Fleets looking for an all-electric vehicle solution have been left with just a few choices to date. But several recent developments may be changing that, including one from San Francisco-based Motiv Power Systems. Motiv has recently inked a five-year contract with the city of Chicago potentially worth up to $13.4 million for its ePCS electric powertrain system.

“Everybody else’s approach [has] been to design one monolithic battery pack system,” says Motiv CEO Jim Castelaz. “As these battery systems get bigger, it actually costs more to build.”

Motiv’s system is different in that it does not require a single battery pack, instead using a series of controllers that tie together different components and batteries into a single electric powertrain. The beauty of the system, Castelaz says, is that it is scalable to meet the power needs of any size vehicle and can use components from different suppliers.

Under terms of the recently signed contract, the Chicago fleet could purchase up to 20 Class 8 refuse vehicles from Motiv over the next five years.

“We set high bars for the vehicle’s configuration, capabilities, performance and reliability, and Motiv hit those marks at the most favorable pricing schedule,” says Matt Stewart, senior automotive equipment analyst in Chicago’s Dept. of Fleet and Facility Management. “Since the bid evaluation, we have had a chance to ride in one of Motiv’s earlier vehicles, and the system works. We are anxious to see it scaled to this more demanding application and to put it to work in Chicago’s alleys.”

The Motiv ePCS electric powertrain system is a flexible system that fits most leading battery packs on the market, Motiv says. The system’s “plug and play” configuration allows it to use “off-the-shelf” batteries that can be mixed and matched to suit the vehicle’s needs.

As vehicles require more power, additional batteries can be added to the system, requiring only a reconfiguration of the software.

“Someone has to be the first mover, and this is an area in which Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel is leading the way with the city of Chicago fleet, in addition to programs to deploy EV sedans and medium- duty delivery trucks,” Stewart says. “We are uniquely positioned to undertake this EV refuse-truck project because, while a partially electrified hybrid truck may work in other areas, we have routes most suitable for full-electric trucks.

“The contract is also structured to purchase ‘up to’ 20 refuse trucks,” he continues. “Our first order, funded in part by a federal grant to develop innovative transportation solutions, is for a single truck. We will thoroughly test that first truck and work with Motiv to refine it as necessary before ordering more.”

The ePCS system actively manages the electric chassis, regardless of battery placement, allowing body builders to place the batteries in the ideal positions on the chassis for weight distribution.

The system monitors the battery packs and manages them accordingly through the Motiv cloud. An Android-based telemetry system logs data from the vehicle in real time and monitors for maintenance problems using commercially available software systems. It also provides data for driver and safety performance.

Motiv says that total cost of ownership of a vehicle utilizing its system is 50% less than a similarly equipped diesel model over an eight-year lifespan. Another advantage, the company points out, is that as prices drop and new technology becomes available, a fleet can upgrade its vehicles by swapping out older or damaged batteries for newer ones.

The company is working with Detroit Chassis on the first vehicle, which will include a Loadmaster body. The 52,000-lb. refuse vehicle will utilize 10 battery packs. There will also be an electric motor that will power the hydraulics. The vehicle will have total energy storage of 200 kWh and a range of 60 mi.