Thompson Rivers University

Trucking industry faces a battery of change

October 30, 2023

TRU alumni and business partners Eric Little (left) and Chace Barber are changing the future of trucking with the development of electric semis.

Tik Tokking truck driver Chace Barber (BA ’18) went viral a few years ago sharing his long-haul adventures. The number of followers on his TikTok and YouTube channels continues to grow, but now he’s showing off another side of the trucking industry — and it’s electric.

In late 2021, Barber and fellow TRU alum Eric Little took a leap when their Merritt-based business, Edison Motors, went public. Unhappy with the planned obsolescence that seems inherent in current vocational truck manufacturing, the duo began rebuilding classic trucks to make them more reliable. Their master plan is to manufacture fully electric semi-trucks while also selling retrofit kits, creating vocational trucks that are more powerful, have better fuel mileage and lower maintenance costs.

“Why create waste by constantly making new things, when you can take a thing that you already have and make it more efficient?” asks Barber. “You don’t need to purchase an entire new truck — you can just upgrade the existing truck you have.”

Two semitrucks

Edison Motors products Topsy (left) and Carl (right) represent a new era of vocational trucks.

Step one for Barber and Little was creating a proof-of-concept truck, otherwise known as Carl. A 1962 Kenworth, Carl now has a 3306 CAT diesel generator charging a battery bank, running a frame-mounted electric drive motor into a set of 46,000 rearends. Once Carl was road worthy, they started building a production prototype. Production was underway when the company received an invitation to debut their prototype in Vancouver at Fully Charged LIVE, a large-scale clean-energy showcase.

The invitation sent the team into hyperdrive, but supply chain issues and delays caused frustration and doubt that the truck, named Topsy, would be ready in time for the September show. Still, they never gave up and Topsy debuted at Fully Charged LIVE for attendees, as well as for nearly 460,000 @Edison Motors TikTok followers and over 200,000 YouTube subscribers.

“It was fantastic. The reception we got was amazing. We had a lot of people come out to the show skeptical and leave wanting a truck,” says Barber.

Topsy takes to the road

Shortly following Fully Charged LIVE, the Edison team prepared to test Topsy out with a full load for the first time. They travelled to Ontario’s Deboss Garage and set out to pull a Sherman tank with a Chevy on it — the weight totalling over 100,000 lb. (45,000 kg). In comparison, the most a Tesla semi has ever pulled is 82,000 lb. (36,900 kg).

To say they were pleasantly surprised with the outcome would be an understatement.

“We shouldn’t have been surprised, we knew it should work, but it’s cool when you spend two years engineering and developing things and it’s such a nerve-wracking moment when you’re like, ‘OK, this is it. This is the moment we find out if everything that we’ve done the last two years is going to work.’ There was so much riding on the line and then it worked even better than we thought — it was so amazing,” says Barber.

Next up, the truck enters the testing phase. Working with industry partners, the team plans to build five or six more trucks and get them on the road so they can get real world data through their testing partners. From there, possibly within three or four years, they hope to be manufacturing and selling trucks, changing the face of trucking forever.

“We’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from everyone that’s come to look at the truck, tested the truck, driven the truck,” says Barber. “I really think this is the future of heavy-duty vocational trucking.”

Barber’s vision might change the future of trucking, but it’s also a huge part of his past. A fourth-generation trucker, his life has always revolved around big rigs and his family has been hauling goods around BC for generations. From his great-grandfather running a mule train to his father stepping up to help build his son’s dream, a passion for heavy equipment runs deep in the Barber veins. Perhaps his trucking roots are one of the reasons so many skeptics are coming on board — another is the company’s open invitation for anyone to follow along on social media.

The world can watch the journey

“A lot of mechanics and truckers are really nervous about electric. They don’t know how it works. They don’t know how they’re going to work on it. They don’t know anything about it and if people don’t know about something, they tend to be scared of it,” he says. That’s where Barber’s YouTube channel comes in (links to Edison’s social channels are on the website).

“Edison Motors does not hide anything we’re doing; we believe that if EV technology is going to be implemented in the real world, then the information on how the trucks work needs to be freely shared. We put everything we do and build online for people to see. If a mechanic is going to service it, and a trucker is going to operate it, they need to know how it works,” states the company website. “We do not hide our technology; we want it to be seen and adopted.”

If skeptics still exist after watching countless videos, Barber is confident their fears will turn to exhaust once they’ve driven an Edison build.

“Once they actually drive it and see the power and the torque and the acceleration, they aren’t going to want to drive anything else.”

Related Posts