“We’re trying to disrupt that thing over there,” said Bryan Hansel, CEO of electric delivery truck startup Chanje.
Hansel nodded in the direction of a boxy, brown UPS truck -- the kind that roams city and suburban streets all over the U.S. -- that was parked on a street in downtown San Francisco.
A few spaces behind the UPS truck sat a bright-white electric delivery truck from Chanje (pronounced "change"), which was ready to be handed over to a customer. It is big enough to fit a smart car in its rear cargo hold, has a row of batteries under its floor to allow a 100-mile range, and features an integrated screen for delivery drivers at the center console.
The company, based in Los Angeles, emerged from stealth mode on Thursday after having been working on the truck since 2015. Chanje has fewer than 50 employees. But executives said they’re taking orders today.
The first truck shipments are supposed to start in the fall of 2017.
The company is targeting corporations with truck fleets in big cities that want a more environmentally friendly option. The trucks will be competitive with gas-powered delivery trucks -- if the cost of fuel and maintenance is factored in, according to executives. Chanje is not disclosing specific pricing at this time.
Hansel was once CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles, an electric-truck startup going after similar customers. Chanje was originally a joint venture between Smith and FDG Electric Vehicles.
But Smith Electric Vehicles struggled. When it closed operations, publicly traded FDG stuck with the business plan. The first trucks are being produced in FDG’s Hong Kong factory space. FDG also provides battery lithium-ion phosphate batteries.
The Asia-California partnership is similar to other electric-vehicle ventures, such as NextEV and Faraday Future. The financing and battery tech come from Asia, while California talent contributes to car design and the digital gadgetry.
As companies like Tesla, Nissan and GM focus on rolling out electric cars for consumers, a subset of companies is focusing on electrifying commercial and municipal vehicles, which can be a more cost-effective addition to existing fleets. Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks all transportation will go electric -- with the exception (somewhat ironically in Musk’s case) of space-bound rockets.
Proterra is a burgeoning startup making electric buses, started by a former Tesla executive. Tesla, too, has an electric semi-truck in the works, which it plans to unveil in September.
While consumer-focused electric car companies look to hit a range of 200 miles per charge, Hansel said 100 miles is optimal for delivery trucks. Most delivery trucks don’t drive more than 50 to 75 miles a day, and the vehicles can be charged overnight. Chanje can also add extra batteries for future models if customers want a longer range.
Creating an independent electric-vehicle company from scratch is expensive and incredibly difficult, as Smith Electric Vehicles found out the hard way. Chanje plans to raise a Series B round of funding soon, while it leverages FDG's manufacturing expertise.
A handful of Chanje’s executives hail from electric-car companies like Tesla, Smith and Volkswagen. Hansel compared the lessons learned during his tenure at Smith to Tesla's experience building Roadsters, which used Lotus bodies stocked with batteries.
The newer Chanje electric delivery truck was designed from scratch, similar to Tesla’s Model S. That makes it a much more efficient and effective design, said the team.
Chanje will probably find its customers in big cities that have strong climate-change and air-pollution reduction goals -- particularly in California, where state subsidies have been generous.