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After starting the company in his garage with the goal of turning his diesel pickup into an electric vehicle, he joins us to discuss his vision for building the XT Pickup and overcoming charging issues with large-capacity electric trucks.
Guys welcome to another fun episode of tfl talking. Trucks i'm andre smirnoff and my co-host: Roman mica is not on this episode he's on his way to moab.
Utah with tommy his son to do some off-roading but no matter we have a very! Important guest with me is mark from atlas mark uh please?
Introduce yourself really quick hey uh well thank you for having me uh i'm mark hanchett the ceo and founder. Of atlas motor vehicles an electric vehicle uh pickup truck company here located in mesa arizona thank you and?
In this show i want to discuss. The future of trucking but specifically electric trucks and more specifically. I want to talk about the battery technology because you have you know that's one of your strengths at atlas and you're.
Trying to do something that i think currently with current technology is not very well done and i'm talking about towing with an electric vehicle. And in this show i'm going to tell you a little story. About our towing experience we did recently with the tesla model.
X because that's currently the electric vehicle that can tow the most period available on sale thank you for joining tfl talking trucks podcast. If you love pickup trucks or big full-size suvs if you love trailering towing and going off-road? This is the right place to be together we can make this podcast:
The most popular ever but also mark tell me a little bit more about sort of your company atlas motor vehicle and let's kind. Of dig in into this battery technology.
Okay uh well atlas motor vehicles is an electric. Vehicle technology company uh with a focus on building vehicles and technology for what we call.
The work market so we're really focused on building an underlying sort of platform technology. Battery motors the whole sort of skateboard scenario for vehicles that are designed to do heavy duty work like pickup trucks that. Are intended to tow and haul heavy loads long distances under very extreme conditions.
To sort of the ultimate goal is to move the word the world forward from? Gas and you know sort of diesel combustion engines. To electrification but do it in a way without compromise where we're not asking you to give things up we're.
Saying this new solution is going to be so much better that everything you've you've done in the past just it doesn't seem? Right anymore it seems obsolete okay so how do you do that i mean right now we have kind of several technologies.
That play right we have lithium-ion battery technology which uh most manufacturers currently. Are using correct correct and then we have some others like general motors recently?
Announced their um ncb or what is that called uh it's uh i don't remember what.
The acronym actually stands for but it uh it should be uh i think it's they're calling ncb but it's really.
Like an ncm based uh chemistry solution with some modifications to it yeah so basically their. Chemistry is and this is not on the market yet basically nickel cobalt! Magnesium and i think they threw a little bit of uh aluminum in there too yeah it's.
Like it's ncma or something like that is and and other manufacturers. Are looking at that as well because your energy density goes up uh when you start combining. Different uh chemistry solutions so and the main goal is sort of range range range and i know:
We're kind of almost beating a dead horse here but when i'm towing with a diesel? Truck or a gas powered truck or suv whatever.
It may be right i have the range goes down when towing correct with any vehicle. Yes but the ease of replenishing that energy.
The fast lane
On a gas or a diesel vehicle is really easy right now yeah and the energy density in that gasoline or diesel? Is very high yeah when you think sheer volume of of a product uh you have a gas tank. Let's say it's 30 gallons which is roughly an average for most trucks today starting out uh that 30 gallon tank is relatively.
Small when you think about a 200 kilowatt hour or 100 kilowatt hour battery pack and how much physical. Space that takes up so energy density of fuel is incredibly high when compared.
To battery electric systems on the flip side though the efficiency of a battery electric.
Vehicle is significantly higher when compared to an internal combustion engine.
Vehicle where you're looking at something in the 20 efficiency range here from in terms of converting a physical substance to energy? Right and then to motion versus a battery electric vehicle which is you know 80s 90s percent depending.
On what's going on there uh in terms of efficiency so that's: It's kind of like well energy density isn't that high but efficiency in the vehicle is so much higher.
That it tries to offset it until. You do something like towing where you know you have a big trailer or you have a lot of mass there's so many. Different conditions there where all of those things that say tesla does from an aerodynamic standpoint sort of goes out the window:
Because they designed for certain speeds of efficiency the design for certain aerodynamic. Efficiencies and when you start towing none of that really matters anymore yeah because you're dragging extra axles.
Right your trailer may have maybe a box right correct so your trailer. Me is not aerodynamic in most cases correct what is so what.
Is atlas doing in on this front! Uh for battery and energy density and rechargeability right so there's two approaches. To solve this problem the first approach.
Is uh get energy density up to a certain!
Point where you can drive so far that. If you have to wait for an hour it offsets the the let's say it's you drive for four hours. And 15 minutes every hour you had to charge!
Or you drive for say three hours and or three three hours 15 minutes and then charge for 45 minutes whatever that.
