Electric Conversions Of GSE

With a keener eye toward compliance and more environmentally friendly operations, electric has become an industry buzzword. Beyond new units, there has been another alternative for fleet managers looking to go electric — conversion. Long an option...


FMI Truck Sales has offered a kit for its Isuzu vehicles since 1999. The company offers the option of producing kits for other types of GSE, but it’s based on volume and demand. “To develop a kit that you put together for a specific model, generally you like to have a little bit of volume, because it’s fairly expensive to design and put together for someone,” owner Don Emerson explains. “We’ve done mostly conversions of on-road vehicles, but have the ability to do belt loaders and anything other than really heavy tugs.”

Tug Technologies has also completed the conversion of its belt loader and now offers a kit for customers to install themselves. “Tug is able to offer a range of solutions from the full conversion and factory rebuild with like-new warranty to a customer conversion kit,” says Brad Compton, VP sales and marketing at Tug.

Hercules Engine Components has also undertaken conversions for GSE, completing conversions of pushbacks, bag tugs and belt loaders, and offers such services for customers. The company has also developed preassembled kits for belt loaders. The kits are made up of about a dozen items — including a new dashboard with “plug and play” wiring harnesses, according to president Jack Dienes.

 

Technical Skill

For units such as pushbacks and belt loaders, many companies say the process is not overly complicated. Most conversions — excluding any backlog considerations — are about a three-day process.

Emerson of FMI Truck Sales says conversions can be done in-house — when a crew understands the basics. “When you convert a vehicle that is currently set up as a gas or a diesel truck, you obviously have to remove the cooling system, fueling system, the engine, and in some cases utilize the transmission as your drive gear (and some cases you don’t, depending on the application you’re into),” he explains. “You’ve got no fuel system and no cooling system, which means no radiator, no fuel tanks, and the engine is gone. You have to stop and think about what gets replaced on those.”

Waugh of Southwest Airlines indicates that technicians should have a strong familiarity with electric equipment. “It takes a knowledge in electric GSE — what all is involved with it, knowledge of the controllers, knowledge of the chargers,” he says. “All this was picked up through trial and error out here in Phoenix. Phoenix has been working with electric from the mid- to late-90s. They’ve converted a lot of units, and they were all steps to learn as we progressed on down the road to the product that we’re putting out today.”

Cost

The cost differential for converting versus buying new can vary by unit type. Southwest, through its continued efforts in-house, has been able to convert at about 50 percent the cost of a new unit. This is the average threshold the carrier uses when evaluating projects. “We look at an asset and if we can dump 50 percent of its value into it to create a new asset, then we go for it,” Waugh says. “It makes strong economic sense.”

Dienes of Hercules says their conversions have averaged between 50 to 60 percent the cost of new, which includes the complete refurbishment of units.

Emerson of FMI Truck Sales suggests customers should evaluate the cost return for each type of unit. “A typical kit — by the time you look at something that has power steering and vacuum assist brakes and all those systems you have to convert over — it’s not uncommon for the kit itself to be in the $15,000 to $17,000 range (depending on the horsepower you need),” he explains. “Then depending on what you want, you need to add for batteries and so forth, depending on your usage. A battery pack can be another $3,000 to $4,000 if you use lead-acid and more if you go with lithium. You’ve also got labor, which in most cases is about 100 hours for a conversion, give or take 20, depending on what you’re trying and how complicated it is.”

Candidates for Conversion

So just what type of units are ideal candidates for conversion? There are differing opinions when it comes to such a question. Some contend that belt loaders, pushbacks and loaders remain the best options, because other units may not be as cost-effective or may present too much of a design challenge.

Southwest has kept large-volume conversions limited to belt loaders and pushbacks. Laney says the team has worked on different types of GSE — such as bag tugs — but has not found the process to make economic sense. “Tugs are not really conducive for the conversion because the large battery pack and the way the engine is designed,” he says. “We haven’t been able to find out a way to really do them that makes sense.”

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