Motiv Power Systems, a Bay Area startup, recently landed a $13.4 million contract to start electrifying Chicago’s garbage trucks. The initiative, which will result with the conversion of 20 garbage trucks into electric vehicles (EVs) within five years, is the first major contract for the Foster City-based company.

Motiv’s value proposition is its electric powertrain control system (ePCS), which the company describes as a modular “operating system” that permits builders and owners of medium- and large-sized crops to use a common system to retrofit trucks of various sizes and weights. The result is a hardware and software platform that allows for the conversion of diesel- or gasoline-hogging heavy vehicles into EVs without steeply priced redesigns. Motiv ships its battery kits to truck chassis manufacturers, who then install the battery systems where gasoline or diesel engines would otherwise be plunked instead. So far Motiv has found success with shuttle buses, a stepping stone to this new conversion of garbage trucks in America’s third largest city.

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the cost of the trucks with the new battery technology systems will initially be double those powered by conventional engines. Motiv, however, insists that the payback time will be as short as four years. The trucks will have a minimum of 10 battery packs that will provide a capacity of 200 kilowatt hours of power storage that in turn will provide up to 60 miles of range per charge. The City of Chicago, meanwhile, will benefit in the long run from reduced fuel costs. The city will convert a total of 20 garbage trucks.

Companies developing EV technologies similar to that of Motiv’s have plenty of long term business opportunities with fleets such as Chicago’s garbage trucks. Garbage trucks, especially in more densely populated areas, travel short distances day to day, yet their weight and constant idling is the source of wasted fuel as well as emissions. Considering the fact that garbage trucks generally rarely need to move fast--yet can benefit from the torque that is one key advantage of electric drive trains--fleets are a compelling solution for such technologies to scale because the trucks can simply return to a central location to recharge overnight. With interest in electric buses and trucks on the upswing, look for large companies, and municipalities, to experiment with EVs even more frequently as conventional fuel prices continue to remain high.

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credits: Motiv, City of Chicago

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.