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Comes out to be the the total amount of time is the same so the industry. Standard approach today is to aim for super high energy density as as much for range as you could:
Possibly get and charge times still remain fairly.
Static i think the best you'll see is 35 minutes for roughly 80 maybe 22 minutes.
In a porsche right for 80 percent and in those particular cases you're you're from a battery perspective you're. Saying let's just try and get as much energy as we possibly can in there?
And get as much range as possible. Because we know it's just going to take so long to charge our. Approach is different we recognize very early on that yes uh a base vehicle needs enough energy.
In that pack to go save 500 plus miles uh to compete. With like my diesel truck that i drive um and but when i'm towing that range: Will drop it'll drop to 350 it'll drop to 300 it could drop all the way down to 150 miles.
If we're at in a most extreme condition. Possible and we need to solve some.
Of the challenges related to that in that particular case it no longer makes sense to drive for two hours and charge for an hour that: That's a non-starter that's right that could get old really quickly right:
Right so the way we're addressing that is we're.
Saying listen let's get as much energy density. In this pack as we possibly can to hit that those range marks let's design.
The pack in such a way that it's actually designed! For high power output continuously versus aiming for low power output you know the lowest amount of power output in a non-towing scenario:
And making it super efficient there let's aim for realistic conditions let's aim for 65 75 mile an hour highway? Speeds let's aim for towing very very high loads and let's design a power? System a pack solution which is all the power management and everything else such that it's designed for that specific?
Scenario and not for the um the 80 use case because the 80 use case is relatively easy the 20 use case when we're! Doing those really heavy things or in work trucks turns into the 80 that's the hard thing so a couple things we're:
Doing different is uh we're deal developing a higher. Voltage pack uh we're not doing a 400 or 800 volt pack we're doing a 1600 volt pack okay um and the reason we're.
Doing that is there's two sides of it one is to gain some efficiency!
Within the vehicle in terms of energy output and how much current. Is drawn and how much heat is generated and things like that and then the other side of it is on if we're going?
To charge this very quickly we need to bring the current down that's? Coming in through that cable because otherwise that cable is going to be the size!
Of my head and that's not again that's a non-starter so let's: Bump that voltage up as high as we can so we can pump basically.
Higher voltage less current in through a cable when we plug it in and we can provide. More energy and do it at a higher efficiency. So that's one thing that we're doing number two is while?
Gm is focused on building these really really big cells and that is definitely. Something we looked at our approach is to build a customized cell and i'll get into some details there but our approach:
Is to build a customized cell that's not necessarily. Super big because the more cells you have in parallel for every group that's. In series the lower the impedance of that parallel pack?
Versus one big chunk right that one. Big cell let's say it has a a resistance of like six ohms or six milliohms if you take say 10 of those. In parallel right it's one over six one over six one over six one over six and it's one.
Divided by the the sum of that which means your impedance for that parallel pack goes down a tremendous amount so when we're pumping. Energy out or pumping energy in there's actually less heat generated within that system and there's less of a voltage drop when we're. Pulling a lot of power out of that system so you're basically saying you're basically.
Saying uh it's something like you know having a giant suitcase full of battery pack right let's say versus several: Small backpacks put together is that what you're saying correct yeah it's it's kind!
Of similar to that approach and it's. Very similar to what tesla does with the tiny little cells simply because they have to um but we recognize. That okay so when our range goes.
Down we need to solve that hour charge time problem how do we do that and how do we do it without turning it into. A phd like university research project that may never actually go somewhere how can we leverage!
Technology that exists today all of the different downfalls and what. Can we do to solve that we actually took an approach that uses existing chemistries that are available and a very new.
Battery cell construction uh and tied that to thermal.
Management of that pack to be able to achieve that goal so now we get high energy density with.
The solution but then when you do have to charge. In your range drops when you're towing?
Now you can plug in and fill it up in 15 minutes or less right now our tests are doing nine minutes 26 seconds which.
Is phenomenal uh for a full battery pack for a full?
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Yeah for what we would say is a full battery pack like what. The customer would experience which is zero to 100 now they're like everybody else. There's a buffer on the top and bottom for um for different reasons.
Actually so recently uh here at tfl car and tfl truck we did a test a comparison test where we towed a 5 000 pound. Trailer which was actually a flat deck trailer.
With a car on top of it okay a small car so that was a relatively aerodynamic trailer it wasn't a box. And we used two vehicles we used a tesla model x with a hundred. Approximately 100 kilowatt hours uh worth of energy in their pack!
And then we use the lexus lx 570 to compare it against uh because those two vehicles. Are about the same price uh they're:
Probably in around ninety thousand dollar range to a hundred thousand. Dollar range both of them yep um both of them uh you know are four wheel drive vehicles.
