ALTe, PG&E to Partner on Powertrain Development Project

8/11/11Follow @XconomyDET

ALTe, the Auburn Hills, MI-based developer of a extended-range electric powertrains used to power light commercial vehicles, last week announced it will collaborate with the San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), one of the largest utilities in the United States, on a powertrain project for the fleet industry.

ALTe will retrofit one of PG&E’s 2007 Ford F150 trucks with its plug-in series electric hybrid powertrain. PG&E will evaluate the performance of the initial ALTe-powered truck and provide real-time data and feedback.

“Pacific Gas & Electric has a fleet of over 12,000 utility trucks,” said ALTe’s CEO, John Thomas, “and the company is a leading-edge technology adopter—they’re always pursuing cleaner and greener technology. They offered one of their vehicles for retrofitting so we could evaluate our product’s true fuel economy in a mountainous setting like Northern California.”

The ALTe powertrain will include a 20kw lithium-ion battery pack, a four-cylinder engine, electric motors, and proprietary communication interface modules. The powertrain is projected to provide an initial 30 miles of driving in an all-electric mode powered directly from the lithium-ion battery pack. The vehicle can then drive an estimated additional 270 miles using a combination of battery and fuel power before the vehicle would need to be either refueled or plugged in. ALTe projects a 200 percent increase in fuel economy with increased torque, no loss in cargo capacity, and similar horsepower and towing capability as the original V8 engine.

The partnership is designed to allow PG&E to see the potential reliability and cost-saving benefits of the vehicle’s performance as it seeks to electrify its fleet while ALTe gains more exposure and gets valuable feedback on any potential ways to improve its product. Thomas says that although ALTe is working with several other large utility companies, he considers the partnership with PG&E to be an important milestone.

“PG&E is very selective in who they work with, so for them to take a risk on a small company like ours is significant,” Thomas said.

Thomas explained that retrofitting a PG&E vehicle and then handing the keys over to the company for what is essentially an extended test drive is a vital first step in fleet-industry sales. With each retrofit costing thousands of dollars per vehicle, there isn’t a lot of room for inefficiency or poor quality.

PG&E isn’t the only one paying attention to ALTe’s increasing prominence in the electric vehicle sector. Thomas was recently named one of the Automotive News’ Electrifying 100, a first-time list of the most influential people leading the automotive industry toward an electric-powered future.

“It was really humbling to be part of a group of some of the biggest leaders in the EV world, especially since we’re a pre-revenue startup,” Thomas said.

Pre-revenue startup or not, Thomas says the electric-fleet industry in general—and ALTe in particular—are thriving.

While electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf have been somewhat slow to catch on with consumers, Thomas noted that fleet companies like ALTe are held up to a different set of metrics for success. Passenger-vehicle purchasing, he explained, is often compared to fashion. People see their cars as an extension of themselves—the classic “you are what you drive” ethos.

“In the fleet industry, it’s purely about dollars and cents,” he said. “With fleet, we’re almost saying, ‘What recession?’ We’re feeling overwhelmingly positive about the future.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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