Home » I Drove The Electric Bollinger B4 And It’s Like A Sports Car With The Body Of A Commercial Truck

I Drove The Electric Bollinger B4 And It’s Like A Sports Car With The Body Of A Commercial Truck

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Commercial vehicles make up much of the backbone of America’s workforce. They’re the vehicles delivering materials to worksites, getting goods to customers, and helping business owners and tradespeople get their jobs done. As the world converts from internal combustion power to electricity, the humble work truck will be following suit. Bollinger thinks it has the perfect solution using today’s technology with the B4, a Class 4 electric commercial truck for local and regional businesses.

I got to test out Bollinger’s chassis cab validation builds out at Mcity at the University of Michigan. Mcity is a simulated city and highway proving ground often used for the development of autonomous vehicles. It’s also a closed course, perfect to set some journalists loose in prototype electric commercial trucks for shenanigans.

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(Full Disclosure: Bollinger invited me out to Mcity to test all of its B4 truck validation builds. I paid for my own travel and the Red Bulls needed to jump-start my body after waking up at 3 a.m.)

Bollinger Motors

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Some of you are probably scratching your head right now. Bollinger? Isn’t that the company trying to build an ultra-square, ultra-utilitarian EV off-roader shown below? You know, the very same off-roader with a frunk that our Jason Torchinsky may or may not have invented back in 2013? Yes, this is the same Bollinger that wanted to sell you the boxy B1 SUV and the equally rectangular B2 Pickup. However, those trucks are now postponed indefinitely. Instead, Bollinger Motors now wants to make a dent in the emerging market of electric commercial vehicles.

Bollinger Motors was founded in Hobart, New York in 2015. The company name comes from its entrepreneur founder, Robert Bollinger. At the time, Bollinger said, “Trucks have had the same design flaws for a hundred years and someone needs to do something about it.” His trucks were going to be different; Bollinger said he was going to build the “world’s first all-electric on- and off-road sport utility truck.”

Mind you, this was years before the Tesla Cybertruck was a glimmer in Elon Musk’s eyes, before Rivian pivoted to trucks, before the Ford F-150 Lightning, before the GMC Hummer EV, and before other startups.

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Bollinger Motors

Bollinger’s truck ideas rose from a need. See, Bollinger’s enjoyed a colorful career working for Manhattan ad agencies before pivoting to an organic hair and skincare company then finally landing at co-founding a grass-fed cattle farm. While running the farm, Bollinger felt that there really wasn’t a truck out there that was both a practical farm vehicle and a fun off-road toy. This motivated Bollinger to fulfill a lifelong dream and he created Bollinger Motors with the idea of creating a heavy-duty Sport Utility Truck that got work done during the week and had fun on the weekends.

In 2018, the company moved to Ferndale, Michigan, to grow its team and take advantage of proximity near automotive suppliers, engineering talent, and potential manufacturing partners. A year later, Bollinger moved again to Oak Park, Michigan. Bollinger had been working on the B1 SUV and B2 Pickup for years. Development started with a team of engineers who lived with each other in a bunkhouse before the truck was first unveiled in 2017. Bollinger then missed its delivery targets multiple times as development continued. The company also briefly flirted with a panel van concept and chassis cabs.

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Bollinger Interior 2
Bollinger Motors

Then, in January 2022, Bollinger decided to shelve the project, refunding preorders and instead shifting to commercial trucks. In an interview with the Detroit News, Robert Bollinger indicated the company had been developing a commercial platform for a while and that platform was getting a lot of interest from large fleets. Given the interest and the fact that most Bollinger employees were already on the commercial side, the pivot made sense. Bollinger didn’t want to give up on his dream and he hopes to come back to the epic EV pickup idea one day.

That’s where we are today. Bollinger has plans to put the Class 4 B4 cabover truck on the market in Q2 of next year. Following that, the company wants to put a bigger Class 5 commercial truck on the road. This time, I think Bollinger will be successful in getting to market, and if so, it might be due to a shift in how the company is developing its vehicles.

