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Small electric vehicles may be the future of last-mile delivery

January 17, 2018, Vishnu Rajamanickam, staff writer

 

It is estimated that vehicles contribute more than half the total carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide that accumulates in the air. Combine that with nearly a quarter of the entire atmospheric hydrocarbon content, it is no surprise that a lot of our cities have poor air quality standards.

This alarming situation of air quality depreciation has made the rise of electric vehicles inevitable. Electric vehicles, though having existed for decades now, have never been anywhere close to as robust or efficient as fossil fuel burning automobiles. But times are changing and the EVs are finally in contention, with major automakers spending millions of dollars on EV research units, buoyed with the ever-strangulating emission directives from the government.

Tropos Technologies, a hybrid EV startup from California, is looking to cash in on the winds of change by developing vehicles and components for electric drive.

“At the core of our expertise is engineering, research and development, fabrication, and prototyping,” says John Bautista, CEO, and founder of Tropos Technologies. “We can take anything from a component to a complete vehicle, right from conception to pre-production.”

Bautista has been involved heavily in the electric drive industry for more than a decade, and Tropos Technologies was an idea that was coming-of-age for a while.

“I found myself being contacted and asked to consult on a number of different projects and so I started filling out a team of associated experts who could work with organizations to help them advance their program,” he explains. “That is how it started and continues to date.” 

Bautista asserts that the vehicle Tropos is building has a higher capability than a Polaris GEM and has a payload carrying capacity and torque that is comparable to a small pickup truck. It is a low speed vehicle in the U.S. and can be driven on roadways, and depending on local laws, the speed is restricted between 25 mph to 35 mph. It has been crash-tested in Europe, and it can go up to 50 mph on their roads.

“We have a flatbed, a pickup bed that has fold-down sides that could be used as a flatbed, and also have a cargo box. We are in the final stages of developing medical emergency response vehicles - for fire and medical emergencies - both enclosed and open, a street sweeper, a dump truck and a lot of different bed packages,” notes Bautista. “Honestly, if the customer wanted to swap out and utilize any of them, he can.”

The vehicles of Tropos Technologies are built to rival every other benchmark in the industry, says Bautista.

“Our pricing runs about 10-15% lower than our competitors, but we have many more features. Right now, the industry benchmark is the Polaris GEM,  and compared to it, our towing capacity is about 40% more, our hill climbing capability is 50% more, and we can do a 30% grade while the GEM does roughly around 20% grade. Our turning radius is 12.5 feet, compared to their 21 feet,” he explains.

“So our vehicle can navigate through tighter spaces. Because of the U.S. laws, we are restricted to a 3,000-pound gross vehicle weight range for on-road use. So that means our payload capacity is 1,100 pounds. But off-road our vehicle can carry 1,500 pounds. We rate our towing capacity at 2,000 pounds but we’ve towed as much as 4,000 pounds. And that is not just on flat grounds, but over a 7% grade with 3,000 pounds, while stopping in the middle of the grade and restarting again,” Bautista notes. “We are really conservative about how we rate our vehicle, but the fact is that it is extremely capable.”

Certification is a vital part of getting a vehicle on the road, and the startup had to work on developing the tools that they need to launch the product - such as the park catalog, repair manual, owner’s manual.

When asked about the immediate priority of the company, Bautista says it is about developing a distribution network and focusing on selling the product, as the vehicle has been certified and things are aligned nicely for scaling up.

“We have plenty of uplift packages that make the vehicle more unique in the marketplace and fits into our model of having a truly versatile product.”

The company also plans to cash in on the last-mile delivery system that is exploding in the U.S. That, along with a lot of announcements banning the use of and eventually all internal combustion engines in larger metropolitan European cities, Tropos Technologies sees a tremendous market opportunity to tap.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in our vehicles in sectors like the public works department, school districts, police groups, park maintenance, and also on corporate campuses,” notes Bautista. “We are designing a people mover package, and receive interest from resorts and event centers that want to be able to shuttle visitors back and forth from parking lots.“

Bautista concludes by saying that Tropos is currently developing an ag-focused vehicle, specifically catering to the needs of the wine industry in California, who have been fascinated by the product. Grapes in vineyards are sensitive to pollution and thus, driving internal combustion engines up and down vineyard rows is not a favorable option, making them turn towards electric vehicles for servicing vineyards.

Tropos Technologies has recently raised a $1.2 million seed round and counts on technology and auto industry experts like Susan Xu and Nate Shelton on its Board of Directors. The company is currently working with Cenntro Automotive Corporation to bring its vehicle to the U.S. market and plans to expand further in the years to come.

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