My Tour of Lightning eMotors


I used to be impressed pulling into the lot at Lightning eMotors. 100 or extra white vans from Ford and GM have been arrayed in rows, ready for his or her flip to be remodeled into battery electrical autos (BEVs). Lightning eMotors, coated by CleanTechnica in 2021 right here, right here, and right here, makes a speciality of creating powertrains and electrical conversions for giant vans, shuttles, buses, and supply autos.

Situated in Loveland, Colorado, the positioning was as soon as a Hewlett-Packard (HP) campus that sits atop a small hill overlooking the Rocky Mountains. I’m notably on this place, not just for the corporate’s mission to maneuver the world in the direction of an electrified, carbon-free future, but additionally as a result of I used to work in that constructing. And lately I had the possibility to return to the remodeled web site, on tour with a gaggle {of electrical} engineers.

Again within the HP days, the positioning fostered each engineering and manufacturing excellence, however due to bigger financial forces and shifting priorities, the corporate finally left the Loveland web site. Staff (akin to I) have been moved right into a smaller constructing subsequent door, the place we sadly watched the bigger campus languish in close to abandonment for nearly a decade. Quick-forward to now and you may’t assist however be inspired to see Lightning eMotors blossoming, bringing that very same spirit of innovation again to the historic web site. (Coincidentally, I additionally as soon as labored every so often on the web site that Tesla now calls its engineering headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, additionally a former HP constructing.)

On our group’s tour, we began at Lightning’s first automobile, a futuristic-looking hybrid automotive that used compressed nitrogen for regenerative braking, constructed throughout their humble beginnings in 2008. With over 250 workers, they now deal with constructing pure electrical drivetrains and performing conversions for Class 3 cargo and passenger vans, ambulances, Class 4 and 5 cargo vans and shuttle buses, Class 4 Kind A college buses, Class 6 work vehicles, Class 7 metropolis buses, and motor coaches. In nearly all instances, the conversion is carried out on new autos from the OEM factories, which signifies that these autos are already EVs when they’re first registered for street use.

Picture courtesy of Lightning eMotors 

These autos are bigger than the Class 2 vans that Ford (eTransit) and GM (BrightDrop) presently produce, and fill an vital area of interest in fleet electrification. A few of these autos will run all day, contributing positively each to our planet’s carbon footprint in addition to lowering noise and air air pollution, so electrification makes a giant distinction in every.

As we walked, we noticed autos at varied levels of the conversion processes. Most fashions start as model new autos, full with an inner combustion engine (ICE), which is first eliminated after which changed by an electrical powertrain. For now, the ICE powertrains are offered to recoup prices, however finally, they’ll have adequate quantity to purchase new chassis with out the ICE elements. As soon as the drivetrain is changed, the physique is modified in line with the client’s goal, turning it right into a van, shuttle, or absolutely anything else. They’ll additionally refit used autos, akin to college buses, with new electrical drivetrains.

Moreover lowering greenhouse fuel emissions, electrification can result in higher reliability, as Lightning’s Dan Bennett defined:

“Lightning eMotors has invested closely in manufacturing and high quality programs with the purpose of manufacturing autos that are dependable from day one. In reality, one of many firm’s key efficiency metrics is the general uptime charge for his or her buyer base. At 97% uptime (for all of their autos besides the earliest prototypes), this metric is above diesel fleets, which generally run at round 90% availability.”

However the firm does far more than EV manufacturing. To make sure profitable fleet operations, it has expanded its portfolio to incorporate logistics, charging stations, charging as a service, cell charging, telematics, in addition to steering for navigating authorities incentives, all to ensure prospects are working at peak effectivity. It’s a one-stop store. From the corporate’s web site:

“The Lightning staff works with forward-thinking fleets to offer the fitting electrical powertrain on the fitting chassis in the fitting drive cycle. Lightning’s merchandise enhance a fleet’s working prices and security and ensure they’re driving the cleanest and most superior expertise out there.”

An instance of Lightning’s funding in making EV choice simpler for fleets is its on-line simulation device at, which asks the person for operational data akin to passenger rely or payload necessities, terrain kind, and responsibility schedule; after which offers an inventory of autos that might work for that fleet, together with estimated value financial savings in comparison with the ICE equal automobile. “These simulations are based mostly on real-world telematics knowledge,” says Dan Bennett, “to allow them to be trusted.”

Over the previous few years, they’ve continued to develop. Within the third quarter of 2022, Lightning eMotors produced 104 autos and powertrains, a brand new file, doubling the quantity from Q3 2021. As of this writing, prospects have pushed over 4 million pure electrical miles, mitigating 7 million lb of CO2 (on the street). And the long run seems to be shiny due to continued demand and new authorities incentives. From the corporate’s 2022 earnings report:

“Along with the continuing Federal Transportation Administration funding for low and nil emission public transportation at $1 billion per yr, the U.S. Environmental Safety Company lately doubled the funding for electrical college buses from $500 million to $1 billion per yr. Beginning in 2023, the brand new Inflation Discount Act offers a tax credit score of $40,000 for electrical business autos over 14,000 kilos, a funding that may be stacked on high of the opposite Federal and State funding sources. Lightning is one among just a few OEMs that probably qualify for all of those subsidies at present.”

Our tour group took all these websites and stats in with a form of reckless curiosity. We in fact requested all the standard EV questions on vary, charging, brake regen, battery lifetime, and so forth. However a gaggle of (largely retired) engineers, dropped abruptly right into a hub of latest expertise, will need to know far more — they may need to know all the pieces. Accordingly, we exhausted our guides with questions on all the pieces from wiring to hiring. We requested about software program, documentation, testing, provide chains, office security, throughput, electromagnetic interference, first-responder security, heating/cooling, gear packing containers, controllers, effectivity, and a lot extra.

It’s simple to underestimate all of the proficiencies wanted to get a brand new auto firm off the bottom. However I used to be impressed by how adeptly our guides answered our questions, displaying that they’d given thought to each difficulty, and within the course of, illustrated their dedication to innovation in each engineering and manufacturing. It was encouraging to see this vital effort underway, and proper subsequent door to the place I now work. And who is aware of, possibly I ought to wish to work in that constructing once more sometime.

Dave Gines

By David Gines. Dave is {an electrical} engineer working at Keysight Applied sciences, specializing in algorithms for knowledge evaluation.

He loves science, enjoys following the transition to wash power via CleanTechnica, and likes to remain lively within the stunning outside of northern Colorado the place he presently lives.

Thanks and a hat tip to David!

All photographs are courtesy of Lightning eMotors (and used with their permission).


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