Ian Wright is one of the co-founders of Tesla who doesn’t often make headlines, especially since he left the electric car company in 2005 when it was still a startup. His latest venture, Wrightspeed, is doing something not entirely dissimilar to Tesla, and commercial trucks are his focus. Wrightspeed doesn’t make the whole truck, though, just a clean, electric powertrain specially designed to meet the needs of industrial trucks, such as garbage trucks and large delivery vehicles.
While Tesla is known far and wide for its innovations in electric cars, you don’t hear much about commercial trucks going electric. And why not? Commercial trucks, like those used for delivery or for garbage pickup, are noisy, smelly, and guilty of a lot of carbon emissions. Wright hopes the prospect of converting fleet vehicles to electric powertrains will be attractive to business owners, because it can represent a significant cost savings in the long term. There’s a pretty hefty up-front investment, though, as an electric powertrain costs between $150,000 and $200,000 to install, while a brand-new garbage truck, for example, costs $500,000. Convincing fleet owners to shell out that much cash will be a challenge, especially if they feel their current trucks are doing just fine.
Wrightspeed’s first clients are 25 FedEx trucks and 17 garbage trucks for the Ratto Group, a Santa Rosa-based waste management company. The electric powertrains being installed in these trucks feature a lot of familiar traits, like an electric engine, battery system, and an on-board power generator that can run on diesel or natural gas to recharge the battery when it runs low on juice. It may not seem like big business, starting with just 52 vehicles, but Wrightspeed has plans to grow. The company is moving into a new headquarters in Alameda, and plans to expand their headcount from roughly 25 to 250 employees over the next few years.