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Tesla co-founder says it's electric trucks, not electric cars, that matter

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Electric cars may help save the environment, but when it comes to saving money, electric trucks are where it's at. At least, that's the proposition from Ian Wright, one of the five original founders of Tesla and now head of his own firm, Wrightspeed.

His pitch is simple: companies should retrofit their gas-guzzling trucks to run on his range-extended, electric powertrains. These vehicles are pretty much running throughout the day, says Wright, burning up fuel and money. Converting them means that any savings on running costs and maintenance provided by electric innards are recouped much quicker than with regular cars.

A family car burns 600 gallons of fuel a year — a garbage truck uses 14,000 gallons

"Consumer automobiles don’t burn enough fuel," Wright explains to Quartz. "Family cars burn about 600 gallons a year. If you make that [car] electric you are going to add $15,000, at least, to the cost of that car and maybe only save $1,500 [in fuel]. So maybe a 10-year payback. If you go to garbage trucks they are burning maybe 14,000 gallons a year, so you can save $35,000 in fuel and $20,000 in maintenance."

Wrightspeed's pitch is already attracting business, with the company securing its first significant deal with FedEx last year to convert 25 delivery trucks. Wright has said that both delivery trucks and garbage trucks make ideal candidates for his powertrains as not only are the vehicles in constant use, but their frequent braking can be used to generate more power for the electric batteries. An additional onboard microturbine that runs on diesel or different types of gas means the trucks will never run out of juice.

Wright says that what Tesla has done to improve the public image of the electric vehicle is "totally awesome," but he thinks that it's his technology that will actually lead to the adoption of more electric vehicles.

"The systems are not cheap," he tells Fast Company, "but we save enough fuel and enough maintenance that they pay for themselves in a short enough time that it becomes a no brainer. A CFO will look at this and say, 'Yeah, there's a short enough payback, and we're going to save so much money after that—and take away our emissions problems off the table. Then it becomes a compelling thing."