Startup Truck Maker Chanje Lifts Curtain on Class 5 Van

August 10, 2017 by John O'Dell

A brand-new player in the electric truck market, Chanje Energy Inc., has set its sights set on dominating the Class 5 last mile delivery segment with its extended-length medium-duty panel van, the Chanje V8070.

The company, headquartered in Los Angeles and backed by China’s FDG Electric Vehicles, made its public debut Wednesday, and plans to offer its purpose-built electric truck with three-ton cargo capacity, 100 miles of range and low operating costs for fleets, including a long-term leased battery.

The V8070, slated to launch in September, will also provide a “luxury” ride and comfort for drivers, said Chanje’s chief executive Bryan Hansel.

There are other electric and hybrid-electric delivery vans in the Class 5 and 6 categories, but none offer a vehicle designed to be an electric truck from the start, said Hansel.  “We avoid the inefficiencies and extra costs involved in converting [a gas or diesel truck] to electricity.”

Chanje’s battery-electric cargo van is longer than either a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Ford Transit. (Photo: Chanje)

The Chanje V8070, “is the best delivery truck ever designed, it just happens to be electric,” he said.

To that end, Hansel sees his chief competition as major commercial diesel and gasoline panel van makers – companies such as Ford, Freightliner and General Motors.

There are other all-electric and hybrid electric-internal combustion vans in the market, but none in the same weight-range as Chanje, said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CalStart, a Pasadena, Calif.-based clean transportation technologies think tank.

Most use electric drive systems retrofitted into vehicles originally designed for internal combustion motors, and most are either smaller Class 3 and 4 vans or larger Class 6 step vans from companies such as Zenith Motors,  Workhorse Group and Motiv Power Systems. Mitsubishi Fuso also will bring its medium-duty electric eCanter to the U.S. With 100 miles of range, it’s based off the Canter Eco Hybrid diesel-electric model that was introduced in 2006 and last updated in 2012.

“The medium- and heavy-duty commercial electric vehicle space is changing and growing rapidly” and Chanje’s launch “is another powerful sign of the growing maturity of the technology,” Van Amburg said.

CalStart – a consortium to which Chanje belongs – expects more electric medium-duty commercial truck launches over the next year.

This is a cue that truck makers have growing confidence in the technology and are laying groundwork “from which to grow heavier and longer-range applications in the next five to 10 years,” he said.

Chanje’s strategy will be to use the U.S. as a base to expand both its offerings – a shuttle bus is planned for 2018 and other variations could follow – and its reach into Europe and other markets outside of China, Hansel said.

“Most electric truck makers are chasing the big volume market, Class 8 trucks, and we thought that if we could bring a next-generation product to the medium-duty, last-mile segment we could really do well,” he said.

The Chanje V8070 has a 100-mile range and produces zero emissions. (Photo: Chanje)

Chanje’s underlying philosophy is that “if you want to be best internal combustion product you’re 120 years late, but you can still be the best EV because that’s a new arena,” Hansel said.

Change was pulled together by Hansel – who headed Smith Electric Vehicles until 2015, a Kansas City-based electric truck maker that recently ceased operations – and the management of FDG, which had previously partnered with Smith and provided the bulk of Chanje’s $22 million initial investment and is its manufacturing partner.

FDG already builds an electric shuttle-bus for the Chinese market utilizing the modular chassis designed at Chanje’s offices in Burlingame, Calif., where the company was started in 2015 and was headquartered until its recent relocation to Los Angeles.

Chinese production began more than a year ago and there are about 2,000 of the shuttles in service in China now, Hansel said.

The Chinese factory already is producing panel vans for Chanje’s early U.S. customers, but Hansel declined to identify the customers or disclose how many vehicles already have been ordered.

The Chinese company will continue to manufacture the vehicles Chanje will market in the U.S. and, eventually, Europe and other countries. Once local facilities are secured, the V8070 trucks won’t be shipped as completed vehicles but as components in kits that will be assembled locally.

Electric trucks typically have much higher initial pricing than their internal combustion counterparts – the business case is that they earn back the difference on maintenance and fuel savings. Hansel wouldn’t discuss pricing, but said Chanje intends to bring the truck in “at parity” by selling the vehicle but leasing the battery pack so that its cost can be accounted for as a monthly or annual operating expense rather than a capital expense.

Chanje is looking in the Southern California area as well as in several other western states for a U.S. assembly site, said James Chen, Chanje’s general counsel.

Tax breaks and other incentives that states and local jurisdictions are willing to provide will be a consideration for location choice, but won’t be the deciding factor, Chen said.

Because it houses the nation’s two busiest ports – Los Angeles and Long Beach – and has a massive population that creates huge demand for efficient delivery vehicles, an assembly plant in Southern California would be ideal, he said.

The Chanje V8070 delivery truck looks as though styling was borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit commercial vans, but with even more length. It measures 26.5-feet bumper-to-bumper, almost 3.5-feet longer than extended wheelbase Sprinter, and 4.5-feet longer than the extra-long Transit.

The Chanje V8070 has dual-hub rear motors. (Photo: Chanje)

It features dual-electric motors that are mounted in the rear-wheel hubs and powered by a 70-kiloWatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack installed between the frame rails and beneath the cargo floor.

The result is a flat floored, sprawling, high-ceiling van with 580 cubic feet of cargo room and a 6,000-pound load capacity. The motors deliver 189 horsepower and 563 pound-feet of torque. The truck can climb a 30 percent grade and rated top speed is 80 mpg, although Hansel said he’s gone faster.

Chanje expects the van to deliver the equivalent of 50 mpg or more, based on third-party testing.

The truck’s 7.2 kW on-board charger enables a fully depleted battery to be recharged overnight on a 240-volt system; DC fast-charge capability will be added in 2018, permitting quick battery top-ups for trucks employed on routes that are longer than the last-mile delivery industry average of 50 to 70 miles.

“This is not a converted panel van, it is a true medium-duty delivery truck,” said Joerg Sommer, Chanje’s chief operating office and a former Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz executive who worked on the companies’ electric vehicle programs.

In addition to its cargo-hauling capabilities, the truck – like all electric vehicles – provides quiet operation and low maintenance costs because there are few moving parts in an electric drivetrain. Since electricity is cheaper on a per-mile basis than either gasoline or diesel fuel, operation is inexpensive, and there are zero tailpipe emissions.

While the U.S. product launch is still two months away, Hansel said Chanje already has booked orders and that its first vehicles are in production in China and should be in use in the U.S. sometime in the fourth quarter.

“We will start by bringing them in as imports, then will switch to assembly in the U.S. in 2018,” Chen said, who also served as counsel at Tesla Motors and with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Chen’s Tesla experience will be especially valuable as he helped that company fight to establish the ability to sell direct to consumers in states that had long allowed only dealerships to sell new passenger vehicles.

Chanje’s plan calls for direct sales as well. “There are no dealerships in our future,” said Hansel.

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