Street Smarts: EV Refuse Truck’s Mobile Trial

By Jack Roberts26 August 2022

Mack LR Electric The trial of the Mack LR Electric will enable the city of Mobile to explore what it will eventually do in terms of powering its entire fleet of garbage trucks. (Photo: Mack Trucks)

My home state of Alabama is hardly noted as a bastion of tree-hugging, “green” sustainability. The pickup truck still reigns supreme here. And yet…

About a year ago, I noticed with a jolt that I was seeing electric cars on the roads in Tuscaloosa. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but every day now I see Teslas, or electric BMWs, Nissans, Volkswagens, Kias or Hyundais tooling around. I’ve even spotted them in small little towns way out in the country where local license plates confirm that these aren’t big-city cars just passing through a small place like Gordo, Ala., population 1750.

These now-daily EV sightings tell me that something is changing out there. I never once spotted a Chevy Volt on an Alabama roadway and during the Volt’s brief run (2010 to 2019), I figured that would be the car that might entice Alabama drivers to give EVs a chance. It never happened. But now I see true BEVs daily.

And now the EV stakes in ‘Bama have been raised a wee bit higher. In mid-July, the port city of Mobile took delivery of the first electric refuse truck in the entire state. Mobile Mayor Sandy Simpson took delivery of a new Mack LR Electric refuse truck, which will begin evaluation trials in the city. Mobile, population 187000, currently operates a fleet of 26 diesel-powered refuse trucks and is keenly interested in determining if electric trucks are a good fit for its garbage collection services.

“We are very excited about taking ownership of this vehicle,” Simpson said. “This is more than just a first-generation electric truck for us. This vehicle gives us flexibility and allows us to start to explore what we will eventually do in terms of powering our entire fleet of garbage trucks in the city of Mobile.”

Grant money

Simpson explained the economics of the purchase, noting that the Mack LR Electric cost the city approximately $600000. “When you do all the arithmetic based on what a diesel-powered vehicle like it would be, that cost would be around $300000,” Simpson said. “But in this case, that cost difference was paid for by a grant from the Alabama Dept. of Economic and Commercial Affairs (ADECA). And we were fortunate in that we were one of few cities able to obtain a ADECA grant of this magnitude.”

ADECA was awarded money as part of the 2014 Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal settlement, in which the German automaker contributed more than $14.7 billion to be used by state and local governments to help offset the development costs of electric vehicles and expedite their evaluations in real-world fleet operations.

The powertrain

Dana Counts, Northeastern and Southeastern regional sales manager for Mack, explained that the Mack LR is powered by four NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide) lithium-ion batteries, charged through a 150 kW, SAE J1772-compliant charging system. This system powers the truck as well as all onboard accessories through 12V, 24V and 600V circuits. Twin electric motors produce 448 hp and 4051 lb.-ft. of peak torque output from zero rpm. A two-stage regenerative braking system helps recapture energy from the hundreds of stops the vehicle makes each day with an increasing load.

For most fleets, electric trucks will likely be one part of a zero-emissions/green solution, Counts said. “For most fleets, electric trucks will not be a one-all fix for everything,” he said. “Compressed natural gas (CNG) and diesel will still have a place in their operations for a long time to come. But the bulk of many fleets in an urban setting have routes that are within a 50-mile radius. And the Mack LR Electric can easily meet those operating demands today.”

Jack Roberts is a Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based independent journalist and licensed commercial driver with more than 20 years’ experience covering the North American and global trucking industries.

Operating costs

Charles Sumrall, fleet manager for the city of Mobile, said he was primarily interested in overall operational cost savings with the new electric truck. “Mainly, I’m interested in how the maintenance aspect is going to work out,” he said. “There’s no engine. No transmission. Instead, we have gear motors, which are easy to maintain. We’ll have to drain fluids every six months to a year, do a brake job once a year and put tires on it about every two years. So, I’m interested to see how those costs eventually compare to a diesel truck.”

It will be interesting to see what Mobile decides about the future of its refuse fleet once the Mack LR Electric trials are done. In many ways, this could be a harbinger for the acceptance of electric refuse trucks nationwide.

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