US based electric truck startup, Thor Trucks has announced plans to use a specialised axle embedded with electric motors as the powertrain for a line of electric semi-tractors it is developing.

The Los Angeles based company says it believes the design combined with its battery technology will have wide applications, allowing it to sell the integrated system to manufacturers of other vehicles.

Thor, which has a workforce of just 40 at the moment, a figure that has doubled in thepast 10 months, is partnering with Michigan based AxleTech, which makes the e-axle.

The partnership demonstrates the direction Thor is taking to power the ET-1 that it plans to produce in 2019. Thor unveiled a prototype of the truck last December. That version was powered by a large electric motor mounted between the frame rails of a Navistar chassis.

“Thor used the Navistar chassis to quickly create a demonstration vehicle. It now is making its own custom chassis for the e-axle-integrated powertrain,” said Thor’s co-founder and chief operating officer Giordano Sordoni.

“Powering a heavy-duty truck with electricity instead of diesel fuel and an internal combustion engine presents several technology choices. Designers can mount a large electric motor between the frame rails that is connected to a drive shaft, they can use electric motors mounted on wheel hubs, or they can use the type of e-axle that we plan to use in our trucks,” said Sordoni.

“I haven’t seen a hub motor that makes sense for these heavier-duty applications,” Sordoni added.

“But e-axles make a ton of sense because they free up space that would have been taken up by a motor.”

The Thor-AxleTech system includes solid-state electronics and software to control and convert electricity.

“It can be useful in a number of applications outside of Class 8 on-road day cabs,” Sordoni said. “There are niche spaces where we don’t see ourselves competing with our own product.”

The company will explore selling its batteries and powertrains to other industries as a system, he said. A deal that Thor has with Wiggins Lift Co. is one example. Thor will initially provide battery technology for Wiggins’ forklifts.

An integrated electric powertrain may follow while Thor says it will gain valuable experience producing large equipment used in construction and warehousing that it can build on.

“It’s an opportunity to validate a battery system with an e-axle purpose-built for heavier applications,” Sordoni said.

Unlike Tesla, which is doing its own integration of its semi-truck, Thor has relied on partnerships, some it has not yet announced.

Companies leading truck electrification are doing likewise. Axle makers for example are buying electric motors instead of making them.

Dana acquired a 55 per cent interest in Hydro-Quebec subsidiary TM4 in June, becoming Dana’s source for electric motors, power inverters and control systems.

Bosch is a strategic partner of Nikola Motors, integrating the fuel cell powertrain in the heavy-duty startup.

AxleTech has partnerships with traditional manufacturers for integrated electric powertrains for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses.

Thor is “agnostic from a supply base perspective” with no exclusive partnerships, Sordoni said.

Thor will begin testing two electric medium-duty delivery trucks with UPS in greater Los Angeles in January. Those trucks are capable of 160 km of electric range before needing a 60-minute recharge.