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Another all-electric Class 8 prepares for production

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Thor Trucks, a transportation lab based in Los Angeles, plans to start building its ET-One tractor in 2019 and sell it for $150,000 a pop.

Fleet Owner  /  December 13, 2017

Hot on the heels of Tesla’s rock concert-style unveiling of its Semi all-electric Class 8 daycab back in November comes a different all-electric tractor dubbed the ET-One – a truck being built by Thor Trucks, a self-styled “transportation laboratory” based in Los Angeles.

Co-founded by Dakota Semler and Giordano Sordoni, Thor Trucks said it will be demonstrating a pre-production version of the ET-One through 2018 and plans to go into full production by 2019.

Thor Trucks said the final version of the ET-One will start at $150,000 per unit and feature a 300-mile range when fully loaded to 40 tons.

Features of the ET-One include:

  • A reusable modular lithium-ion cylindrical battery pack that will offer from 400 to 800 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy.

  • Maximum speed of 70 miles per hour.

  • A torque range of approximately 5,000 lbs. with two-speed gearing.

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This Electric Truck Will Probably Beat Tesla’s to Market

Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg  /  December 13, 2017

Thor Trucks’ custom models, due out in 2019, are meant for short hauls.

On the evening of Nov. 16, Elon Musk unveiled the latest prop in his Tony Stark cosplay. Tesla Inc.’s all-electric semi rig met all the classic Musk product launch criteria: It looked stunning, had unprecedented performance numbers, included features straight out of science fiction, and would arrive at some unknown date at a too-good-to-be-true price from a still-to-be-built assembly line.

Ten miles from the cramped Los Angeles airport hangar where thousands of Muskovites were swooning, a 25-year-old named Dakota Semler watched the performance on his phone, tossed a piece of sushi into his mouth, and shrugged. Semler, you see, has an all-electric semi of his own, a matte-black curvaceous truck known for now as the ET1. It’s the first vehicle from his startup, Thor Trucks, which hopes to grab a tiny slice of the 940,000-unit-a-year market for semis and go after short-haul trucks, delivery vans, and work vehicles. Like Tesla’s rig, the ET1 is meant to bring cleaner-running transportation to heavy industry without sacrificing performance. And like Tesla’s, it’s a head-turner. “Everyone thinks we’ve built a Transformer,” says Semler, Thor’s chief executive officer.

Semler and his 17 employees must contend with extremely long odds, but dramatic advances in battery technology, electric motors, and control software have made electric trucks more practical. While electric trucks will cost more upfront than diesel guzzlers, Tesla, Thor, and a handful of others suddenly have the range and horsepower to argue that customers will come out ahead in the long term, thanks to lower fuel and maintenance costs. Electric vehicles, of course, also pollute less, a serious consideration as cities and states prepare legislation aimed at phasing out dirtier diesel.

As Semler drives the ET1 around Hollywood, gawkers whip out their phones to take photos. The heavy-duty semi, which has a 22-inch touchscreen on its dashboard and a winged black logo splashed across its grille, uses a beach-ball-size electric motor and a couple of large battery packs to carry as much as 80,000 pounds of cargo, the industry standard for the highest class of truck. When it starts shipping in 2019, the ET1 will have a $150,000 starting price tag and a 300-mile range, meaning it’ll compete with medium-duty delivery trucks.

With a look straight out of spoiled-Malibu-kid central casting, Semler doesn’t scream trucking magnate. He grew up in the family businesses: one, a supplier of military electronics; the other, the Malibu Wines vineyard. “When I was 7, I’d work in shipping and pack boxes at the electronics factory, and then over the summers I’d shovel manure at the vineyard,” he says. By the time he was a teenager, he’d overseen the development of a line of decorative wine barrels and converted the vineyard’s diesel trucks to run on waste vegetable oil. At 21, Semler began running safari tours at Malibu Wines, offering people a chance to sip wine while driving next to zebras, giraffes, and water buffaloes obtained from sanctuaries and private collections.

Managing the dozens of vehicles at the vineyard led Semler to electric trucks. He’d dealt with California’s exacting regulations for diesel emissions and could see more curbs coming, so early last year he started retrofitting a diesel semi rig in the back of his family’s 30,000-square-foot North Hollywood warehouse for electronics equipment. Not far from piles of Vietnam War-era radios and antennas, there’s now a large open space where the Thor team works.

For the moment, the startup is more of a vehicle customizer than a true manufacturer. It rips the diesel motor and related innards out of an existing vehicle and replaces them with an electric motor and batteries. Thor has focused on doing its own battery-pack research and manufacturing to cram hundreds of small lithium ion batteries into a tight, safe container, and its software engineers write applications that maximize the packs’ charging abilities and life spans. Look around the Thor warehouse, and you’ll see UPS-style trucks and extended-body pickups awaiting modification. The goal, according to Semler, is to work on a one-off basis, customizing clients’ fleets per their specifications.

