Mack Trucks shows off electric garbage truck, due to hit New York City streets later this year
Born and raised in Queens, Rocky DiRico is a self-described old-timer, someone with a thick growl of a New York accent who started turning wrenches as a truck mechanic with the New York City Department of Sanitation in 1978.
He became a procurement supervisor shortly after, rising through the ranks to deputy commissioner in 2001, a post he still holds today.
DiRico found himself 90 miles west on Thursday, laying his eyes on what he considers “the most exciting” product development he’s seen during his career with the department. Then he got to drive it, taking the first lap in a fully electric version of Mack’s LR refuse model at the test track at the Mack Customer Center in Allentown.
While the truck was first unveiled last May, Thursday was the first public demonstration of the electric vehicle, which is quiet like a Tesla but still features two motors that deliver a combined 496 horsepower — all while spitting out zero emissions.
“It’s unbelievable,” DiRico said as he exited the vehicle, repeating the word, “unbelievable” one more time. “It’s so quiet.”
While DiRico said the electric truck should make its way to the city by Monday, the long-anticipated vehicle will begin testing in the second quarter. There, DiRico said, his workers plan on “beating the hell” out of it, a tough proving ground in a department that — each day — collects 10,500 tons of residential and institutional garbage along with 1,700 tons of recyclables. The truck also will help the department, which has a fleet of 6,000 trucks, many of them Macks, as it aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2035.
“To have a pure electric truck like this, I never thought it would ever happen in my career,” DiRico said.
For Mack Trucks, which employs more than 2,000 in the Lehigh Valley, its first electric truck shows how the manufacturer is trying to remain ahead of the curve, staying on top of advances in technology as the transportation industry changes, said Jonathan Randall, Mack’s senior vice president of North American sales and marketing.
“I can’t even tell you in 10 or 15 years what the business model may look like,” Randall said. “All we know is people are going to need equipment to get the daily work done. We believe strongly that electric is one of those solutions that’s going to have longevity and is going to stick, and so we need to be prepared for that.”
The first electric truck, Randall said, was put together at the Mack Customer Center in conjunction with the company’s engineers in North Carolina.
The New York City Department of Sanitation will be Mack’s first customer to test the electric truck. Randall said a second truck will go into service later this year with waste giant Republic Services.
Once Mack and its customers are comfortable with the product, following some likely adjustments and tweaks, that’s when the company would look at producing the truck at the assembly plant in Lower Macungie Township, he said.
“At some point, a portion of what we build is going to be combustion-diesel and a portion is going to be electric,” Randall said. “That grows over time as the technology becomes more and more commercially viable.”
Steve Tam, vice president of Americas Commercial Transportation Research Co., said about 60% of the vehicles in the refuse industry are powered by natural gas, though electric could make sense, too.
Roy Horton, Mack’s director of product strategy, went over several of those reasons Thursday.
For one, Horton said, garbage trucks are constantly starting and stopping during their run. The Mack electric truck has two-stage regenerative braking, in which the operator lifts their foot off the gas pedal to stop the vehicle while the kinetic energy lost during deceleration is converted to stored energy in the battery.
That also leads to less wear and tear on the brakes, which could help reduce operating costs for customers, Horton said. In the refuse industry, he added, the trucks also return to the garage every night, making it easy to recharge.
Tam said virtually all truck manufacturers in the domestic market are developing at least one electric model, cutting their teeth on the technology and learning the existing capabilities.
A larger challenge, Tam said, will be in long-haul trucks, which could be one of the last segments to see battery electric vehicles because of the battery requirements for lengthy journeys. Based on current technology, Tam said, a battery would weigh around 20,000 pounds to be capable of long-haul application, which would sacrifice payload.
As for DiRico, he said he can’t wait to get the Mack electric truck — with a copper-colored Bulldog hood ornament on the front — back to the city to show it off, already envisioning an event featuring the truck on Earth Day in April. The department plans to base the Mack LR Electric at its Brooklyn North 1 garage and test it on a local collection route, evaluating operating range, payload capacity and braking performance.
While DiRico has long since left his first job in the department turning wrenches, his two sons now work there — one as a warehouse manager, the other as a mechanic.
Who knows what technology Mack and others will be rolling out by the time they become old-timers.