California has an estimated 650,000 of so-called medium-duty trucks on the road. Many of these vehicles, which make deliveries and transport people, get only six miles per gallon.
Foster City, Calif.-based Motiv hopes to change that. The company has developed a power train to let these trucks operate as electric vehicles.
"When you use a computer, you can plug any device into it, like a new mouse or hard drive, and it just works with the computer. We kind of provide that same operability for electric trucks," said Motiv co-founder Jim Castelaz.
The start-up has developed a prototype shuttle bus for under $2 million, funded in part by a grant from the California Energy Commission. The key feature is that it allows chassis builders and truck makers to deploy whatever batteries and motors they want.
In the trucking industry, they really like their technologies to be proven before they adopt them, said Castelaz, a Stanford engineering graduate who put his Ph.D. program on hold to launch Motiv.
"They just want their trucks to work. They're very interested in electric trucks, but they need something that's going to work with this whole ecosystem that already exists for trucks," he said.
Motiv recently received another state grant to open an assembly plant for its new power system.
Bauer's Intelligent Transportation, a San Francisco company which operates a fleet of shuttle vans for Google, Facebook and other corporate clients, will get three of the new systems.
Gary Bauer, founder of the transportation company, already has deployed natural gas and propane vehicles. He embraces electric for its zero emissions.
"As the batteries get smaller with more energy power, we're going to get more out there. I think as we get these built and we get more out there, we can condense and get them at a cost factor that people can afford. I think it's going to grow quite rapidly. With the cost of fuel reaching $5, we're really not going to have much of an option," Bauer said.
The cost of Motiv's electric power train is about five times higher than a diesel. But Bauer believes he can recover the cost in one and a half to two years through savings on repairs and fuel.