From: Matthew Holtry, Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate
Published July 31, 2009 09:37 AM

All-Electric Commercial Vehicles: Now Available in the U.S.

On Tuesday, at the footsteps of the US Capitol, six companies accepted keys to their brand-new Smith Newton vehicles, the world’s largest all-electric truck.

The Newton has a top speed of 50 mph, gets at least 100 miles per charge, and can carry a payload of up to 16,280 lbs. It is also the first vehicle to obtain certification as a Zero Emissions Vehicle by the California Air Resources Board.

Robin Mackie, Smith’s CTO, described the Newton’s purpose as "high-density urban logistics" such as making service calls or deliveries within large cities (where 50 mph is plenty).

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Executives from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Coca-Cola, Staples, Frito-Lay, AT&T, and Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L) cited the Newton as a way to meet internal sustainability goals. For example, AT&T will deploy 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles by 2019. Coca-Cola seeks to reduce its overall emissions by 15% by 2020.

Every executive spoke of "visionary leadership" and the importance of partnerships. Each told a similar story: They get to be the first to partner with Smith, test the product, and give their input. When prices come down in the future, they will already have a foot in the door.

Over the long-term, a Smith partnership is likely to be very lucrative. Smith Electric Vehicles cost an average of 8 cents/mile to operate (compared with 40 cents/mile for diesel). The company expects the lifecycle costs of electric vehicles to drop below traditional vehicles by 2011.

While this goal may sound overly ambitious, I’m a believer. I think Hansel and his executive team have made some brilliant managerial decisions:

First, Smith will be manufacturing the Newton in a Kansas-based factory from Missouri-sourced batteries. That enables them to take advantage of the "buy American" clause in the stimulus funding. It also attracted the attention of Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) and Carol Browner, Obama’s #2 for Energy and Climate, who were both keynote speakers at the event.

Second, with the DOE marking $2 billion in funding for vehicle battery research, Hansel anticipates battery prices to drop significantly in the next two years.

Finally, Smith knows this market. They started making electric vehicles 80 years ago (yes, 80) when milk floats were still used for home delivery of milk. They are implementing a proven business model: Find successful "green" technologies in Europe, wait for the US legislation to copy the EU, and then bring those innovations to the US market.

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