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Fleet of electric trucks is bound for Port of Los Angeles

February 25, 2009|Ronald D. White

The standing joke about the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach used to be that they were like the diesel version of elephant graveyards: the place where old trucks went to die. But lately, they have become a proving ground for technology that produces little or no pollution.

On Tuesday, the first of 25 heavy-duty all-electric trucks rolled off a new Los Angeles assembly line. All are slated to work at the Port of Los Angeles or to make short hauls to and from the harbor. The small fleet results from a partnership involving the Port of Los Angeles, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and a small business called Balqon Corp.

For a vehicle that is going to be doing a lot of grunt work with rusty cargo containers, its coming out party was pretty splashy.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was there for the unveiling of the Nautilus E30 and even took it for a short spin. He was joined by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners President S. David Freeman and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido, who is a member of the air board.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have launched the nation's most ambitious port cleanup effort, which bans the oldest and dirtiest trucks and charges cargo fees to help fund the purchase of thousands of new clean diesel and natural gas trucks. The ports also have been offering seed money for promising new technologies.

The Nautilus E30 has a range of 40 miles (under a full load) to 60 miles (when not hauling). It powers up by plugging into a 230-volt or 480-volt charger for about three hours.

Balqon Chief Executive Balwinder Samra received $527,000 from the L.A. port and the air board to fund development of the electric truck. As part of the deal, Samra moved his company from Orange County to Harbor City, near the port, and he will pay a royalty of $1,000 to the port and the air board for every truck he sells that isn't used at the port.

"We had made equipment for trucks and buses before, but we could never afford to build a whole truck before this," Samra said. "Now, we've proven we can do it."

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ron.white@latimes.com

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