In just a few weeks, an Enwin Utilities truck that was once gas-powered will be fully transformed into an all-electric vehicle ready to hit the road.
A small team, including students from St. Clair College, completely gutted the vehicle's innards, removing the 3.5-litre gas engine from the 2018 Ford F-150 and replaced it with eight massive batteries that will make it run. It's a partnership between Enwin, Canadian Automobility Enterprises and St. Clair College.
"It's invaluable in terms of what we're learning," said Barry Leavitt, Enwin's director of corporate operations and innovation. "We have to be prepared for the implementation of an electric fleet over the next five to 10 years. As our fleet becomes aged and we replenish, we need to be prepared for the electric platforms."
The auto mechanics installed the electric engine on Wednesday after beginning the retrofit roughly one month ago.
After removing the connection points between the body of the truck and the chassis, the truck was essentially hoisted apart into two pieces.
In a few months, after the testing phase, Enwin expects to put the vehicle to use in day-to-day operations, which will make it the organization's first fully-electric vehicle. Acceleration, towing capacity, battery range, performance are all areas they'll monitor when it's in use.
Vehicle viewed as a 'showcase piece' for research
It's being described as a "showcase piece," according to Rafal Bulgarski, general manager of Canadian Automobility Enterprises.
This is the first project of its kind for the private firm that announced its arrival in Windsor, Ont., last year. It's a joint venture created by people with local experience in the automotive manufacturing, mould making, IT development and electric vehicle production.
"It's beyond the regular project where here's a vehicle, it's fun. It's actually going to be a use case that will allow us to understand how practical this vehicle will be in the field," said Bulgarski.
He believes there's a market to have traditional gas-powered vehicles converted into EVs, instead of building them from scratch, which he admits is "probably a little bit more logical."
"But, in the industry, a lot of these vehicles have a long lifetime and it doesn't make sense that these vehicles would not be converted in order to still get the same benefits of an electrical system," said Bulgarski. "I think there is this transition period where this is absolutely the right thing to do."
Normally, car makers need to jump through a number of regulatory hoops before a vehicle is deemed road worthy, including crash testing. But since they're leaving most of the truck intact, it will jump through fewer hoops.
"There's no requirement on us to do further testing beyond ensuring the systems that have been mildly touched, still function," said Leavitt, referring to anti-lock braking, power steering as well as the heating and cooling systems.
How will Enwin's electric vehicle survive lengthy power outage?
One concern they're working to address is the ability for fully electric Enwin vehicles being able to survive a long-term power outage, as some communities in Ontario experienced in May.
"We can't be on the side of the road with a dead battery while the community is looking to us to put the power in place," said Leavitt.
Conversations started in 2020 about this project and were prompted by Invest Windsor Essex, a non-profit tasked with advancing economic development.
"In order to stay prominent and stay a leader, we knew that our companies ... needed to embrace the change and the evolution to a zero-based electric vehicles," said Invest Windsor Essex President Stephen MacKenzie.
Officials couldn't disclose the overall cost of converting a gas-powered truck into a fully-electric version, but pointed to what they call the invaluable aspects of the project.
"It's a great opportunity for our students because we're really looking at the ground floor of EVs," said Peter Wawrow, director of research and innovation at St. Clair College.
"We're working with companies, and Enwin being our first company, to look at what kind of research can we do and converting this vehicle is our first project," said Wawrow. "From that we can commercialize this and take that knowledge and information and have companies start commercializing their product."
Two college students from the Motive Power Technician program participated in the project. St. Clair College said it plans to develop new programs centred around the electric vehicle industry because students will need "a new skill set going forward," he added.