This Hybrid Semi Truck Named After Edison's Snuff Film Elephant Might Change The Trucking Industry

Screenshot: Deboss Garage
Screenshot: Deboss Garage

“‘As a truck driver, this is how I would build an electric truck.’ and we just kept saying that for so long, we finally just said heck with it, we’ll just go build our own electric truck.” After reserving a Tesla semi truck and waiting five years, Edison Motors co-founder Chace Barber determined that the Tesla wasn’t really what he wanted in an electrified logging truck. It might work for his needs, but it wasn’t laid out in a way that truckers would appreciate. The Edison Motors Topsy is his answer to the Telsa, a hybrid truck built for truckers.

Edison Motors has been documenting the whole process on TikTok, and has even involved followers with design competitions, behind the scenes access, and more. For right now, the Edison is little more than a proof of concept, but the truck is in the Canadian capitol to get the truck, and the company, approved for production. Topsy looks a bit like a regular tractor trailer, but it’s actually a futuristic electric propelled machine, just like the Tesla. There’s one big difference, though, the Edison doesn’t necessarily need to stop to charge along the route, as it has a diesel generator under the front shell.

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Edison is still a tiny company with a tiny mission to bring a few hybrid electric trucks to market. “We don’t have any CNC machines or press brakes. Everything is just made out of plate steel, angle grinders, and stick welders,” says Barber.

So how does this thing work? Trucks have a lot of peak power demand, meaning they need a ton of excess power for acceleration or pulling up a hill, but after that they’re just wasting diesel most of the time pulling down the interstate. By using the electric motor for those big bursts of energy demand, and running a CAT diesel generator at constant rpm to keep the batteries topped up, the truck has enough power, but is also much more efficient to operate.

Screenshot: Deboss Garage
Screenshot: Deboss Garage

Running the diesel motor at constant rpm is much better and more efficient for charging. There’s no boost lag or shifting going on, just an engine at its stoichiometric happy place. “We showed with our first truck... like, a 50 percent reduction in fuel mileage, so you’re burning half the fuel, and the fuel you are burning, you’re burning it cleaner. It also means the truck can make do with about 2,000 pounds of batteries instead of the 15-20,000 pounds of battery that Tesla puts in its Semi. And the whole thing can be swapped into an existing glider truck to keep the old ones going!”

Whatever the science is behind the Edison Topsy, it can haul Deboss Garage’s Sherman tank with a Chevrolet truck body on top. The total load for this truck’s first haul including the tractor was just over 100,000 pounds. Tesla claims a max weight for the Semi of 81,000 pounds, and that’s likely with a heavier battery-laden chassis cab. Admittedly this first pull with Topsy was at low speed and isn’t indicative of a finished production truck, so take that with a grain of salt, but it’s still pretty cool to see a tiny truck manufacturer develop something truly unique.

And since you’re here, let’s do a brief history of Topsy the elephant. Born in 1875, the female Asian elephant was brought to the U.S. and added to a travelling circus. In 1902 after years of abuse, she killed a circus-goer. For the next year she was moved to a park in New Jersey and her death was scheduled to be a spectator event. On January 4, 1903, reporters, guests, and Edison Studios video cameras were on hand to document her execution. She was initially fed carrots laced with potassium cyanide, then electrocuted and strangled. The electricity was deemed her final cause of death. While common story has long held that Edison killed Topsy himself, he was not on hand for her death. However, Edison Studios turned the film real into a short film for coin-operated kinetoscopes.

Over 120 years after Topsy’s death, she’s been, um, immortalized as the namesake of this hybrid electric truck.

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