If you think that price is steep, you haven’t priced many fire trucks lately. Now will someone please buy this one?
- Officials in Menlo Park, California, cite a high price as the reason they turned down the first all-electric fire truck.
- The truck is made by global industry leader Rosenbauer, which promises power, flexibility, and innovation beyond just the electric.
- The high cost of gas-powered fire trucks has discouraged departments from updating for a long time.
Business Insider reports that tech economy hub Menlo Park, California, has balked on plans to order a revolutionary electric fire truck. The fire district’s board of directors said the “no” vote came down to the cost: over $1.1 million by the time the truck is shipped and certified.
At this point, the truck is still primarily a concept. Its designer, Austria-based Rosenbauer, is one of the top makers of fire trucks in the world. Rosenbauer makes fire and rescue trucks as well as specialized versions of these vehicles for use at airports. The company was founded in 1866, and its legacy and clout in the world of fire trucks mean that its all-electric concept is turning a lot of heads in fire departments around the world.
Some emergency vehicles, like ambulances or even police squad cars, can be retrofitted from consumer vehicles or manufactured with just slight differences. Danish ambulance company Falck introduced an electric ambulance earlier this year, but Falck sells ambulance services —it doesn’t make the vehicles themselves. Rosenbauer brings in engines from BMW or Volkswagen but otherwise builds custom fire trucks from the ground up.
The Rosenbauer Concept Fire Truck (CFT) is built for fighting fires in modern settings, with changes based on shifting firefighter demographics and how many departments work in both urban and rural contexts. The CFT can be raised for driving and lowered for service at the scene, with a range of about six to 19 inches. A remote controlled “crawler” can carry over 1600 pounds of whatever firefighters need. The interior is modular, meaning departments can install tanks and other equipment according to their needs.
The CFT’s two electric motors power it for up to 30 minutes of driving plus water pump operation, and a diesel generator acts as a backup power source for the engine or the pump and other systems. The adjustable stance keeps the truck more stable when driving, and it has a narrow body and a tight turning radius compared to others in its class. Plus, the CFT is decked out with haptic feedback and rearview cameras, making it even safer for people around it in the station or at an incident site.
Fire trucks need extraordinary equipment and power compared to any other kind of vehicle. These same challenges are why it’s such a big deal to make a fully electric version, and Rosenbauer took the opportunity to update other ideas about fire trucks, including the color. The electric truck is painted bright lime green, a popular color with some European police departments but kind of a nonstarter in the United States.
On the Menlo Fire District website, the explanation post about the upcoming electric vote includes some omens about the worries that have led to the “no” vote: “Don’t worry, if we purchase the truck, it will be painted red, have a triple redundant power system, and be used as a light duty Rescue, instead of a front line pumping Fire Engine.” And, the department stressed, the $200,000 deposit for one of the first 10 Rosenbauer electric trucks is fully refundable.
Over a million dollars for a light duty fire rescue vehicles does sound excessive, but fire trucks in general already cost a lot . New similar vehicles to the combination of rescue and pumper of the Rosenbauer electric truck are $500,000 and up, with even years-old used versions going for $200,000. Specialized versions are much more expensive: “The replacement cost of a platform bucket ladder truck comparable to our current equipment is roughly $930,000,” the Dover, Delaware, fire district says on its website. “This again doesn’t include anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 for equipment to outfit the truck.”
The evergreen high cost of fire trucks has caused a widespread delay in adopting new technology—not because of reluctance to change, but because of a natural gap in thinking between the cost of a 20-year-old truck and its updated, 2019-dollars replacement. A 2011 report estimated that nearly half of fire trucks in service are more than 15 years old. Menlo Park said no to the steep price of an electric truck, but local ABC7 reported that the firefighters from nearby Santa Cruz were kicking the tires and may decide to take the plunge. Someone has to be first, and the technology-rich Bay Area seems like a great candidate.