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Tesla co-founder electrified about garbage trucks


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Detroit Free Press / January 20, 2015

Ian Wright and a few tech-minded buddies got together about a decade ago bent on creating a fast and cool electric car. They called the company Tesla Motors.

Wright left soon after Elon Musk took Tesla's financial steering wheel in 2004, but now he's back and determined to electrify a slow and ungainly automotive beast: the commercial truck.

While the idea might sound crazy, Wright's logic and math are intriguingly simple.

"Besides the fact that modern cars are already very clean, your average Toyota Camry driver only uses about 600 gallons a year, while a garbage truck will use 14,000," says Wright, a soft-spoken New Zealander with a passion for sports cars.

"It makes the most economic sense to focus energies on a sector where you can displace the most fuel," especially true now that gas has plummeted to under $50 a barrel, says Wright. "When you switch a garbage truck to electric power, you're saving about $60,000 in fuel and $30,000 in maintenance a year."

Companies gradually are buying Wright's pitch. His electric powertrain start-up, Wrightspeed, last year contracted with FedEx to retrofit 25 of its medium- to heavy duty-trucks with battery-powered engines that can be recharged through regenerative braking or by small turbines fueled by natural gas or propane.

More recently, Wright got the green light from The Ratto Group, a Bay Area garbage and recycling company, to convert 17 of its garbage trucks.

In California, such decisions are being spurred by changes to the state's strict California Air Resources Board standards. Certain high-polluting older and heavier commercial trucks had to be off the road by this past Jan. 1, and by 2023 nearly all trucks and buses will need 2010 model year-or-newer engines.

In anticipation of increased demand for his services due to CARB's guidelines, Wright announced today that he is moving his 23 staffers from a 30,000-square-foot plant in San Jose to a 110,000-square-foot former Pan Am airplane hangar in Alameda, near Oakland. He anticipates the company's staff growing tenfold by 2018.

For Lou Ratto, letting Wrightspeed revamp a group of 2003-2007 garbage trucks was "an opportunity to take myself out of the air-quality conversation," adding that while he's been keen to buy the latest in green trucks, "it's been a struggle" to keep up with CARB requirements.

"What I love about this option is that it's true recycling, because we can maximize the life of the truck's bodies while getting a cost savings and environmental benefit," he says. "As for Ian, his Tesla background speaks for itself."

Wright is talking about the 2.2 million medium-duty trucks consuming some 35 billion gallons of gasoline a year, as well as those noisy garbage-swallowing banes of urban and suburban existence.

Beyond the savings on fuel and frequent brake replacements — Wrightspeed-equipped trucks mainly use regenerative braking to stop — Wright promises a reduction in noise during those early morning pickups.

"Most of that racket is the engine revving up to allow the truck's hydraulics to compress the garbage, but that will drop drastically with our engines," he says.

The most modern garbage trucks can cost a city upwards of $500,000. Wright says he can retrofit a truck with his cost- and noise-reducing engine for "a huge fraction of that price," typically under $200,000. "What you'd save on fuel and maintenance over the next four years would get that money back," he says.

Wright is convinced that electric power ultimately will make a bigger splash by cleaning up the world's commercial vehicles than it will by ferrying around average citizens in often pricey machines.

Wright himself doesn't drive a Tesla. He's actually more of a Maserati and Caterham 7 guy. But he has nothing but praise for Musk's stewardship of the company he dreamed up with Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning and J.B. Straubel.

"What Tesla has achieved in terms of changing people's perceptions about electric cars, from golf carts to vehicles that compete with Mercedes and Porsche, is beyond my wildest dreams," says Wright. "That said, we're going after high polluters, and in that sense our economic proposition could allow us to scale bigger than Tesla."

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Wrightspeed and Ratto Group Clean Up the North Bay

Press Release / January 16, 2015

Wrightspeed and The Ratto Group announce their partnership in converting North Bay garbage and recycling vehicles from clean diesel to electric drive.

Wrightspeed and The Ratto Group announce their partnership in converting North Bay garbage and recycling vehicles from clean diesel to electric drive. The partnership is announced three weeks after Wrightspeed publicized their heavy-duty electric driveline product, the route HD.

The route HD is a plug-in electric truck powertrain that uses an onboard turbine generator to charge the battery, as needed, on the road. It uses CNG, LNG, diesel, or landfill gases and burns cleaner per kilowatt-hour than the average mix of US electrical power plants, making it “cleaner than an EV.”

Surpassing California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) ever-tightening emissions standards by 1000%, Wrightspeed’s Powertrains are not only hyper-clean, they are commercially future-proof.

“We’re always looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gases in our pursuit of an environmentally sustainable economy,” says Chief Operating Officer, Lou Ratto.

“Wrightspeed’s very efficient and super clean powertrains are a great fit for our fleet.”

The Ratto Group of Companies, based in Santa Rosa, provides refuse and recycling services to cities and unincorporated areas in Sonoma and Marin Counties.

Ian Wright, Wrightspeed’s founder and CEO, agrees, “The route HD was engineered for the refuse and recycling truck application, where it can reduce fuel spend by $35k per year and dramatically reduce noise pollution.”

For more information on the Route HD: http://wrightspeed.com/products/the-route-hd/

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