Solar-Electric Truck a Green Addition to Campus Streets

Solar-Electric Truck a Green Addition to Campus Streets

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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The solar-electric Xebra Zaptruck is the newest addition to Parking and Transportation Services' vehicle fleet. (Photo courtesy of PTS)
The solar-electric Xebra Zaptruck is the newest addition to Parking and Transportation Services' vehicle fleet. (Photo courtesy of PTS)

This is one truck you don't want to park in the garage.

And it's not just because the tiny two-seater's got a novel "cute" factor that makes you want to show it off – it does, with its unusual three-wheel structure and a petite auto body, standing just a little over 5 feet tall. No – the main reason to keep the Xebra Zaptruck out of the shade is that it relies, in part, on the sun's rays to keep it on the move.

The minitruck, which runs entirely on a combination of solar and electric power, is the newest addition to Parking and Transportation Services' automotive fleet. The head-turning vehicle first took to the streets of campus last week and will soon be deployed for various campus transportation missions, ranging from assisting folks with car trouble to delivering parking tickets.

No doubt you'll see the Zaptruck coming, although you may not be as likely to hear it. The three-wheeler, which resembles a truck but is classified as a motorcycle and has motorcycle tags, hardly makes a sound compared with the other 20 or so gas-powered pickups in the PTS fleet. It also puts off zero emissions.

"This is about as green as you can get," said Bill Davidson, marketing manager for PTS.

Above the truck's bed, a ceiling of solar panels soak up the sun's rays to help power the vehicle, which can cruise up to 40 mph. The bed can be tilted so that the panels are positioned to get the most direct sunlight.

Behind that little door where you'd normally find a car's gas cap is where you can plug the truck into a standard wall outlet to charge the battery, which PTS does every night in the sun's absence. The vehicle can travel 40 miles per charge.

Importantly, the auto is also "Arizona-fied," Davidson said. A small red cooler in the back of the truck contains water, which is pumped through a swamp cooler-like system to keep the cab at a comfortable temperature. The vehicle is equipped with a heater and radio, too.

The truck is the first of its kind in the PTS fleet but it will likely not be the last. As the approximately 20 PTS pickups – typically late-1990s models or older – wear out, the department plans to replace them with solar/electric vehicles like the Zaptruck, Davidson said. 

The first Zaptruck was purchased at about $16,000 to replace a pickup leaving the fleet, and it only costs 3 cents a mile to operate, Davidson said. Purchasing a standard pickup would have cost about $18,000, plus oil and gas operating costs, he said.

With no gas, no oil changes and fewer parts than a gas-powered vehicle, the electric truck will have much lower maintenance costs, Davidson said. Batteries for the Zaptruck only need to be replaced every two or three years, less frequently than batteries in PTS's approximately 10 electric golf carts, which must be replaced every year. 

Plus, there are the environmental benefits of replacing a gas-powered vehicle with a more eco-friendly car.

"The state of Arizona encourages us to replace our trucks with lower-emission vehicles," Davidson said.

Davidson acknowledged that the Zaptruck also fits in nicely with PTS's ongoing focus on sustainability and providing more environmentally friendly means of campus transportation.

You can learn more about ZAP, Zero Air Pollution, vehicles and how you can get your own online.

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