The B4

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When Bollinger started, it set out to build the first and the best electric trucks from the ground up. Bollinger was going as far as building those trucks by hand. The B4 is not that. Instead of trying to do everything itself, Bollinger has collaborated with various firms on much of the truck from the cab down to the chunky battery. Bollinger’s engineers tell me that with the B4, it worked with as many suppliers as possible to keep “inventions” down to a minimum. As a result, the B4 is a realistic approach to electrification and one that seems like it could be put on the road tomorrow. At least, that’s how it felt from the driver seat of the B4.

Let’s start with the most visible part of the Bollinger B4, the cab.

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At first, I thought Bollinger scored a deal with Isuzu for some N-Series cabs. But if you look closely, Bollinger’s cabs look close to Isuzu cabs, but they aren’t exact. Bollinger tells me that finding a supplier for cabs wasn’t easy, as established brands didn’t offer up their cabs. That makes sense. Isuzu is already working on its own electric cabover truck, maybe it’s not interested in helping the competition.

Bollinger tells me the company had to find a supplier in China for its cabs. What came out of the other side is actually pretty impressive. The cab feels solid, with some of the best visibility you’ll find in a modern vehicle, comfortable seats, and what feel like durable materials. The doors close with the kind of thud you’d expect from taking control of a big vehicle.

Inside, you’ll find that Bollinger hasn’t reinvented controls, either. The buttons and stalks do exactly what you’d expect them to. The only quirk is the shifter. It looks like a manual, but it works somewhat like a Prius. Push the shifter to the left for Drive, leave it in the middle for Neutral, or move it back for Reverse. There is no Park, but a physical parking brake handle.

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Sort of amusing was the fact that the cab had an actual ashtray and a cigarette lighter. Briefly, it felt like a time warp back to the ’90s. I’m told that’s a quirk of Bollinger getting its cabs from its supplier. Interior materials felt on the cheaper side and the key to turn on the B4 felt like it was made out of the kind of plastic a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy is. That said, the interior felt like it would last years of hard work.

Keep in mind that these are just validation builds. Part of getting potential customers and media into these trucks was to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t so the company can further refine the product before it goes into production.

Its Frame

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That cab is attached to a frame that Bollinger has designed in-house but is constructed by Metalsa, a Tier 1 light and heavy truck frame supplier with a history of working with Detroit’s Big Three, Volvo, Paccar, and more. Bollinger says its frame rails are 40 inches wide, compared to about 32 inches or so found in ICE Class 4 trucks. For example, the Isuzu NPR-HD has rails 33 inches wide.

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Bollinger says having those wide rails allows for the company to fit the truck’s entire drive system within and below the frame rails. The trucks come with two batteries and they’re stacked so that their weight hangs really low. Mostly everything is either at or below frame level. With an ICE equivalent, the big and heavy engine would be under the cab with a substantial portion above the frame.

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Another difference with the Bollinger frame is its sharp taper up front. Bollinger says its frame allows for the trucks to turn practically within their own length. Currently, Bollinger’s site says 44 feet for turning circle.

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The engineers also say that since there’s no ICE powerplant and its associated ancillaries, a B4’s upfit, be it a flatbed, service body, or box, can be closer to the cab. Coupled with Bollinger’s one and only wheelbase, 158 inches, Bollinger believes the B4 to be one of the ultimate vehicles for tight maneuvers. Bollinger says the choice of the 158-inch wheelbase is strategic. In other trucks, you can get different wheelbases to fit your needs. Bollinger decided on a wheelbase that it thinks will fit most customers and thus streamline production.

