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Truck Tech: Hypertruck first drive edition

Behind the wheel of the Hyliion hybrid electric truck
Feb 18, 2022
Truck Tech: Hypertruck first drive edition
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BY ALAN ADLER

The story of Hyliion’s extended-range Class 8 truck is more complex than just battery-electric power. We took the first media ride and drive in Austin, Texas, this week. Another makeover of a trailer maker as Great Dane freshens up its brand. And the best of the rest.

Checking out Hyliion’s Hypertruck

Hyliion Holdings hosted me for a quick visit to its Austin, Texas, headquarters for a ride and drive of its Hypertruck ERX. The Peterbilt Model 579-based natural gas and battery-powered hybrid Class 8 truck is trying to find a place in the transformation from diesel to electric trucks.

If first impressions count, the ERX has a good chance.

The ERX addresses the two words — range anxiety — that cause angst among would-be electric vehicle adopters. It is not an issue for the ERX, because the launch model in 2023 will be capable of 75 miles of pure electric driving.

As a serial hybrid, the ERX uses a natural gas-powered generator that creates electricity for the four side-mounted battery packs. The batteries are smaller than those used in a pure battery-electric truck because they are only intended for use in urban areas where CO2 emissions are a big problem. 

The rest of the time the truck runs on natural gas, preferably renewable natural gas made from farm waste and other nonpetroleum sources capable of negative net-zero carbon emissions. The ERX can travel up  to 1,000 miles between fill-ups. The generator, fueled by either natural gas or RNG, converts enough energy to keep the batteries at a consistent but moderate state of charge while the truck does its long-haul business. 

Early BETs attracting single- and low double-digit orders couple the engine and the electric motor to the wheels to move the vehicle. Freightliner, Volvo, Kenworth, BYD and the Peterbilt 579 are pure electrics. They all max on driving range out somewhere around 200 miles or less before needing to be plugged in.  

The ERX has two fully electric Meritor 14Xe axles driven by an axle-mounted electric motor powered by four side-mounted battery packs, similar to pure BETs. But the generator, which could eventually use any number of fuels, avoids the need for a grid-tapping power plug.

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