Home » What The Hell Is Harbinger And Why Are They Showing A Boring Delivery Van At The Detroit Auto Show?

What The Hell Is Harbinger And Why Are They Showing A Boring Delivery Van At The Detroit Auto Show?

Harb Top

Looking at a map of the Detroit Auto Show, I noticed an odd, unfamiliar name surrounded by some big, well-known names. Right by Chevrolet and Lincoln and Cadillac and Buick was a sizable plot of show floor real estate marked HARBINGER. A Harbinger of what? That’s an ominous-sounding name, Harbinger, most likely because it’s usually followed with the words “of doom” or something similarly ominous. But when our own Mercedes Streeter went over to see what’s going on at the imposingly-named booth, she just saw a very mundane-looking delivery van. So what’s going on here? Who is Harbinger, and what are they doing at the Detroit Auto Show?

That blue van up there looks to be an off-the-rack Grumman MT45 stepvan, also sold as a Freightliner MT45, or a Morgan Olson RouteStar, or some confusing combination of those names; it’s a boring, useful delivery van, and I think that’s the whole point. You see, Harbinger is in the business of making electric delivery van chassis, and I think they’re very smart to make them work with one of the most common van bodies available instead of succumbing to the temptation of making something sleek and cool and new looking that will get a lot of attention, but will be expensive and effectively unavailable.

Harbinger’s goal is to make medium-duty commercial EV platforms that are “priced for zero acquisition premium,” which I believe simply means that there’s no cost penalty for a company choosing to get an EV delivery vehicle over a combustion one.

Harbinger’s main product seems to be this chassis, designed for Class 6 19,501 to 26,000 pound medium-duty trucks – think FedEx or Amazon trucks, beer trucks, school buses, that sort of thing. Motorhomes sometimes used these chassis, too, so perhaps that could be a use case for these in the future as well.

Harb Chassis Show1a

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on this chassis – which appears to be made to be compatible with the same hard mounting points as conventional step-van chassis like the GM P30 or Chevrolet W-series chassis. That seems to be confirmed by Harbinger:

Harbinger’s scalable stripped chassis has been built to support all of the popular medium-duty body types available today, including commercial walk-in vans, recreational vehicles, box trucks, and others. The front overhang is reduced by Harbinger’s innovative independent front suspension, and the tight integration of battery, powertrain, and frame allows a best-in-class floor height.  Steer-by-wire and brake-by-wire systems offer greater flexibility for driver positioning and prepares fleets for future innovations in autonomy and advanced safety.

Oh, right, I promised a diagram:

Harb Chassis

As you can see, it’s fundamentally fairly simple: a ladder-frame chassis with up to four 35 kWh battery pack modules (so a maximum of 140 kWh) housed in between the main chassis rails. The electrical system is 800V and uses readily-available 21700 lithium-ion cells, and the battery packs themselves look to be fairly easily removable and replaceable, which I suspect is a factor in the planned 20-year service life for this chassis.

It’s leaf-sprung at the rear and has coils and independent double-wishbone suspension up front.

Driveunit

The motor unit is housed at the rear axle and is entirely below the frame rails, allowing for a fully flat floor. The motor unit is integrated with the necessary power electronics and makes 470 horsepower and 13,700 pound-feet of torque, which seems plenty.

So, with all this in mind, I think I’m getting a good idea of what Harbinger is: kinda boring. But, in the best possible way. This is exactly what the delivery market needs if its going to move to electrification: something that works with equipment that’s already in place: loading docks, racks and other interior van organizing systems, has driver and operator familiarity, and so on.

They’ll look like the same vans as before, and, if Harbinger is able to pull off what they’re claiming, they won’t cost any more than an equivalent gas or diesel van. If you’re not paying attention, you probably won’t even notice the difference, except the vans will be quieter.

Rearqtr

This is exactly what this segment needs, not an all-new EV van platform that optimizes everything. Harbinger’s approach allows for quicker transformation of existing fleets, with the biggest change needing to be the addition of charging infrastructure, something that one would hope could be paid for by the offset in fuel costs.

Really, this delivery segment is perhaps the best suited to electrification compared to almost anything else: mostly set, pre-defined routes of known distance and mileage that end with the vans back at a central location for recharging. Like school buses, this medium-duty delivery application feels tailor-made for the benefits and limitations of electric vehicles, and once you start thinking about how many gas and diesel-burning vans like these are out there, the scale of the benefit to local air quality and other environmental and resource-use factors is considerable.

