Many carmakers are pledging to go all-electric in the near future, so other forms of hard working machinery are starting to follow suit…including down on the farm where Green Acres is truly the place to be.
Although farm tractors and the jobs they do have become more sophisticated and high-tech over the years, the heavy chassis and engines under the hood haven't always kept pace with that progress and most still rely primarily on diesel fuel.
Hummingbird EV is one company looking to upset that status quo apple cart. They’ve teamed up with the San Joaquin Valley Clean Cities Coalition, Project Clean Air, and others to place four prototype zero-emission electric tractors in service at one of the country’s largest fruit growers.
These EV tractors are fitted with 120 peak kilowatt electric motors tied to Hummingbird controllers and software. With 25 kilowatt-hour battery packs and 65 horsepower, performance is equivalent to a gas or diesel tractor of the same size.
Moonlight companies, in Reedley, California, is an ideal test bed. They operate year-round, growing all varieties of citrus and stone fruits...from peaches, plums, and pomegranates.. to grapes, lemons, oranges and -- during our visit, lots and lots of mandarins -- and shipping them fresh to markets all over the globe.
This third-generation farm is committed to using environmentally-sound practices and investing in the latest technology. They even have a 2-megawatt on-site solar farm which powers much of their packing and cold-storage operations. So trying out these EV tractors for the past year was an easy call.
TY TAVLAN: We use approximately 80 small diesel-powered tractors during the harvest season to pull our fruit through the field. For this particular function, since it pulls fruit, and then it stops..then it pulls fruit again and then it stops, we can get approximately two days worth of work out of the tractor.
What we really like about it is, it’s basically maintenance-free, it starts every time, and it works just fine.
JOHN DAVIS: The battery-electric tractors in this test are paired with an all-electric class 6 vehicle-to-vehicle charging truck, also designed by Hummingbird. It can provide up to 40 kilowatts of level 2 AC charging, enough to juice up two tractors simultaneously, eliminating time-consuming round-trips back to the charging station; a big advantage, especially during harvest. The truck itself has an 88 kilowatt-hour battery pack and 90 miles of range.
Hummingbird’s expertise is designing and scaling electric powertrains for medium duty applications like mining, utilities and food delivery. And they are challenging the notion that one size fits all down on the farm.
RAKESH KONERU: Every tractor has a certain demand in terms of the battery pack size and things like that..how long they use, how long they drive, so on and so forth, so where we’re unique is we’re trying to adapt where the commonality of parts come into play. So, when you try to scale it up, it’s easy to mix and match a production line with different scale of vehicles with the same system.
JOHN DAVIS: Like any farm in America, economics comes into play here too. Drought conditions in California and elsewhere have forced growers to cultivate fewer acres to conserve water, meaning tighter crop density is the key to making ends meet. So tractors of the future may need to hug the ground to fit under closely-planted trees, or be extra skinny to drive between them.
RAKESH KONERU: The main idea for us was to showcase the capability of what an electrification can bring into farming, but at the same time we’re also exploring the idea of what it takes for the farmer to be ready for future farming.
And every farm has a different, unique, requirement. If you go to a vineyard, for example, their needs are completely different, so when we see the market expansion, we want to explore the idea of, let’s design a chassis from the ground level up, which is well thought out you know, which can stick on for the next generations.
JOHN DAVIS: This type of custom design is well-suited for the flexible packaging afforded by electric battery packs. So it looks the E-volution of modern farming in the near future may well be fueled by the EV revolution of today.
Tire Tracks: 1971 Alfa Romeo GTV 1750
In the 137-year history of the automobile, there have been many that both captured our attention, and progressed to legendary status. But then there are others that, while coveted when new, are less well known to collectors of today. Now, one such car recently caught the eye of our own Roger Mecca, who decided this particular Italian coupe deserved a return to the spotlight.
ROGER MECCA: For many devoted gearheads, there’s that one car classic car they yearn for, endlessly scouring websites, auction catalogues and local car shows looking to find that pristine example or restorable project– that Holy Grail to make their car dreams a reality.
For these fanatics, just mentioning that particular make and model can induce regret-filled stories of missed opportunities or a longwinded discussion on why it’s the ultimate in driving excellence.
Once such example is the Alfa Romeo GTV, produced between 1965 and 1974. It was a designed to be the great balance between a family car and something you could rip down any tight Italian road. And while it’s flown under the radar for many car fans, most Alfa enthusiasts will tell you this is what made the brand so iconic.
Richard Garre owns this 1971 Alfa Romeo GTV 1750, a car he’s loved for 50 years. In 1973, a college roommate who owned a GTV tossed Richard the keys and they went for a drive. Within moments, he had an epiphany.
RICHARD GARRE: I was in the car for about 10 minutes and I go, ‘I need to own this car!’
It had everything. It had the looks, it had the sound, it just– it, it had just such a great visceral experience. I go, ‘this is it- I gotta own this car!’”
The GTV, after driving it and owning it, it really did kind of change my life, especially towards being in the car business. I realized after working on cars for a while, that, uh, I think this is a good business I’m gonna be in. So, the start of my senior year, I was looking for employment either, you know, twisting wrenches or working for a car company or a dealership.
ROGER MECCA: Which he did from then on, including once having his own shop that specialized in, you guessed it, Alfa Romeos, and other high-end European brands.
There were four main variations of the GTV, based on the displacement of the 4-cylinder twin cam aluminum engine. The 1300, the 1600, the 1750, and the 2000. Now, while each has their own followers, most Alfa fans, including Richard, will tell you the 1750 is the sweet spot. It gives you the best balance of power and finesse.
Delivering 130 horsepower and 125 pounds of torque, the 1750 redlines at 7000 RPM. And when you get there, the little 1.8 liter starts to sing. Downshifting and throttling into a corner, it sounds and feels like you must be going 80, though you’re barely doing 30. In fact, it takes almost 10 seconds to reach 60. But trust me, when everything feels and sounds this good, you don’t care.
The five-speed doesn’t like to be rushed, but it’s velvety smooth. The feather-light steering provides intuitive feedback and the cornering grip and stability encourage you to go harder and faster.
The GTV is so much fun to drive, you almost forget just how great it looks- even 45 years later. It was the first model designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro, created when he was just 22 years old. Known for such icons as the Lotus Esprit and BMW M1, he never liked the GTV. Though it’s hard to understand why. Simultaneously masculine and elegant, one look and there is no mistake what the GTV was designed for: driving fast and having fun, but still being refined and exotic.
Now, if you’d like to own a GTV, you are in luck because they made more than 40,000 of these over the years. The challenge, however, is finding one that’s in really good shape.
These were notorious rust buckets, and a lot of people didn’t treat them very well, so finding one that’s in excellent condition- that can be a hassle. Finding one that’s in perfect condition? That can cost you $100,000.
But if you do find one to make your own, please do yourself and every GTV lover like Richard a favor: don’t keep it safely tucked away like a museum showpiece. Drive it as often as you can, just like Alfa Romeo intended. But I have a feeling that once you get behind the wheel, that won’t be a problem.