Green transportation can come in all shapes and sizes. Most of what we've seen from automakers are generally small, svelte, and aerodynamic cars--the largest consumer plug-in to go on sale this year will be the Ford C-Max Energi--but other segments could stand to benefit from a little green power themselves. We're talking heavy-duty, purpose-built work trucks. Enter Auburn Hills-based plug-in hybrid conversion outfitter, ALTe. ATLe was founded by a group of former Tesla Motors executives that had a large role in bringing the plug-in Model S to life. John D. Thomas, ALTe's CEO, has a background in mechanical engineering and has worked for the likes of GM, Toyota, and multiple Tier 1 automotive suppliers. A native Michigan man, John jumped on the opportunity to lead Tesla's Michigan Tech Center where much of Tesla's early development took place. After Tesla decided to move the tech center to California, John and a few of his Tesla associates decided to stay in the midwest to start something new.

The idea for the business came from the simple insight that there are many overpowered commercial fleet vehicles on the road that are wasting money by burning gas. John and team saw the opportunity and decided to jump on it.

They started with a true American workhorse, the Ford F-150. An ALTe converted F-150 swaps its V8 for a smaller 4-cylinder, paired with 2 battery-powered, 60 kW electric motors. This plug-in hybrid powertrain is similar to what you find on the Chevy Volt, or other plug-in hybrid vehicles that combine engine and battery power, and is also carried into other ALTe platforms such as buses and vans.


Some of the largest trucks on the road belong to fleets, or commercially owned work vehicles. By taking some load off the engines, there is an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases and fuel costs. And considering there are millions of fleet vehicles on the road, the potential for savings are very large.

And you don't have to give up capability. ALTe says the conversions they perform on F-150s can deliver up to 465 lb-ft of immediately available torque, while returning 25-40 miles of range on the batteries. The batteries commonly installed on the conversions are 22 kWh and come from A123 systems, the same company that supplies cells to the Fisker Karma.

"We selected A123 Systems as a primary supplier of lithium ion battery technology because the company's cost-competitive, high-quality solutions meet the rigorous performance, safety and durability needs of our powertrain platform," said ALTe CEO John D. Thomas. "With A123's battery packs as an integral part of our systems, we will be able to provide a compelling hybrid retrofit solution that can exceed both the power and efficiency demands of the fleet market."

ALTe's biggest competition comes from Utah and Michigan-based VIA Motors. As of recent, VIA has been getting lots of press from one of the industry's most influential leaders: former GM executive and current VIA advisor Bob Lutz. Earlier this month at the International Electric Vehicle Symposium, Lutz introduced a new extended-range truck that VIA will be building from Chevy Silverado shells. Similar to the Volt, the trucks are purported to travel 40 miles on battery alone at 100 MPGe with a typical gasoline engine acting as a generator.

So, even in a world of plug-in trucks, it's still Chevy versus Ford.

ALTe says the company has focused on Ford conversions first, since the F-Series is the largest-selling pickup in the country. While E-Series and Panther-based creations are also on the docket, ALTe is also focusing on one of the largest and fastest growing markets by partnering with OEMs in China.

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