All-wheel drive systems uh both of them have hitches uh et cetera et cetera and we drove about 64 miles let's say 60 miles: For a purposes of discussion yep and compared how a big gas v8 right in the lexus compares.
To electric motors and the battery pack in this tesla and for this approximately?
60 mile loop which also included a mountain. Climb and actually a descent right we were able to recoup some energy!
On the downhill uh we used about 39 or 40 percent of the tesla's total energy capacity to go. About 64 miles okay um so multiply that by two okay so that's about:
120 miles plus a little bit of buffer let's say so um technically.
This towing experience could be about 150 miles um uh towing about five thousand pounds in the tesla uh the lexus had a little.
Bit more energy left over uh the lexus used approximately 20 of its uh fuel to do the same job basically um so. It still had quite a lot of energy left! Um so and the charge times differ too right yeah yeah yeah right.
Right so the lexus takes what maybe three to four. Minutes to fill up a tank right. Of fuel um tesla uh didn't do so well i mean:
We use the supercharger station um here in colorado and um we did um the to regain that 40 percent i: Think that was about 30 minutes we weren't?
Charging all the way so so we were within that you know and this is a realistic time. Because everybody talks about ideal cases right this is real world where there are four other cars charging at the same time:
You know we're we're there in the afternoon on a regular weekday. So um so those are kind of the experiences that we found right yeah so uh not knowing so on the lexus what.
Was your change in fuel mileage i guess what what did you i assume. You guys measured that yeah yeah absolutely we did um so basically what happens is the lexa by itself just with no trailer it's not a very efficient. Vehicle to begin with right it's epa rated at about 14 miles per gallon combined.
Uh maybe about 17 on the highway right and it's um it didn't drop. That much it wasn't a two-fold drop to tow that trailer right you know it was about. Um and i don't have every number.
In my head i apologize but it was it was a very um so let me let me just say that uh 14 mpg. Uh like not towing versus like nine towing right so so it wasn't.
Uh like a twofold difference it was less efficient but not in a huge way not in a huge dramatic way because? It started out as a kind of an inefficient system and then of course.
You added weight to it and it brought it down but not by a lot on the other hand the. Tesla was very efficient empty like we also ran that loop empty um and it was more than. Twice that we saw the decrease of efficiency with.
The trailer yeah so uh the one challenge that you have is with say the gas vehicle right um regardless. If it's inefficient or efficient when it starts is that uh the amount of energy that it can extract from like one you know. Molecule of fuel i guess so to speak um it uh there's more energy available there right so as you're towing and as it requires.
More power right it requires you know more torque uh to be able to accomplish that it can extract more. Energy from a single say unit of fuel than it would when. It's normally like just sort of driving down?
The road um now it doesn't 100 work in a train like it doesn't work 100 like that right because the efficiency continues to go down!
As you pump more fuel inside there right as the load goes. Up it doesn't become more efficient uh when you're trying to tow it's just it becomes a little more efficient in certain?
Aspects of it when you're when you're towing um the other side of it is from an internal combustion engine standpoint they're!
Typically designed for high efficiency at highway speeds then you load it takes a little more power. You're going uphill down a hill and things like that it's it's definitely designed to be the most efficient it can there but knowing? That that's a v8 that means you have power and reserve right that that's.
Available there now in the tesla you definitely have a similar scenario you have it's designed for ultra high efficiency. At a very specific highway speed going down the road from an aerodynamic standpoint from a battery consumption standpoint from everything? From basically the the battery to the motors to the controllers to the vehicle!
Body right everything is designed to be the most efficient possible and when you start to when you put a trailer! On the end of that because it's operating outside of its efficiency. Range that curve that's in there and it can't shift:
That right it can't do anything to really like gain more. Efficiency down low when it wasn't technically designed to to do that um so when you shift outside the efficiency range right things: Drop very very quickly drops drastically same thing with the at 55 miles an hour a tesla.
Is typically very very efficient going down the road as you increase speed yes you're: Dealing with additional aerodynamic drag but you're also moving away from the peak of that efficiency curve for that entire.
System right so efficiency drops as well when you hook a trailer. Up you're talking about a lot more power consumption that's going on a lot more heat that's being generated. For that whereas the internal combustion engine vehicle does a very good job at managing that uh both from.
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The cooling system but more importantly from the fuel injection system and everything! It's doing there to actually keep that heat down but increase power and torque whereas.
The electric vehicle that's a shift in the curve it's not necessarily there's not much you can do there: Uh if it's designed for ultra high. Efficiency at one specific use case now what we're doing?
Different here at atlas is one on the battery. Side of things we recognize that it's going to be high power draw over long periods of time tesla aims for low power draw over.
Long periods of time that's why if you continuously stress the the like acceleration and regen uh take your model. X to a track it gets hot and power comes down right over time whereas porsche did something different with their battery technology. They aimed for that very specific track use case um and that's the difference between.
