Canadian companies collaborate to roll out cool electric project

The first all-electric refrigerated commercial Class 6 truck in Canada has been servicing customers in British Columbia for the past three weeks.

Four Canadian companies – Cold Star Solutions from Victoria, Volta Air from Burnaby in B.C., and Lion Electric from Saint-Jerome and Fourgons Leclair from Terrebonne in Quebec – worked together to get the Lion6 truck rolling.

Kelly Hawes was the driving force behind the project. The CEO of Cold Star Solutions needed a new five-ton truck, which are hard to come by these days. His fleet includes 25 trucks that run on CNG (compressed natural gas), and he naturally started looking at green options. CNG trucks are also not readily available, so an electric truck was his next best bet.

He contacted Lion Electric, but the initial conversation was not promising. Hawes’ calculations showed that he could only haul 2,600 lb. due to the weight of the truck, batteries, reefer, cargo box and tailgate.

Volta Air has been manufacturing reefers for the past 12 years and began making electric models for Classes 5 to 7 trucks since 2015.

Hawes spoke to CEO and founder Steve Zaari and found out the reefer unit only weighed 300 lb. He had just shed 2,000 lb. from the equation.

Picture of Steve Zaari
Steve Zaari, founder and CEO of Volta Air. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Zaari says the unit can draw energy from the vehicle’s batteries or can use batteries provided by Volta Air. The unit has solar panels on top to add operational hours and reduce battery weight.

Hawes needed a cargo box with added insulation as Volta Air’s reefer does not have the BTUs (British thermal unit) that those made by big-name companies have. But this makes the cargo box heavier.

Fourgons Leclair had a solution as they produce cargo boxes that are lighter-weight and have better insulation.

“The panels have no urethane or thermal bridges, it’s the Tesla of truck bodies,” says Marie-Claude Gohier, sales and business development manager at Fourgons Leclair.

Picture of Marie-Claude Gohier and Aleandre Leclair
Marie-Claude Gohier, sales and business development manager Fourgons Leclair, right, and Alexandre Leclair, sales and customer service representative, Western Canada. (Photo: Leo Barros)

The panels never absorb water as they as sealed and fusionized, she said, and so maintain the same weight as long as they are in use.

Engineers from the four companies got together and started building the truck.

A driver’s perspective

  • The driver of the electric truck told Kelly Hawes, CEO of Cold Star Solutions, that he preferred driving the CNG vehicle. A surprised Hawes asked him why, and the driver said he stressed all day about range. When asked if he ever came close to running out of charge, the driver said no, but he worried about it. The driver was all praise for the vehicle, saying the drive was fantastic, if a little creepy, because you don’t hear anything as it is very quiet. The driver also did not want any grief about claiming overtime because at every stop people wanted to ask about the truck and take pictures, Hawes said with a laugh.

Hawes said everyone was worried about cost. “I said to them, ‘Don’t worry about cost, let’s worry about if the technology is doable. Can we get the weight down and still get the range we need?’”

The result was a truck that is now operational.

Cold Star’s Lion6 truck is 168 kWh (kilowatt-hour) with four batteries and a range of 230 km. Two more batteries can be added to a 252 kWh Lion6 and a range of 340km can be achieved. The Cold Star route for this truck is 150 km.

A today’s prices, diesel for the route costs $136 a day. Running the Lion6 on the same route costs only $4.50 a day.

But electric trucks are not cheap. The Lion6 cost $477,000. Hawes has applied for B.C.’s $100,000 Go Electric Specialty Use Vehicle Incentive program. He is also hoping to offset costs with a $100,000 federal government grant that is likely to arrive in the fall.

That would bring the price down to $277,000. A Cold Star CNG truck spec’d out the same as the Lion6 costs $225,000.

Picture of John McBean
John McBean, national sales manager, Lion Electric. (Photo: Leo Barros)

John McBean, national sales manager, Lion Electric, says it is important to understand that electric trucks will not do everything. But they are excellent for certain applications and routes.

He said the Lion6 drives like a truck. But when you are sitting in a diesel truck it seems like you are sitting on a washing machine.

“When you’re sitting in our truck it seems like you are sitting on your chair in your living room,” he said.