Its Battery

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Saddled roughly in the middle of the frame is a pair of lithium iron phosphate batteries by Our Next Energy (ONE) in Novi, Michigan. The B4 has two of these packs. Each pack is 79 kWh and adds up to 158 kWh of power. Together in the B4, they add up to 800V and each pack weighs 1,212 pounds. ONE says its Aries LFP batteries offer a scalable architecture and the packs are dependent on iron rather than nickel or cobalt.

Further, the company says its packs are good for 5,000 charge cycles and there shouldn’t be a problem with charging those batteries to 100 percent over and over. Bollinger’s engineers tell me that the choice for LFP batteries involved multiple factors including reliability, the lack of cobalt and nickel, and good performance in the kind of wide temperature swings the Midwest goes through.

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Bollinger says these batteries are good for a range of 110 to 200 miles, depending on the upfit of the truck and how it is used. Currently, the trucks can charge from dead to 100 percent in nine hours on a Level 2 charger or 1.5 hours on Level 3. Clearly, these trucks aren’t for operators trying to go a long distance. Instead, Bollinger is pitching these trucks at city delivery companies, landscaping firms, utility companies, tree services, parts shops, and similar. Really, Bollinger’s prospective customers are businesses that need to haul goods and gear around cities and neighborhoods. They aren’t hauling packages between Chicago and Detroit, but maybe making a parts run from Chicago to Rockford or cleaning up storm damage in a Milwaukee neighborhood.

Bollinger believes that trucks like these are the best use case for current EV tech and infrastructure. Like electric school buses, the Bollinger B4 trucks can come back to a depot to charge every night before going back out on the road again. But if the trucks need to charge in the field, Bollinger says they can hook up to a public charger. Right now, the charge port is located behind the cab, but Bollinger is testing various public chargers to see if that’s an optimal location.

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Most of the trucks at the event had exposed batteries, but Bollinger says the production models will come with protective shields. Those batteries power a Dana e-Axle good for 363 HP and 702 lb-ft torque. Bollinger says going with the Dana axle eliminates driveshafts and external parts as it’s an all-in-one drivetrain. Behind the motor is a Terzo e-PTO rated for 30 HP. Bollinger says potential customers might use the power take off to power a bucket truck or for other hydraulic power needs.

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Together, all of this adds up to a truck, which is constructed by Roush, with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 15,500 pounds, a payload of around 7,100 pounds, and the ability for an upfitter to slap on a 16-foot to 18-foot body of their choice. The payload is an estimate, but Bollinger admits that due to the heavy batteries, its truck will have less payload than ICE competition. The difference Bollinger is expecting is about 600 pounds less payload than a comparable ICE Class 4 truck.

At first, Bollinger also wasn’t expecting its customers to tow anything, but some clients, especially the landscapers and tree services, want to be able to tow equipment. So, Bollinger is expecting the production version to be able to tow about 6,000 pounds.

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I’ve been saying “Class 4” a bit through this and to explain that a little bit, the class here is referring to GVWR, or your truck plus what it’s hauling. A Class 1 truck is under 6,000 pounds like a Chevy Colorado or Toyota Tacoma while a Class 8 goes up to and beyond 80,000 pounds like a Tesla Semi or a Freightliner Cascadia. Class 4 trucks are between 14,001 pounds and 16,000 pounds.

Driving The Bollinger B4

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So, with all of that data in mind, how does it drive? Now, I love driving big vehicles whenever I get the chance. My Nova Bus RTS-06 has a GVWR of 39,000 pounds and earlier this year Ford let me tow a 40,000-pound trailer. Aside from those, I’ve logged lots of hours driving 25,999-pound GVWR box trucks, a 17,000-pound school bus, an International 4300 box truck, and several points in between. When someone grumbles that they have to rent some big truck, I’m usually the first to volunteer to drive the things.

Something common with all of those vehicles is that they’re slow and they have a center of gravity high enough that under no circumstance would you just crank the wheel all of the way just to see what happens. I doubt my bus would roll, but those box trucks would probably make me pucker.

