There are a handful of all-electric cars on the road, from the Chevrolet Bolt to the Tesla Model S – the best-selling, all-electric model in the U.S. in 2017. The environmental benefits of plug-in electric vehicles are compelling to many consumers, but are they equally attractive to companies for commercial vehicles? One Ohio-based company, Workhouse Group Inc., is counting on it.
Workhorse, an OEM of electric commercial vehicles, has recently begun focusing on last-mile delivery. “Last-mile delivery of goods – usually by fairly good size vehicles – tends to cause quite a bit of pollution, so it’s low-hanging fruit,” said Workhorse CEO Steve Burns at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in 2016. “If we can lower the emissions and the cost of those vehicles, it floats a lot of boats.”
The company is making significant inroads, partnering with UPS to deploy 50 of its new N-Gen electric delivery trucks across the U.S. this year, adding to the 365 other electric vehicles the company has already provided UPS. In addition, Workhorse has submitted six prototype “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” (NGDV) for the United States Postal Service (USPS). On the latter, Workhorse is providing a chassis and powertrain to partner VT Hackney, which is building the body. The duo are among six supplier finalists vying to replace the Postal Service’s longstanding mail delivery trucks.
All of Workhorse’s delivery vehicles rely on a mix of composite materials to facilitate lightweighting. While the company doesn’t disclose details on the materials, it utilizes honeycomb core sandwich panels and CFRP. “When you have pickup and delivery trucks that are basically flat with a huge surface area being the wall of the truck, it lends itself to a rib cage with some honeycomb materials over top of it,” says Burns.
For all of its electric vehicles, Workhorse builds the drive train and chassis at its Indiana plant. Then, employees assemble the vehicle there using body components made by an outside firm.
Workhorse began work on the NGDV in 2015, when USPS opened a request for proposals (RFPs) from companies interested in developing the new vehicles. The winning prototype will land a lucrative contract to replace up to 180,000 mail trucks estimated at more than $6 billion in business.
At the time of the RFP, Workhorse was less than a decade old and understandably cautious about throwing its name in the hat. “We are a little company, and the post office bid is the largest automotive contract in history. Could we place such a big bet on this?” says Burns. “Early on, we realized we could probably leverage this into some commercial vehicles that would justify the developmental costs.”