I was fortunate enough to get a drive of a rather unique vehicle this week – an Iveco ACCO with a fully-electric powertrain.
For the uninitiated, the ACCO is a bit of a dinosaur…it’s a much loved offering and still very popular, but it certainly isn’t cutting-edge.
It absolutely excels in waste collection and agitator applications, low speed, frequent stops and doing the dirty work is what it loves.
So, to drive an ACCO that has a state of the art electric powertrain under the cab was quite an experience…as you can probably imagine.
No, the powertrain isn’t an Iveco option, it’s a system fitted by Melbourne-based business, SEA Electric.
The electric-drive Iveco ACCO is primarily the result of a collaboration between SEA Electric and the waste-industry equipment giants, SuperiorPAK.
Iveco has been involved in the development though, and the manufacturer could stand to benefit should local councils and waste contractors get the electric truck bug in a big way.
No, this isn’t a concept. City of Casey Council is about to take delivery of the unit that I drove and there are more electric ACCOs coming online soon.
I got along to the SEA Electric headquarters in Dandenong (seen above) for the test drive and had a tour of the businesses brand new 5,000 square metre facility that includes a large workshop area (seen below).
The 50-strong team at SEA Electric offer their electric powertrain solution on other applications, everything from delivery vans and people-movers right through to trucks up to a maximum weight of 23.5 tonnes.
Essentially the same system is utilized in each application, just scaled to fit and cater for the vehicle and its intended purpose.
The battery pack sits wholly between the chassis rails (for maximum protection) where the diesel or petrol engine and transmission would normally be found.
Typically, around the middle of the vehicle, and again between the chassis rails, sits the electric motor. The electric motor is coupled direct to the standard differential via a driveshaft.
- Offers a drive range of up to 300 kilometres.
- Battery recharging is via a standard three-phase outlet.
- System includes regenerative braking tech that recharges batteries on the go.
- System is designed for applications that facilitate a slow-charge (i.e. an overnight charge).
- Weight penalty over a traditional powertrain is in the vicinity of 5-10%.
- Fully-modular design allowing components to be replaced, updated etc. over time.
- Battery life estimated at 7-10 years.
- Electric powertrain covered by 3yr/100,000km warranty, five-year warranty on batteries.
SEA Electric FAQs:
Does is cost more than a typical petrol/diesel powertrain?
Yes, switching to the electric drive technology will cost you more upfront, however SEA Electric believe on average a return on the investment can be made after four years (even quicker if you can source your electricity from solar etc.)
Can you retrofit a van or truck with the tech?
No, at this stage SEA Electric is focusing only on new vehicles.
Do you buy a truck and then SEA Electric pulls the engine out and fits their electric system?
No, most of the time the SEA Electric team are delivered ‘gliders’ – trucks that have no engine or transmission fitted.
Is it just limited to Iveco vehicles?
No, the electric powertrain can be fitted to almost any front-engine/rear-wheel drive van or truck (just chat to the SEA Electric team first).
Where are the batteries and components manufactured?
Most of the electrically wizardry comes out of Europe, the batteries are from China.
At this stage, SEA Electric say they can have you on the road in around four months.
What customer support is offered?
SEA Electric tell us they have a 24/7 customer support team and are working on having outlets in the other capital cities.
Do I need special equipment to charge my electric van/truck?
No, a standard three-phase power outlet is all that’s required – something most depots/warehouses already have.
Driving the Electric ACCO
The first thing you notice when approaching the truck is just how neat and tidy the external cabinets/components are.
In fact, SEA Electric say often their system frees up more space than what you would often get if you had fuel tanks, AdBlue etc. bolted to the chassis.
The standard batteries remain by the way, they power the usual accessories like the radio.
I climbed aboard the Iveco truck and was met with a familiar layout and controls.
If you look closely though, on the SuperiorPAK compactor control screen you see a battery charge meter and this lets you know how much ‘juice’ you have in the batteries.
The temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge and tacho now sit quietly redundant.
There is 100% no sound coming from anywhere…eerie. No turning of the key and familiar rumble.
You simply slip the selector into forward, release the parking brake and as you let your foot off the brake the ACCO starts to silently creep forward.
It takes some getting used to, I’ll admit I was anything but at home in those first few minutes behind the wheel.
It isn’t just because there is no engine noise at all, that is weird, but the acceleration is actually a lot better than you would expect (and the diesel-powered ACCO is no speed machine).
There’s a very healthy 372kW (498hp)/3500Nm on tap!
The brakes, with the regenerative system doing their job, feel a little odd at first…but then you realize that you really don’t need to use them as much as you would normally to pull the big girl up because of the resistance from the motor.
Just a little squeeze is all it takes to bring you to a stop.
SEA Electric believe operators will be replacing brake pads a whole lot less frequently (welcome news for compactor operators).
All too soon my test-drive of the electric ACCO was over, a calm and totally silent reverse back into the workshop ending what was a fascinating experience.
Electric trucks (and buses) are a big part of the future, no doubt. For applications like waste collection the tech is ideal for a number of reasons, not least of which the silent truck is going to be a lot less likely to wake up the neighborhood!
The team at SEA Electric look likely to have a big future, particularly around the way the tech can be scaled to work in so many different applications and in vehicles from different manufacturers.
Like every new player in the vehicle industry, big and small, they will need to be sure that they can meet their customers ongoing service requirements.
With fuel prices seemingly on the up and with the electric drive tech being ready and willing – I say, give it a close look.