Semler’s enthusiasm is infectious. He’s funded Thor with his own money (he won’t say how much) and hired engineers from places such as Boeing Co., electric-car maker Faraday & Future Inc., and Chinese electrics leader BYD Auto Co. But Thor is trying to become a bespoke electric-vehicle maker at a time when the biggest names and fattest wallets in trucking are pouring money into the market. And given that neither Semler nor his co-founder, Giordano Sordoni, has an engineering background, it seems less like a company than a dream. “There’s a tendency to simplify the truck market and think there will be one winner here,” Semler says. “The reality is that there are all kinds of work trucks, and we’re designing a type of transportation lab to cater to all of these.”

A small team working quickly stands a decent chance of carving out a niche, says Mike Britt, who spent 30 years at United Parcel Service Inc. handling the maintenance of its trucking fleets and working on alternative-fuel vehicles. “The big trucking companies just aren’t quite as nimble,” says Britt, who now runs MG Britt Consulting Inc. “UPS used many small startups to build 200 to 2,000 alternative-fuel vehicles. It’s when you start to ramp above those numbers, and need real production expertise and facilities, that things could get trickier for Thor.”

BOTTOM LINE - Thor and its 25-year-old CEO are trying to fill a short-haul niche with the ET1 while Tesla continues tinkering with its own all-electric truck.

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Thor Trucks Takes Different Approach to Electric Trucks

Jack Roberts. Heavy Duty Trucking (HDT)  /  January 19, 2018

What do you get when you get together a group of West Coast tech heads with family backgrounds in trucking? A whole new electric truck company, that’s what. At least that’s what Giordano Sordoni thinks.

Sordoni is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Thor Trucks, a Los Angeles-based truck manufacturer and technology lab. He told HDT in an interview that the Thor Trucks team is focused on providing long-haul electric truck solutions that are “reasonable and profitable now.” The resulting prototype is a tough-looking regional-haul truck with an aggressive stance and styling that even old school truckers can appreciate.

But styling cues aside, Sordoni said the Thor truck – and his company’s vision – is firmly rooted in future technology and the rapid changes coming at trucking.

“The push toward more in-home delivery is where our vision was born,” Sordoni said. “Our families have a fleet background, so we understand the challenges of compliance, maintenance, fluctuating fuel prices, and other trucking issues today. And an electric truck solves a lot of those problems. You go from a vehicle with 2,000 moving parts to fewer than 20, so maintenance is cheaper. There’s no exhaust treatment or diesel particulate filter to deal with. And, if you get enough of these trucks on the road, you’ll eventually see fuel prices stabilize. So, electric trucks are actually good for fleets that run diesel, too."

The God of Thunder Comes to Trucking

The first Thor truck, dubbed the ET-One, is spec’d for regional-haul applications with daily ranges of 300 miles or less.

The company says the truck features instananeous torque starting at 0 rpm, with powertrain options ranging from 300 to 700 hp. The ET-One features a regenerative braking system and battery packs designed specifically for commercial vehicle applications, and has the highest energy density lithium-ion cylindrical cells available today, according to the company.

While Sordoni and his team think electric powertrains will eventually be feasible in long-haul applications, changing freight patterns and a new emphasis on in-home grocery deliveries are the primary factors driving his design team today.

“Right now, I think regional haul makes the most sense for us,” Sordoni said. “We’re looking specifically at predicable routes that the drivers know like the back of their hand. Fleets know exactly where trucks on these routes are at any point during the day or night. So, we’re looking at developing a vehicle and a charging network spaced in an intelligent way to support those operations. And by doing so, we’ll have a capable truck that appeals to a huge swath of the trucking industry today.”

Based on their collective fleet backgrounds, Sordoni said his design team has focused heavily on giving Thor trucks a familiar, comfortable, and productive environment, noting that many regional-haul routes rely heavily on human drivers unloading the truck, checking inventory, and reporting issues back to headquarters.

“And those types of jobs won’t be replaced by robots any time soon,” Sordoni added. “In fact, my co-workers hate going to lunch with me because I’m always chasing down a truck on a route and talking to the driver. We also make a point of inviting drivers we meet on routes back to our labs to inspect our trucks up close and give us feedback on what we’re doing. They’re pretty skeptical at first. But once they take a drive in the truck and see what our approach is, they convert pretty quickly.”

Partnering with Established Suppliers

Thor also has taken on a business model that is “a little bit different” from the one being pursued by most of his electric truck competitors, Sordoni said.

“We’re seeing a lot of OEMs out there trying to do everything themselves,” he explained. “They’re making huge claims and promises regarding dealerships, service and nationwide charging networks. Our strategy is to partner with existing companies already in the trucking ecosystem to manufacture or service our vehicles. There’s not a lot of value in us designing and manufacturing an axle, for example, when there are a lot of excellent companies out there already producing components like that, and there’s frankly not a lot of value we can add in that area.”

The next steps for Thor, according to Sordoni, will be demonstrating prototype vehicles throughout 2018 with an emphasis on getting the truck into the hands of potential customers. “We want them to run them in their daily operations and make certain they can live up to the duty cycles we’ve designed them for."

