10 Massive Trucks Powered by Electricity

Start-ups and established vehicle manufacturers are building ell-electric heavy-duty trucks as never before.
  • Tesla Inc.’s rollout of its all-electric Semi in mid-November 2017 was the easily the most celebrated electric truck unveiling ever, but it was hardly the first.

    Large-scale electric trucks, although unusual, have existed for many years. They’ve served as mail delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, and, more recently, over-the-road freight-haulers. In all cases, they’ve slashed carbon emissions to zero while eliminating the baritone rumblings of the conventional 18-wheeler.

    To be sure, many of the electric heavy-duty trucks on the market today haven’t advanced much beyond the prototype stage, but hopes are nevertheless high for them.

    Following are some of the most notable trucks to be powered by batteries. From the 3.5-HP electric delivery vehicles of the early 1900s to the 1,000-HP models of today, here’s a peek at some of the auto industry’s most impressive electric production trucks and prototypes.  

  • The concept of a battery-powered truck wasn’t new when Tesla unveiled it in November 2017, but the upstart automaker succeeded in drawing the world’s attention to it in a way that no one ever had previously.

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk piqued public interest by boasting that his company’s truck would not break down for a million miles, would roar from 0-60 mph in five seconds in an unloaded state, and would eliminate the dreaded jack-knifing phenomenon.

    “It will dynamically adjust the torque at each wheel, so that jack-knifing is impossible,” he declared, adding that the Semi would be “super easy to drive” because it requires no gear-shifting.

    Tesla has since announced that it will offer a 300-mile version with an expected base price of $150,000 and 500-mile version with a $180,000 price tag. Late in the year, customers began jumping on board Tesla’s newest idea: DHL pre-ordered ten Tesla Semis and Anheuser-Bush pre-ordered 40.

    (Image source: Tesla Inc.) 

  • In December, the automotive media anointed Thor Trucks as the chief competitor to Tesla, after Thor unveiled a futuristic-looking Class 8 prototype powered by 21700-type lithium-ion cells.

    In its intro, Thor went head-to-head with Tesla in the category of amazing claims, saying its truck would haul 80,000 lbs and offer 30% more power than diesel. Thor also predicted that its truck could accomplish that for a 30% reduction in ownership costs and a 60% reduction in maintenance costs.

    The first Thor trucks, expected to reach the market in 2019, will feature ranges of 100-300 miles at a starting price of $150,000.

    (Image source: Thor Trucks)

  • Nissan arrived early to the electric truck party, rolling out its e-NT400 Atlas battery-powered concept truck at the Tokyo Truck Show in 2011.

    The automaker revealed little about the truck’s powertrain, however, saying only that it “uses a similar powertrain to the Leaf and can run up to 100 km carrying a 600 kg load.”

    The e-NT400 never saw production but it did motivate the transportation industry to begin thinking about the possibilities for battery-powered trucks.

    (Image source: Nissan Motors)

  • Daimler describes its FUSO eCanter as the “world’s first series-produced all-electric light-duty truck,” and plans to deliver 500 units of it to customers in the next two years.

    To achieve a range of 100 km (62 miles) and a load capacity of up to 4.5 tons, the eCanter uses six lithium-ion battery packs of 13.8 kWh each, for a total of 82.8 kWh. For power, it employs a 129-kW permanent magnet motor and a single-gear transmission. Customers, including Deutsche Post DHL, among others, have already begun ordering trucks for inner-city delivery routes.

    Daimler has said it will launch larger-scale production of the eCanter in 2019.

    (Image source: Daimler Trucks)

  • In August, 2017, engine-manufacturer Cummins Inc. introduced the AEOS Urban Hauler, a Class 7 truck-tractor capable of pulling 44,000 lbs. Cummins engineered the vehicle’s electric power unit using a 140-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, while its partner, Roush Industries, designed the AEOS cab.

    Together, the two say they’ve created a manufacturable big-rig truck capable of an all-electric range of 100 miles. Recharge time is one hour, but Cummins engineers say they hope to reduce that to 20 minutes by 2020.

    Production of the AEOS powertrain is expected to launch in 2019.

    (Image source: Cummins Inc.)

  • In 2014, the city of Chicago became home to North America’s first all-electric garbage truck. Designed by Motiv Power Systems, the truck was created by combining a “plug-and-play” electric powertrain control system from Motiv with a vehicle from one of the city’s vendors.

    It employs 10 battery packs totaling 200 kWh of energy, enabling a 60-mile range, a nine-ton payload capacity, and 1,000 lbs per cubic yard of compaction power. Recharge time is eight hours.

    The city claimed that the truck offset 55 barrels of petroleum and 23 tons of carbon dioxide in every year of its operation.

    (Image source: PR Newswrire/Motiv Power Systems)

  • Smith Electric Vehicles was ahead of its time when it rolled out the Newton battery-electric truck in 2006.

    The Newton was powered by iron-phosphate lithium-ion battery packs from A123 Systems, available in either 80-kWh or 120-kWh configurations, along with a 120-kW permanent magnet motor.

    It ultimately reached production and served a long list of customers in the US and UK, including Frito-Lay (which had 176 Newtons in operation), Coca-Cola, AT&T, Staples, Pacific Gas & Electric, TNT Express and the US Marine Corps.

    (Image source: Honza Chodec/Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons)

  • If it ever reaches fruition, the Nikola One will be the most incredible of all electric trucks.

    Early specs for it are as follows: 1,000 HP; 2,000 lb-ft of torque; a range of 800-1,200 miles; top speed of 65 mph up a 6% grade; and a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 30 seconds. Electric charge for its 320-kWh battery pack, however, does not come from a cord, but rather from a hydrogen fuel cell that cranks 300 kW of energy into it. On its website, the company promises one million miles worth of free hydrogen fuel to all customers.

    The Nikola One is expected to be available in 2019.

    (Image source: Nikola Motor Co.)

  • Toyota has announced no plans to put the Project Portal Class 8 truck concept into production, but the automotive giant is clearly giving thought to the idea of electrifying the world of heavy-duty transportation.

    Unveiled in 2017, the proof-of-concept Project Portal generates 670 HP and 1,325 lb-ft of torque through two Mirai fuel cell stacks and a 12-kWh battery. Estimated driving range is about 200 miles.

    Toyota engineers say they’ve completed roughly 4,000 successful development miles, emitting nothing but water vapor.

    (Image source: Toyota Motor Corp.)

  • Walker Electric Trucks of the early 1900s were a far cry from today’s giant models, but some lived long, productive lives.

    Walker used a 3.5-HP electric motor to power its trucks up to top speeds of 12 mph, which was fine with its customers, who in most cases used them as a replacement for a horse and wagon.

    The majority of the trucks were employed by dairies, bakeries, department stores, and US Mail services. Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago had a fleet of 276 Walker trucks in 1925, and Dwinnell-Wright Coffee Co. in Boston used one Walker truck to move freight from 1914 to 1960 before finally retiring the vehicle, says Wikipedia.

    (Image source: Wikipedia)    


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Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.



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