Lightning Systems Wins California ZEV Approval for Its Electric Vans

June 11, 2018 by John O'Dell

Electric van developer Lightning Systems has received California air regulators’ approval for its Ford Transit 350 HD conversion in both 50- and 100-mile range versions.

The Loveland, Colo., company also said it has qualified the vans for inclusion in California’s hybrid and electric vehicle incentive program — HVIP. The program provides grants of up to $65,000 toward purchase of Class 3 zero-emissions trucks and buses, such as Lightning’s Transit LE 50 and LE 100 models.

Orders for nearly a dozen vehicles have been finalized in the week since the HVIP eligibility was awarded, Tim Reeser, the company’s chief executive, told Trucks.com.

Several trends have created a growing market for zero-emission medium-duty delivery and shuttle vans. Consumers are looking for rapid delivery of orders. At the same time, air quality regulations aimed at reducing exposure to harmful diesel exhaust are pushing companies to provide vehicles that offer emissions-free operation.

It is a field that will be “taking off very soon and very fast,” said Antti Lindstrom, trucking industry analyst with IHS Markit.

Lightning was founded in 2008 to build hybrid powertrains and converted to all-electric systems a year ago to take advantage of the expanding market.

The California Air Resources Board approval is critical for an electric truck maker.  It makes vehicles eligible for incentives available to zero-emissions truck and bus buyers.

HVIP eligibility — which requires the CARB certification — is doubly valuable because it is used by New York, broadening a qualified manufacturer’s potential market. Chicago has a similar program but has exhausted available funding.

California’s state budget proposal for the 2018-19 fiscal year earmarks $68 million in funding for the program. The program has issued $228 million in vouchers for almost 3,500 hybrid and zero-emission truck and bus purchases.

“For a company like Lightning, this could potentially double or triple — or much more — their initial launch volumes,” said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of Calstart, a Pasadena, Calif.-based clean transportation technology booster. Calstart administers the HVIP program.

As part of its CARB approval, Lightning had to submit its chassis for dynamometer tests to verify claimed range — the first time that’s been required, Reeser said.

“In the past, they accepted what manufacturers told them, and then buyers would find out they weren’t getting the real-world range they thought they’d get,” he said.

Lightning’s LE 50 — the 50-mile model of the Ford Transit van — was certified at 54 miles on a full charge, while the LE 100 was certified at 109 miles, Reeser said.

The 50-mile battery-electric model has a 4,000-pound cargo capacity versus 4,500 pounds for the standard gasoline V6 version of the Transit HD350.

Larger batteries and the fuel cell system add weight and mass and decrease cargo capacity. Lightning has developed a 150-mile model that can haul up to 3,200 pounds of cargo despite its larger and heavier battery.

The electrified models cost more than three times the initial price of the base internal combustion Transit 350 HD, but the HVIP grants and predicted fuel savings over three years can make up the difference. That places the total ownership cost of the electric models at parity with gasoline models used in the same duty cycles, Reeser said.

Lightning’s electric Ford Transits are available through the automaker’s Qualified Vehicle Modifier program for electric vehicles — eQVM — with a factory warranty on the base vehicle. The Lightning drivetrains are installed by Ford QVM dealers and upfitters.

Lightning also has developed a fuel cell electric Transit 350 HD model that can deliver up to 250 miles on a tank of compressed hydrogen gas.

The company has just completed development of the fuel cell and 150-mile battery-electric models and has not yet submitted them for CARB certification.

Read Next: Daimler Unveils Electric Freightliner Cascadia

Research: 2018 Ford Transit 350HD

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