I've been lucky enough to drive this JAC N55 electric delivery truck for a few days. The truck belongs to the Jackson Motor Company, which is a Tasmanian company trialling it with a view to selling them in this state. JAC is a Chinese brand that also makes diesel trucks, and the N55 is being imported into Australia by BLK Auto. The trucks are imported as chassis only, and are fitted out in Australia. The one I drove had a Pantech and tail lifter by Droptruck.
This truck has a rating of 5500 kg Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), and a tare weight of 3150 kg (chassis only). This gives a payload of about 2500 kg, making it a capable vehicle for local deliveries - think removalists, groceries, packages, consumer goods etc.
Getting in the truck for the first time, it all feels very familiar from my time driving diesel trucks some years ago. JAC make diesel trucks as well, and I assume that they have used the same controls and layout wherever possible. For instance, to start the truck you insert the key and turn it through ACC to ON. The gauges come alive, and when you're ready you can turn the key to START briefly (with your foot on the brake pedal). This brings up a 'ready' indicator and you're right to start driving. All this is exactly what my previous experience told me to do, and I figured it out without having to read the manual.
So what's it like to drive?
There is a gear lever, and it looks standard for an automatic, with N, D & R. The readout on the dash tells you which gear you are in, and it also gives you handy hints like 'put foot on brake before selecting gear' if you do something wrong.
Driving the truck is simplicity itself. Put it in gear, and initially it doesn't move (like an automatic would). Press the accelerator pedal and off it goes, take your foot off and it coasts to a stop. Acceleration is smooth, with plenty of torque (rated as 1200 Nm) to get you moving. I drove with a partial load (perhaps 800 kg), and didn't notice a substantial difference in acceleration. Top speed is 90 km/h, although it will do 100 on flat highways.
There is an 'eco' mode, which limits the power to 65 kW (unlimited it is 130 kW) and top speed to 60 km/h. The pedal response is also changed, and I found that I preferred this mode for driving around town. The power is plenty, and the changed throttle response makes it a bit easier to control at low speeds. Once I got out of town, if I forgot to take it out of eco mode all I had to do was press a button when I realised I couldn't go faster than 60 km/h.
A reversing camera has been fitted, presumably in Australia. The camera itself was in a good spot, but the display was a bit far from the driver, being way over on the left. My guess is that it would be in a good place for a left-hand drive vehicle. A better spot may have been over the rear-view mirror, which in this truck was not terribly useful, given no rear view through the pantech! The mirrors were very good - large, well-placed and robust, they look like they should last well.
The dashboard gauges are a bit hard to photograph! But they include large, easy-to-read dials for: Battery Temperature, Speed, Power (including green section for regen) and State of Charge ('fuel' gauge). There is also a multi-function digital readout in the centre, which is not quite as easy to read in all light conditions.
Brakes Ain't Brakes
The regenerative braking is 'interesting'. Definitely not like any electric car that I've driven. You get regen when you release the accelerator pedal, but it doesn't come on immediately, it takes a second or so to kick in. The result is that you don't get regen around town with stop/start driving, as you're not normally decelerating long enough for it to kick in. You do use it on faster roads, such as the country roads that I was mainly driving on. After a while I got the hang of it, I'd judge when to take my foot off the accelerator as I approached a corner so that I didn't need to use the brakes. If I was a bit premature, a quick tap on the accelerator would reduce the regen somewhat, but then it would again ramp up to maximum. It's a bit like a Jacobs brake, but nowhere near as noisy! I reckon truckies will love it.
The brakes themselves are hydraulic, and you can hear the hydraulic pump start up every now and then. They were extremely effective in my experience with a partially laden truck, and they operate at the same time as the regenerative braking system.
The park brake is a traditional manual lever on the left of the driver's seat. If you forget to release it and try to drive off, a helpful message pops up on the dash to remind you, and the motor will not run until you release it.
Sounds of Silence
This truck is incredibly quiet to drive. I could literally hear birds chirping outside while driving. But there are several noises that give you feedback on what's going on:
Firstly, when you 'start' the truck, the power steering pump powers up. This makes a steady noise the whole time that the key is in the ON position. I found this useful, as it is otherwise possible to forget to turn the truck off when you stop. Hearing that pump running reminds you that it is ready to roll.
Another sound is the pedestrian warning noise. This is a noise produced by the vehicle at low speeds to warn people that you are on the move. In reverse it is accompanied by a traditional reversing beeper. The noise starts when you start to move, and increases in pitch as you go faster, until it cuts out when you reach 25 km/h. It is quite loud, meaning that it should be audible even in built-up areas with lots of traffic. On my quiet country road it sounds quite odd when it suddenly cuts in or out, as it is much louder than the actual truck.
