- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A British-owned company using batteries from Asia will build all-electric trucks in Missouri - and willing customers are saying, “Show me.”

Smith Electric Vehicles U.S. Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday unveiled the first six trucks it has sold - with the corporate buyers on hand to receive them in heat worthy of global warming on the national Mall. They were made in Britain pending completion of the company’s Kansas City plant.

The Smith Newton trucks can travel 100 miles between chargings, making them suitable as delivery and utility trucks that would be able to make their full daily rounds in urban areas, said Bryan Hansel, chief executive officer.

“They work well in a depot system where you start and stop in the same place,” he said. “By recharging at night, they draw energy at off-peak hours. There’s no range anxiety because you know your route.”

AT&T;, Pacific Gas and Electric, Coca-Cola, Staples, Frito-Lay and Kansas City Power & Light were the initial buyers and may purchase more.

“[These companies] are demonstrating their commitment to environmental sustainability and green fleet vehicle technologies that will drive the future of the automotive industry,” Mr. Hansel said. “As more depot-based truck fleet operators come on board and adopt all-electric vehicles, battery technology will advance and manufacturing costs will be driven down, spurring new growth in the commercial electric vehicle industry, creating new high-tech jobs, and reducing fuel emissions and our dependency on foreign oil.”

William P. Herdegen, a vice president of Kansas City Power & Light, said the company would purchase three vehicles initially and convert them all to aerial-lift trucks for use in Kansas City.

“We’re buying them as prototypes to see which applications they’re good for,” he said. The utility already has 150 of its 650-truck fleet running on ethanol, he said.

Compass Group, parent of Canteen Vending Services, has said it will purchase 30 Smith Newton trucks over the next year.

Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, has said it plans to buy 20 for a test.

Beyond those orders, Mr. Hansel said that the company has no firm commitments.

Pacific Gas and Electric likely will purchase TransitConnects rather than Smith Newtons, the company has said. That light-duty van will be assembled for Ford Motor Co. by Smith Electric beginning next year.

The Smith Newton is powered by a lithium-ion battery manufactured in China by Austin, Texas-based Valence Technology.

The truck has a payload capacity of more than 16,000 pounds and a top speed of 50 miles per hour.

Smith Electric trucks used to run on lead-acid batteries, Mr. Hansel said, but “the transition for lithium ion has greatly improved range and performance.”

The trucks cost $140,000, about $80,000 more than a diesel-powered truck. However, the trucks are 80 percent cheaper per mile to operate than conventional trucks, Mr. Hansel said.

President Obama’s economic stimulus package includes grants to cover up to 60 percent of the incremental cost for electric vehicles, which may help foster sales of the Smith Newton.

British company Smith Electric Vehicles has been building electric trucks for 80 years, Mr. Hansel said.

The remaining trucks will start rolling off the assembly line at Kansas City International Airport by next month, when Smith Electric’s assembly plant is completed in an old American Airlines repair facility, he said.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, and Carol M. Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, attended the unveiling.

“Thanks to companies like Smith Electric Vehicles, we’re seeing an explosion of clean energy jobs,” Ms. Browner said.

The company said its plant would provide 120 high-paying jobs.

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