Electric Truckin’ War Heats Up
Thor is the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder and lightning as well as a fictional superhero appearing in Marvel comic books and movies. Now, Thor has become the name of a Los Angeles-based startup that plans to bring its heavy-duty Class 8 electric truck to market before the battery-powered Tesla Semi hits the streets in late 2019.
Thor Trucks came out of stealth mode last Friday and introduced its prototype called the ET-One. The prototype also has aerodynamic fenders and a one-piece wraparound windshield.
The young company used established trucking components in order to get the demonstrator vehicle on the road quickly. The chassis comes from a Navistar commercial truck. It uses heavy-duty Dana axles and an off-the-shelf motor from supplier TM4—a motor used in a variety of heavy-duty applications, including buses, that puts out an estimated 4,700 pounds-feet of torque. A one-speed transmission simplifies the driving process.
Thor is building its own battery modules from cells and packs purchased from LG Chem for the 800 kWh battery pack, and mounts them to both sides of the chassis under side skirts. The company says its battery design “is different in its layout and cooling process to most electric batteries,” and is more energy-dense than any other on the market.
The ET-One will go for $150,000 for a 100-mile range version and $250,000 for the 300-mile version. Both have a top speed of 70 mph. The electric big rig recently demonstrated its towing capacity in a short drive around Los Angeles, pulling around 60,000 pounds of cargo. The plan is to test the Class 8 load limit of 80,000 pounds soon.
A Very Small Start Up
A pair of 25-year olds, Dakota Semler and Gio Sordoni, co-founded Thor Trucks in 2016. Its development has been funded entirely by the profits from some of Semler’s other commercial ventures.
At the moment, Thor has a team of just 18 employees, but what the small truck company lacks in manpower it makes up for with experience. Sordoni says Thor has brought onboard the engineering talent to develop a chassis of its own and will be building trucks from the ground up beyond the prototype. Among the company’s 18 employees is John Henry Harris, who had stints at electric car company Faraday Future and Boeing. He now serves as Thor’s senior mechanical engineer. Priyankar Balekai, who joined Thor from BYD Motors, and also spent several years at Navistar, is the company’s chief product officer. Thor recently hired Jarod Doran away from green vehicle developer US Hybrid as lead electromechanical engineer.
While that sounds like a nice starting lineup. Thor needs some additional heavy weights.
Facing Off Against the Big Boys
Thor is tiny compared to its well-capitalized giant competition. In August, diesel engine maker Cummins revealed the AEOS, its first electric semi-truck. Cummins says the AEOS will offer a 100-mile range that can be optioned up to 300 miles with additional battery packs. Nothing has been said about price, but it’s known that the maximum payload will be about 44,000 pounds.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Daimler says the E-Fuso Vision One will have slightly more than a 200-mile range and will be able to haul up to 22,000 pounds. Its Freightliner division has showcased autonomous and electrified class 8 trucks.
Then there’s the elephant in the room—or in Palo Alto, CA—Tesla Motors. Tesla says its battery-electric Semi will have up to a 500-mile range and will haul up to 80,000 pounds. Pricing is expected to be between $150,000 and $180,000 (depending on battery pack/range) and the Silicon Valley company has already snagged more the 300 pre-orders for the truck, which it has said will launch in 2019.
Beyond the above, there are hydrogen-powered electric Class 8 rigs planned from Toyota and Nikola Motor Co.
Thor says it will build a scaled-down, medium-duty truck, too. Its target market will be short hauls between a port and an urban center.
“A lot of players are coming in the commercial EV industry, because it’s a good time to get into it,” Sordoni said. “In comparison to other folks, I think what we’re talking about is all super reasonable. We’re not promising thousands of charging stations and millions of trucks. What we’re offering is scaled down and realistic.”
While that sounds like a good business plan, Thor, like many startups stubbed its toe by introducing its electric truck before rounding up funding. That’s a misstep that could lead to an early down fall.
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