Those two from a battery perspective because that's where:
All of your power is coming from right so so it sounds like you're saying there's.
Several elements in play it's not just like. The chemistry of the battery it's not just like the voltage of the battery.
System it's not just it's it's a holistic view you can't just say: Oh are you using lithium ion or you know nickel cobalt you know there's more to that than that correct. Yeah it's it's what chemistry are you using what cell technology are you using?
How is that configured in the pack how are you thermally managing: That solution to maintain your efficiency um because when you're looking at if you're aiming for a low current draw then you're aiming. For the the best case scenario low heat generation low um low voltage.
Drop in the cell low impedance in the cell for for low current like there's all sorts of things in high energy density? So it goes for a very long time but if you're talking about towing and hauling and doing.
These sort of heavy duty things that. Trucks are supposed to do um you you should be aiming for high output. Over long periods of time at the highest efficiency you could possibly?
Get that you need to have the ability to shift that curve a little bit and and get efficiency when you're! Unloaded because that's what a large portion of us do commuting to and from work. But then when you use that vehicle in that particular scenario you can't have massive efficiency drops in that system!
When that's occurring you have to do as. Much as you can to bring that up and sort of make sure that curve i guess is wide enough right?
That that while you're towing it under that that scenario you're operating at the highest possible efficiency. You can the best example also is uh while weight and things. Like that matter aerodynamics is a big thing so we can design the most.
Aerodynamic truck in the world to get the best fuel economy when driving on the highway. Between say like here in l.a or here in vegas? But the moment i put a trailer on that.
Or i hook up a camper and i want to go up to the mountains or i want to go do something like that that.
My efficiency is going to drop drastically because. I'm carrying this big box behind me um and we have to design the battery pack?
As a system as well as the the motors and the the sort of drive systems that whole system has to be designed for that high. Output scenario or that inc double triple output scenario. To get the most efficiency we possibly can so it's not.
A it's not a factor of say we we go from a 8 000 pound vehicle to 16 000 combined pounds: And therefore a range drops in half we can't have that scenario we need to have a scenario. That's that's very proportional to the the use case that we have and that's!
You have to start with that and then design your battery technology and your the the pack technology i guess since that's! The subject matter that we're focusing on today design that for that specific scenario. Yeah and trucks are not generally aerodynamic.
No they're a brick by nature yeah right and and. A lot of a lot of uh people actually try to you know put them higher in the air and.
None of that actually helps right yeah it all detracts you know people love seeing those big tires you know really. Kind of macho big square uh pickup truck look um and it's interesting when you look at um sort of design and proposed.
Designs across the board right for trucks and we can talk a little? Bit about you know what you're trying to get your truck to look at like um it's a traditional shape right you know there's kind of a hood. Area in the front there's a cabin area in the.
Middle and then there's a bed area in the back and i would say that's a very traditional shape uh very kind of rectangular. Shape in a lot of ways uh i'm not talking about cyber truck yeah it's a whole different. Shape yeah i think it um when it comes to pickup trucks.
You have a a certain constraint that you have to fit within and imagine uh from like a d.o.t standpoint.
You you literally have a box that you can fit inside and you're trying to maximize. The amount of usable space within that box constraint so um i would love to design. A pickup truck that doesn't look or a truck a work utility vehicle that looks nothing like we have today the challenge is it has.
To fit within this confined space that's dictated by parking spaces lanes you know overhead garages you know parking garages. And stuff like that there's all these restrictions out there from a safety standpoint and and things!
Like that that we have to fit within and it really.
Limits the creativity of what you could potentially do but to your point yeah pickup: Truck is a brick going down the road and you try to maximize. As much space as you possibly can that's!
Usable there in our particular case we went with we could have pushed the cab forward and.
Done a cab over design and shortened the length and maybe added more bed space but the one complaint. That i have is that i use my truck for work i use it for fun on the weekends i use it to go pick up groceries from. The grocery store and when you do that you can either.
Put it the bed and do some things there i could put it in the back seat with the whole family in there. Or i could have a large usable storage space that's.
Accessible in a parking space and without. The engine and stuff up there let's let's leverage that hood you know that sort of frontal area that's there let's make. That usable let's make that convenient let's let's?
Make that functional again because yes it's now dead. Space but now it's available space that goes beyond sort. Of tradition of what's up you're basically saying it can be a cargo area right it can house your tools or other things.
Yeah and when you think about parking spaces and and how the world. Is sort of configured today and how it will continue to be we wanted something that is accessible! When you're backed into or pulled into:
A parking space so not to throw stones but like if you have something on the side right and you're! In narrow parking spaces it's very hard to access things on the side if you've ever tried to open your truck doors.
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