Beastly solar-electric multipurpose truck sets world altitude record
Looking to validate electric powertrain technology in the highest, most remote of settings, the Peak Evolution Team climbed the world's highest active volcano into the record books this month. The team initially had an all-out vehicle altitude record in its sights but, after crossing paths with the Porsche team that snatched that record, the Peak team settled comfortably on an EV altitude record well over 6,000 m (19,685 ft). That's a very impressive second place, especially considering they relied solely on solar power to keep the heavy-duty all-terrain e-truck charged up and climbing forward.
The three-man Switzerland-based Peak Evolution Team set out more than five years ago with a unique set of talents and ambitions. Patrik Koller, David Koller and David Pröschel determined to create an all-electric multipurpose vehicle for all-terrain work in municipal services, mining, forestry and agriculture. They founded the company DDP Innovations in the small town of Sevelen on Switzerland's border with Lichtenstein in 2018 and got to work developing a more rugged breed of all-electric machine.
Using electric components from established market players like Bosch and Eco-Volta, DDP developed the scalable Terren electric drive system for work trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings between 7,000 and 15,000 kg (15,000 and 33,000 lb). They created a prototype by installing a dual-motor 320-hp (240-kW) Terren electric drive into a VT450 Vario Transporter truck from fellow Swiss company Aebi Schmidt, adding a sandwich-composite box atop the chassis for transporting equipment and providing shelter from bad weather. A 90-kWh lithium-ion battery mounted low and center provides enough power for roughly 200 km (124 miles) of range.
As avid mountaineers, the DDP trio landed rather naturally on the idea of testing and publicizing their prototype by way of a world altitude record, establishing the Peak Evolution Team around that goal. They noted that past record runs and attempts were all undertaken with combustion engines, which suffered from loss of power at altitude and limitations on fuel supply. They believed an electric vehicle would skirt those issues by eliminating elevation-related combustion power losses and harnessing readily available solar energy as fuel. In 2019, the adventurous entrepreneurs mountaineered their way up the Ojos del Salado volcano as a scouting mission, identifying a route they believed would support their vehicular climb.
The DDP Terren truck set off for Chile this past October with help from global logistics specialist and Peak Expedition sponsor Gebrüder Weiss. It traveled from Switzerland to Rotterdam, where it was loaded onto a ship and freighted off to Chile. Upon arrival, the team transported the truck aboard a low flatbed to Chile's Atacama region.
After acclimating around the 3,400-m (11,155-ft) Maricunga Salt Flat, the team pushed off toward their towering 6,893-m (22,615-ft) objective at the wheel of the Terren prototype. The crucial part of the puzzle was charging the truck batteries after repeatedly running down the modest driving range while hundreds of kilometers away from the vaguest hint of a power grid. They relied on a combination of roof-mounted and ground-deployed solar panels to do so, with the 42 square meters (452 sq ft) of panels providing a peak output of 7.4 kWp and estimated charging time of five hours for 150 km (93 miles) of range.
The Peak team crossed paths with Porsche's expedition, which saw Romain Dumas pilot a specially developed 911 off-roader to a highest-ever land vehicle altitude of 6,734 m (22,093 ft), besting the 6,694-m (21,962-ft) mark set by a pair of Unimogs in 2020. It then climbed up over 6,000 m (19,685 ft) in late November to surpass the previous EV world altitude record, and a week later set the official EV benchmark at an even 6,500 m (21,325 ft) on the west ridge of Ojos del Salado, not a full 250 m (820 ft) shy of Porsche's all-out land vehicle record.
"This is a record not only for this technology but for our years of research work and for the very future of mobility," said Patrik Koller, CEO and developer at Peak Evolution. "We hope that this success will attract more attention to alternative drives and their use in mining and other demanding transport tasks."
With the record officially under its belt, DDP plans to continue with testing, development and validation toward a goal of commercialization.