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The Bollinger B4 surprised me in how much it didn’t drive like a commercial truck. The Mcity proving ground was too small for me to really find the limits of the Bollinger trucks, but I got to do things with those trucks that I’d never try with my bus or any of the other trucks I’ve driven.

Out of the gate, I decided to punch the accelerator. The B4 moves like any other EV. It takes off with a satisfying kick of torque and the electric motor gets the speedometer rising way faster than you’d expect a commercial vehicle to go. I’m sure you’ve gotten stuck behind garbage trucks and the like at stoplights. Well, the B4 accelerates fast enough that it could be a garbage truck that is faster than you are between stoplights. The B4 is not “fast,” as in, it’s not going to pull your face’s skin back, but it’ll make a comparable diesel look like it’s sitting still. It’s fast enough that Bollinger tells me some customers want a power limiter so that drivers don’t have too much fun.

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That quick dose of power is supported with surprisingly good handling. See, “handling” and “delivery truck” don’t tend to jive well. Try to go full lock and full throttle in a regular truck and you might have a bad day. Bollinger’s trucks have their center of gravity so low that the engineers actually encouraged going full lock while hard on the throttle. There was tons of body roll, sure, but the truck felt planted even when I was at full lock and pushing the truck harder and harder. The tires gave up traction long before the truck felt unstable.

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Bollinger also had me try to do a slalom, something else I wouldn’t normally bother doing in a delivery truck. Doing a slalom in the B4 was a ton of work because the truck requires a lot of turns to get from lock to lock, but I’ll be…the B4 actually performed admirably zipping back and forth. Honestly, I didn’t even know commercial tires could grip as well as they do until I tried getting a B4 to drift. Sadly, I was unsuccessful in that regard. Thankfully, the tires just give up and you get loads of understeer. The awesome part about all of this is that the steering is remarkably light, as in you could throw the B4 into a turn with your pinky finger.

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While I was doing my testing, the Bollinger B4’s MobilEye driver assist system was warning about me departing lanes, as if that was the silliest thing I was doing. Indeed, these trucks will come with a suite of tech including a collision warning, lane departure warning, and a speed limit indicator. The trucks won’t stop or drive themselves, but it’s helpful tech. Also helpful is the truck’s regenerative braking, which can be set to strong enough that you don’t even need to hit the brake pedal to stop.

Fun, Practical, Realistic

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When I finished driving the Bollinger B4, I left thinking that these are delivery trucks that want to moonlight as sports cars. I wonder how these would handle a lot closer to the ground and with a car body. A box truck shouldn’t be this fun to drive. Heck, I don’t think adding “hooning a box truck” was a thing I could say until today.

Of course, with that in mind, most operators aren’t going to see if they could make their Bollinger B4 do donuts, but deliver the dough. The fact that it could perform under such conditions is just icing on the cake.

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As I said before, Bollinger expects the B4 to go on sale in the second quarter of next year. Right now, the company is still refining the B4. The customer and media drives will be used to further improve the vehicle. For example, my suggestion would be to change the steering ratio so that the wheel doesn’t require what feels like ten turns to get from lock to lock. Fewer turns of the wheel would make the B4’s good agility even better.

As of right now, Bollinger doesn’t have a price and doesn’t even have an estimate. If Bollinger can aim for a price on par with the competition, I think the company can be successful. On paper and in my test drives, the B4 is the kind of agile truck you want to use in a city and the EV powertrain should bring down operating costs. The Bollinger B4 doesn’t reinvent the electric truck, instead, it leverages the limitations of current tech for a vehicle that should pay dividends.

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(Photos: Author, unless otherwise noted.)

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Scott
Scott
6 months ago

Am I crazy to wonder about having one of these as a daily driver? If I can’t have a Rivian/Amazon or GM/BrightDrop van I mean. I look forward to seeing Bollinger B4s on the road, and to envying their drivers. 😉

Thanks for yet another fascinating article Mercedes! 🙂

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