This is one of those rare times I’m happy to see something boring at an auto show. Good job being dull, Harbinger!

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76 Responses

  1. @rootwyrm may be a little misguided in the assessment of the robustness of electrical contacts. Common industrial automation processes require high voltage (480/575v) contacts to be engaged and disengaged several times a minute all day long for years at a time in both AC and DC applications. Mechanical contactors genrally have a lifespan of over 1 million cycles. Carbon deposits do build up over time when cycling under load, but swapping a battery does not occur under load, so the ability to change out should be near infinite relative to the battery’s finite ability to be recharged. Electric forklifts and other electric warehousing equipment that use high voltage and high amperage for charging are evidence of the feasibility to implement this technology for daily drivers.

    1. Not really. RVs are more likely to be among the last vehicles going EV. They drive long distances during the day (and there really isn’t a battery system that is workable yet for large and heavy vehicles knocking off 500ish miles/day), and usually arrival times at campgrounds are kind of limited. Arrive too late and the office is closed, so an hour or two spent waiting to charge is pretty far from ideal. Campgrounds themselves also do not have the electrical capacity to charge them (they often don’t even have the capacity to serve the usual hotel loads of the RVs they host… they count on not everybody at max draw all at the same time). Adding charging to that isn’t going to happen fast.

      Now, all that said, that’s not a big deal. The numbers of RVs out there don’t amount to near as much as many other things- such as local delivery fleets (which this would work for). Vehicles like this delivery van going electric would make a bigger impact- it’s easier to outfit the depots for charging, in town stop/go driving lets you recover energy through regen braking, and you’re usually not doing a few hundred miles in a day. The emissions cut are emissions in neighborhoods and city streets, so the places where people are more densely packed get cleaner. Better to get delivery and other local route trucks moved to EV first.

    2. Actually, RVs seem to be perfect EVs when you put it like that. You can stop for a little and play some video games, watch an episode of your favorite show, or get down to it. RV people seem to have an abundance of time, how much would they mind

  2. Even though some of the details may be problematic, I’ve found this to be the most interesting vehicle at the show. That may say something about me but I think it says a lot about the mainstream offerings this year.

    1. Trust me, they’ll know.

      Dogs have a genetic internal brain switch that automatically alerts them to delivery drivers, mailmen and in my youth, the travelling insurance salesman. You can’t get much past them, unless they are constantly bribed with treats. Imagine the embarrassment when your trusted best friend sells you out for a box of Milk Bones and Slim Jims.

  3. O/T but:
    Does anyone know where I might be able to find like a super easy job I can do from home for just a couple hours a day, but still make, I don’t know, like $18,000 or more?

    Also, looking for an internet girlfriend, maybe like 24-yo, and like a sex model or maybe likes taking nude photos?

    Thanks for the help fellow Autopians! Love you all!

  4. I drive a bread truck for a company that uses trucks in this form factor. It would be amazing to have an electric vehicle to do my route. I drive about 100ish miles a day. So as long as the range would be comparable I would be fine. Fill ups (I don’t pay for) are usually over 100 dollars.

    One of them has a Triton V10 the headers recently went bad as they do and the cab was filled with exhaust. If that could be avoided it would be fantastic.

    If they could come with AC standard, the batteries are already being cooled, that would be a major plus. I equate my truck in the summer to being in a toaster oven.

    On this model where would the ramp be? The batteries go right up the center. It would need a Theiman lift gate. That would suck the battery down as well so that would need to be compensated for.

    1. Liftgate power would be a lot less of an issue than you might think. While they take a big chunk out of a ~1KWh auxiliary lead-acid, it’d be minimal impact on 35KWh and basically nothing from the full 140KWh.

  5. The motor unit is integrated with the necessary power electronics and makes 470 horsepower and 13,700 pound-feet of torque, which seems plenty.

    13,700 lb-ft of torque would be more like kinda undrivably too much. Did you mean 1,370, Jason?

    1. Hook an inverter to the traction battery and it’d be a phenomenal food truck platform. No more need for a noisy generator running all the time to keep it going. Might even be able to use an induction stove in some cases, but probably still need propane for a lot.

  6. 21700 cells? 20 year service life?

    Color me skeptical.

    If the cooling system is sized for the largest battery combination … maybe? But these things should be sized for a near full discharge every day?

    250 charge cycles per year and that’s 5,000 over 20 years. The only current affordable technology with that type of cycle life is lithium iron phosphate.

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