Electric bus maker GreenPower Motor Co. wants to make it easy for fleet operators to transition from fossil fuel-powered vehicles to plug-ins.
The company’s new EV Star multi-use vehicle, or MUV, looks like an oversized airport shuttle that runs on gas or diesel fuel. But it’s a zero-emission vehicle powered by electricity.
Operating the EV Star is not unlike the familiar experience behind the wheel of a modern-day passenger vehicle. That’s what Trucks.com discovered during a test drive around GreenPower’s Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., offices.
The dashboard and instrument cluster look exactly like those found on internal-combustion vehicles, with a pair of circular, analog gauges — one to track speed and another to monitor the fuel. But in this case the fuel is the amount of battery charge.
Between the speedometer and power monitor was the EV Star’s sole digital gauge, displaying a critical piece of information for drivers: the range. The electric van can travel up to 200 miles per charge but is most comfortable traveling within 150 miles, according to company reps.
It takes eight hours to fully recharge with a J1172 Level 2 charger that plugs into a port just outside the driver’s-side door, or 90 minutes with a DC fast charger.
The shifter gives the usual options of reverse, neutral and drive. Being electric, there are no gears. It’s a single-speed direct-drive system. Shift into drive and press the accelerator to go, though takeoff is not especially quick.
By design, acceleration is more gradual compared with many fully electric passenger vehicles. It takes the length of an intersection to reach cruising speed from a dead stop. As a people hauler, the throttle response was on par with more conventionally powered vehicles, as was its stopping power.
The brakes are standard, off-the-shelf components from Bendix. Regenerative braking that captures the van’s deceleration to recharge the battery is built into the system. However, the level of regeneration on the first production version was set extremely low to keep the drive experience close to a traditionally fueled vehicle.
Buyers can have regeneration set at the level they prefer, however it’s something that’s done with software at the factory. Once the van is delivered, the setting is not accessible by the driver as with many passenger vehicles.
The EV Star can be configured in multiple ways. The van tested had seating for 17 in five rows with an aisle running slightly off center. The University of California at San Francisco has purchased two set up this way.
It also can have fewer, more luxurious seats, like the one that will be used as a VIP shuttle at the Port of Oakland, Calif. Or it can be built with a wider body to accommodate wheelchairs and paratransit operations — or stripped down and used as a cargo van.
To be configured for a variety of uses, the EV Star is 25 feet long, about double the length of a typical family car. It stretches about 9 feet from asphalt to rooftop. Entering requires a three-step climb into the cabin.
Its tall perch gives the EV Star a high profile with great visibility, whether it’s from the driver’s seat or the passengers’ who get three large windows to stare out of on either side, as well as a skylight. Its height means that people as tall as 6 foot 2 can stand in the cabin comfortably.
The van’s 100-kilowatt-hour battery pack is spread like a pancake under the vehicle floor, which keeps it more planted than its profile would suggest. Even making a tight right turn or yanking the steering wheel from side to side when driving in a straight line doesn’t throw the EV Star off balance.
Long, green, handsome and strong, with a gross vehicle weight of 14,500 pounds, the EV Star is different from other all-electric, heavy-duty vans because it’s purpose-built from the ground up. It is not an EV retrofit of a vehicle from a manufacturer like Ford or Chevrolet. It’s a unibody construction designed for a 10-year lifecycle and at least 250,000 miles. Pricing ranges from about $190,000 to $240,000, before incentives.
The EV Star’s styling suggests nothing unusual to onlookers about its powertrain but for the words “Zero Emission Vehicle” emblazoned in green lettering on its flank.
GreenPower has received more than 100 orders for the EV Star so far and plans to have them built and delivered within 18 months, according to Brendan Riley, the company’s president.
And it’s likely there will be even more orders.
Gustavo Occhiuzzo, chief executive of L.A.-based vanpool service Green Commuter, arrived at GreenPower’s headquarters for a drive shortly after the Trucks.com test concluded. He’s in the market for at least three EV Star vans for his service, which provides vanpools to commuters by day and car-share rentals on nights and weekends, Occhiuzzo said.
After putting the electric van through its paces, it is “very likely we will place an order,” he said.
Micro transit buses “are an interesting niche application for a company that wants to be part of the electrification of the commercial vehicle market,” said Antti Lindstrom, an analyst with IHS Markit.
For fleet operation like car-rental transports at airports, hotels and resorts, Lindstrom said, “micro buses are a very natural application for battery electrics.”
Editor’s note: photos courtesy of GreenPower.