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Thor Trucks to Launch New Entry in Battery-Electric Class 8 Market

Transport Topics  /  July 9, 2018

Thor Trucks Inc., a startup not quite 2 years old, will manufacture electric-battery Class 8 trucks beginning next year, according to the Los Angeles-based company. At the same time, California has a new multimillion-dollar funding stream to proliferate such vehicles and encourage additional manufacturers to make them.

Thor intends to market in 2019 the ET-1, a battery-electric Class 8 day cab that will have a 100-mile range and cost $150,000. Through savings — and not public subsidies — the truck will pay for itself in three to four years, according to the company, which also is exploring opportunities in China and Europe.

Another Class 8 costing $250,000 with a 300-mile range is planned as part of Thor’s strategy of relying on contract manufacturing and alliances with existing suppliers instead of a factory of its own and vertical integration of key components.

“We have established manufacturing agreements with two different manufacturing facilities in the Midwest, and that’s where we will be doing our series production,” Thor CEO and co-founder Dakota Semler said during a conference call hosted by investment firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.

One of the agreements has been solidified; the other is in process, Semler said June 27 during the call.

“And beyond that, there is obviously some engineering process that has to be done to integrate the trucks into those production lines,” he said. “But 2019 is very realistic to achieve our goals for production.”

Thor is placing the majority of its focus on drayage, food and beverage delivery, and less-than-truckload fleets, Semler told Transport Topics.

Meanwhile, Thor and other new manufacturers of alternative-power trucks stand to benefit from a portion of California’s $423 million share of the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. The trust was established after VW’s use of software designed to cheat during emissions tests in 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel vehicles, and funding is available to states where those cars ran.

The California Air Resources Board announced it intends to use $90 million of California’s overall share to replace eligible Class 8 freight trucks and port drayage trucks with new zero-emission technologies.

“While zero-emission Class 8 trucks are commercially available today, manufacturer diversity is limited. The focus of this funding is to support the market introduction of zero-emission trucks from a wide range of manufacturers that will be deploying trucks in the next five years,” according to the state’s plan.

One industry executive said vast changes in trucking were at hand.

“There are a lot of ideas coming out now that can help simplify the complexity in the marketplace,” said Gerry Mead, executive director of innovations for Phillips Industries.

“When you look at electric trucks in general and you look at the operational cost for a trucking company, maintenance is a very large part of that, and you can lump in diesel fuel with that,” Mead said. “So if you have the ability to take a really large cost item and drastically cut it out of your [operation], obviously that improves your bottom line.”

A Thor truck’s battery design is different in its layout and cooling process compared with most electric batteries, Thor co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Giordano Sordoni told TT.

“These key engineering differences mean that Thor’s battery is one of the most energy-dense on the market, so much so that it is competitive on a shorthaul basis with diesel engines in terms of energy efficiency and cost,” Sordoni said.

Thor is using cylindrical-shaped nickel, cobalt and manganese (NCM) batteries whose cost already is below $400 per kilowatt hour, Semler said. “The price tier that we have to get below, and we have a clear path to that, is $200 a kWh. The reality is there are very few people selling battery packs at that $200 kWh price range. So we have basically focused on trying to achieve that so that we could achieve a market-viable truck. And we expect to hit that in the early part of 2020.”

Thor will warrant that its batteries operate for 2000 cycles, Semler said. “Two thousand cycles is just the period in which we warrant the pack to retain 80% of its original rated capacity.”

Some fleets have agreed to purchase demonstration vehicles to use at Southern California ports.

Drayage occurs in an area that is “pretty seeded with utility infrastructure so we don’t have too many issues there deploying charging systems,” Semler said.

If needed, Thor will consult with fleets on the necessary charging infrastructure, which can run from $25,000 to $100,000, he said.

“We all aim to be aggressive in this space in order to compete with diesel,” Semler said.

All the traditional heavy-duty truck makers that sell in North America also are developing electrified vehicles in existing models. Plus Tesla Inc., and Nikola Motor Co. are readying new trucks for sale and tests, respectively, in 2019. Toyota Motor North America has a pilot project underway using a hydrogen-electric Class 8 truck at the Southern California ports.

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Thor Trucks, AxleTech announce e-powertrain partnership

Commercial Carrier Journal (CCJ)  /  April 16, 2018

Specialty powertrain manufacturer AxleTech and California-based electric truck upstart Thor Trucks announced Tuesday a partnership to develop a heavy-duty e-powertrain system.

The two companies will integrate AxleTech’s e-axle technology with Thor’s proprietary battery technology to create a fully electric commercial vehicle powertrain.

“Due to the acute market need for these solutions, we are proud to work alongside Thor Trucks to build the most advanced integrated powertrain components for driveline electrification,” says AxleTech CEO Bill Gryzenia, CEO.

Giordano Sordoni, co-founder and COO of Thor Trucks, called the partnership “a significant stride forward in our pursuit to transform the commercial transportation industry.”

In July 2018, Thor Trucks announced it would partner with UPS to build and test two fully-electric delivery trucks in the greater Los Angeles area.

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