While startups developing electric passenger cars tend to grab most of the headlines, there is considerable interest in electric commercial vehicles out there as well. After all, commercial vehicles cover more mileage than passenger cars, and cuts in fuel costs will always be attractive to fleet operators.
The latest startup hoping to fill this niche is Chanje (which is pronounced "change," irritatingly). The company has kept a low profile so far, but plans to begin U.S. deliveries of an electric medium-duty commercial van before the end of 2017. Chanje is based on California, but has close ties to Hong Kong-based FDG Electric Vehicles Limited. The peculiar spelling of the startup's name is a nod to FDG's Chinese Changjiang brand.
The unibody Chanje V8070 will have a payload capacity of up to 6,000 pounds, and a 76-kilowatt-hour battery pack, with battery cells supplied by FDG's own factory. Chanje estimates range at around 100 miles, with 50 MPGe in typical driving conditions. Initially, vans will be equipped only for 240-volt Level 2 AC charging, but DC fast charging capability will be added at a later date.
On the tech front, Chanje will offer an infotainment system with a 10.4-inch touchscreen and app connectivity, similar to what one might expect to find in a luxury car. It hopes to use this connectivity to enable data monitoring by fleet managers, as well as Tesla-like over-the-air software updates. The company is also looking into autonomous driving.
"We really are trying to enter the market in the vein of price parity," said Chanje CEO Bryan Hansel, although he said the van may sell at a "slight premium" over internal-combustion models. Hansel expects the electric van's lower operating costs to help balance that out, and noted the company has already taken some orders.
"The first set of vehicles we're bringing in as full imports," said James Chen, Chanje vice president and general counsel. But the company is seeking a U.S. assembly facility. Rather than build a factory from the ground up, Chanje is looking to repurpose an existing facility, preferably one near a port to facilitate the flow of parts and finished vehicles. Chen noted that "the Los Angeles area is high on our list," but Chanje is evaluating multiple sites west of the Mississippi River. It plans to have the U.S. plant up and running next year.
Chanje's business will ultimately extend beyond vans. It also plans to provide fleet customers with charging stations and the infrastructure for renewable energy, grid connectivity, or energy storage. Customers will simply buy a given amount of energy from Chanje, CEO Hansel explained, and the company will coordinate with third parties on the setup.
By leaning on FDG's resources, Chanje may have an advantage over other electric-vehicle startups. But the complexity of selling vehicles in the U.S. shouldn't be underestimated, and it's impossible to predict whether fleet operators will embrace electric power right away.