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Nissan Engineering Team Builds All-Electric Pickup Truck

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On: Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 12:08PM | By: Bill Wilson

Nissan Engineering Team Builds All-Electric Pickup Truck

Throughout most of their history, pickup trucks have been all about size and power—which makes sense, given that they’re also all about work. But, if a new concept vehicle from Nissan catches on, all of that may be about to change. Dubbed “Sparky,” it brings modern battery technology to the truck world.

Sparky is the brainchild of a group of Nissan engineers who work at the company’s proving grounds in Stanfield, AZ. Supervisor Roland Schellenberg directed his team members to create a practical utility vehicle based on the Nissan Leaf, the automaker’s production electric vehicle (EV).

Schellenberg’s colleague, Arnold Moulinet, pulled an all-nighter in response to Schellenberg’s challenge. He analyzed Nissan’s truck bed designs, looking for one that would match the limited dimensions the group had to work with. He finally settled on the same basic approach used in the Frontier pickup. Moulinet’s specialty is ensuring that Nissan’s models have what it takes to hold up under rough road conditions, so his skill set is well-suited to the task Schellenberg laid out.

The final product was dubbed Sparky, because of how it sparked innovation and consensus among project members. “It’s something we all put together, something we all share,” said Schellenberg. “So it has a little bit of everybody in there.” Sparky will see duty as a member of the site’s maintenance fleet.

This is not the first time that designers have sought to fit the requirements for a work machine into a pint-sized frame. In Japan there’s an entire class of vehicles that fit the general description of a “micro” truck: the K-class, with “K” short for “Kei,” the Japanese word for “lightweight.” The fun-sized autos are used in the US mostly for off-road purposes in agricultural settings, due to their limited size and speed. But a handful of them are employed in some of America’s larger cities for making deliveries.

The key limitation preventing widespread adoption of work-based EVs is the same problem that has vexed fans of electric transportation for well over a century: how to get enough range from batteries to make them an economical alternative to fossil fuels. The key to the solution hinges on what engineers call “energy density,” or, in layperson’s terms, packing more juice in each cubic inch.

This past summer, a team at the University of Tokyo announced that it had created a new form of lithium battery. The prototype holds seven times as much power as models currently on the market, while offering drastically reduced recharge times. The development is still in its testing phases. But, if it proves practical, it will be the Holy Grail that people like Sparky’s creators have long hoped for. It may not be long before EVs take their place alongside other vehicles as practical commercial workhorses. For fans of renewable energy, these are exciting times to be alive.

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