Vision Motor Corp., a Long Beach fuel-cell vehicle manufacturer that has struggled to find a market for its heavy-duty, short-haul trucks is in a drive to increase efficiency.

In addition to updating the mechanics of the vehicles, however, it’s developing software called Intelligent Range Extender that combines GPS technology with fleet management software to evaluate which routes will allow truckers to get the most efficiency from a fuel cell.

The software, which could eventually be licensed to other vehicle manufacturers, is to be initially employed on its next generation of trucks intended for customers involved in drayage operations, the hauling of shipping containers to and from the ports complexes to distribution centers nearby.

“It looks at current traffic conditions and it basically calculates for the driver what container to pick up first, what route to take,” said Martin Schuermann, Vision’s chief executive. “It basically plans the driver’s day based on the jobs he has and optimizes the efficiency.”

That efficiency is supposed to increase the range of vehicles like Vision’s current prototype, the Tyrano, which is advertised to be able to travel 200 miles on a charge.

Squeezing a few more miles out of the trucks, however, might not be enough to boost sales. The initial investment required to buy an alternative fuel truck is substantially higher than that for acquiring a new diesel truck. A company buying a diesel rig might spend $165,000 to $175,000, compared with the $300,000 to $450,000 cost of a zero-emission vehicle.

Victor La Rosa, chief executive of Total Transportation Systems Inc. of Rancho Dominguez, is testing the trucks but is concerned about the price.

“We have made a corporate decision to get to zero emissions as early as possible,” he said. “The big hindrance has been the availability of affordable technology.”

La Rosa has been testing alternative vehicle trucks since 2011 and, while he has embraced the need to switch to trucks that don’t pollute, he hasn’t been convinced. Three years into the testing program, he’s still kicking the tires.

Total Transportation agreed in July 2011 to purchase as many as 100 trucks from Vision at a total price of about $27 million, contingent on approval of the Tyrano prototype. It is also testing a vehicle from TransPower of Poway.

Thus far, neither of the options has proved to be a perfect choice.

“It’s too soon to commit to what avenue we’re going to go down because we haven’t demonstrated the products long enough,” La Rosa also said. “It’s a little premature to say, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this tomorrow.’ We’re in a position where we want to do a lot more experimentation with the vehicle.”


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