There is also another noise when you accelerate quickly up a hill. This noise sounds a bit like a turbo whine, and presumably comes from the motor or motor controller. It gives you a sense that the truck is working hard.
Looking at the outside of the truck, and under the cab, I was struck by how simply everything was laid out. Things like the brake, steering and coolant pumps are mounted separately with plenty of space around them. This is not the type of vehicle where you have to have genuine pre-moulded hoses to everything - if a tube breaks then bend yourself up a new one!
The electronics are in discrete boxes with waterproof plugs. The motor is connected with a driveshaft to a rear differential. The four battery boxes are each held in place with about 8 bolts. Any of these components look like they'd take less than an hour to swap out if required. A workshop well-supplied with spares should be able to keep these trucks on the road with minimal downtime.
The battery is in four separate boxes, and totals 97 kWh of Lithium Ferro Phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP). LFP is a good choice for a large vehicle like this. Compared to other lithium batteries, LFP is cheap, robust and less flammable. The reason they are not used so much in modern cars is that they are heavier than other chemistries. This battery is 728 kg, whereas an NMC battery would be something like 450 kg. This extra weight doesn't matter so much in a truck, and the cost advantage will be well worth it.
The four separate boxes is an interesting design feature. Each box is presumably just under 200 kg, and they look like they'd be reasonably easy to remove if required. The boxes are mounted two on each side of the chassis, with air gaps between them. The flow of air over the outsides of the boxes appears to be the only thermal management. In my brief experience the battery stayed cool according to the gauge on the dash, and I couldn't feel any warmth at all with my hand on the outside of the boxes. The 'worst' I did was driving for two hours on the highway, with two DC fast charges along the way, in sub 20°C weather.
This battery gives a range of around 200 km to a charge. In my driving, I found that mostly I exeeded 200 km, except for the time when I was driving on a section of a highway with a lot of uphill sections (and a large square pantech box on the back). 200 km is a good figure to quote, most drivers will achieve this most of the time. LFP have been around for a while, and we know that their capacity will reduce with age. I'd expect this truck to lose a bit of range in the first year or so (perhaps 10%?), but then hold capacity for a good few years after that. Then eventually the battery will start to lose capacity again towards the end of its life. This type of battery should typically be good for 10 years or so, even with heavy use.
Once the battery is spent, the modular nature of the battery boxes means that they should be easy to replace. They look like they'd be popular with DIY people, so there should be a second-hand market for these.
The battery charges quite quickly from a DC fast charger, at up to 82 kW in my experience. There is a catch though - the vehicle has a 600 V battery, and some chargers top out at 500 V. This means that you need to find a charger with a rated voltage well above 600 V. In Tasmania there are currently four public charging stations that use 1000 V chargers, and the truck works quite nicely on these. Unfortunately it is not common for charging stations to state what voltage their chargers are, so it may be a case of trying a charger to find out if it works. Not great if you need a charge to get home again!
A 50 kW DC fast charger will charge the truck completely in about two hours.
AC charging is limited to single-phase 32 A (7 kW). This is a bit disappointing, as three-phase charging (22 kW) would be quite quick, and many businesses would have three-phase outlets. With single-phase 7 kW this truck will take about 16 hours to charge from empty. The user manual says that AC charging is preferred to DC charging for good battery life. I'd assume that battery cell balancing would only take place during AC charging to 100% capacity. Without cell balancing, your useable battery capacity will slowly degrade - but you can gain it back again (slowly) by balancing.
The charging port is just behind the cabin, on the driver's side. I found that this was well placed for the chargers I used, as per the photos.
Frustratingly, we don't yet have a price for the N55, but given the basic construction I'm hoping that it will be on the lower end of the electric truck spectrum. What we do know is that it should be far cheaper to run than an equivalent diesel truck - your 200 km of range (100 kWh) will cost about $65 at a public charging station, or as low as $15 (depending on your tariff) if you charge at your business. It looks like servicing should be simple, and repairs straightforward and quick for a workshop that carries spares. So as long as the spares are available in Australia, a fleet of these trucks should be very cheap to run and maintain.
My overall impression is that this vehicle is well thought out, and uses basic, discrete building blocks. Everything that you need is there, and this truck will get the job done admirably, but there are no fancy bells or whistles to play with. I think that drivers will take to this vehicle willingly - you're not driving a spaceship, you're driving a truck.
I made a couple of videos to capture the experience of driving this truck. Watch them here, or head over to my Youtube channel.