all electric. Its Modec 102-hp. Zytec electric motor is powered currently by a set of twin 288-volt sodium-nickel-chloride batteries (more advanced lithium-ion batteries are due soon) that are partially replenished by the truck's regenerative braking system.
That it is a zero-emissions truck is just the first headline. It was, in the company's words, “purpose built” to be “a sound commercial decision and a viable alternative to conventional delivery vehicles.”
First, its green credentials. Because it's not a hybrid, it produces no emissions and can be recharged from a renewable source. Its electric drive means the Modec runs silently, boosting its appeal as an urban delivery vehicle as does its tight turning radius of just 10.8 meters — roughly 36 ft. The braking system is regenerative, extending the vehicle's range, and also boasts not only ABS but also “Electronic Braking Distribution,” which Modec states will “keep the driver in control, even on poor roads or during adverse weather conditions.”
But the real kicker is the cab. Look Ma, no doors! At least not where you'd expect them to be. Whether ordered as a delivery van, dropside (flatbed) or chassis cab, the way into or out of the cab is through a sliding rear door. Once the driver emerges he can exit to the right or left, whichever side is safest.
On the box van that was available for test drives, you accessed the cab by opening either of two side doors set into the van body and then stepping up into a sort of vestibule that walled off the cargo area. When it was time to exit you could do so very safely curbside, but if you chose roadside the outer door opened to allow a view of oncoming traffic before stepping out. Helping the truck keep its good looks even in the city are lower body panels that Modec says will “bounce back” if an object is bumped.
Stepping into the driver's seat is perhaps most akin to taking the wheel of a George Jetson RV. The cab is highly ergonomic and features seats customized to Modec's design. The seemingly acres of glass and high seating position make for incredible visibility. What the company calls the IButton entry/start system both opens the doors and prevents the truck from moving unless the driver is seated.
Green, quiet and head-turning as it may be, this midrange truck can haul a payload of 4,400 lbs. at a speed up to a software-governed 50 mph for over 100 miles on one charge-up. The electric motor is driven through a clutchless PRND transmission and can deliver maximum torque of 221 lb.-ft. A Modec can be recharged in eight hours or the battery can be swapped for a fully charged unit in just 20 minutes.
Modec has also taken an unconventional approach to battery ownership. While a buyer owns the truck, Modec leases them the batteries. Modec says this means it handles battery maintenance and disposal and also enables it to deliver the latest battery technology as soon as possible to existing trucks.
Now the bad news. You can't buy a Modec here, at least not yet. According to Jamie Lord Borwick, chairman of the Coventry, England-based manufacturer, Modec has since June '07 been “undertaking a thorough U.S. market research program” and is not only exploring its options for entry into the truck market here but has the longer-term intention of setting up a U.S. manufacturing operation.
The company — whose roots are in the manufacture of London's famous “black cabs” — began truck production last March in England and forecasts U.K. production volume of 750 vehicles this year from a plant that can build 5,000 per year. Borwick noted that Modecs are already in service in the U.K. by customers that include the giant retailer Tesco.