December 7, 2007 – Vol.12 No.37
ELECTRIC TRUCKS, READY TO ROLL.
Of all the alternative fuel cars and trucks none are more energy efficient than battery electric vehicles. The reason is simple. The combination of batteries and electric motors wastes little in storing and converting energy to motive power. Even in a worst case scenario - battery electric vehicles recharged with electricity from a coal-fired power plant - the energy efficiency of electric drive and zero vehicular emissions keeps battery electric vehicles at the top of the list for greenness.
Kevin Harkin, Sales Director for Smith Electric Vehicles, said: “Automotive manufacturers are telling us that the technology for mass-produced electric cars is some years away.
“But the larger sized commercial vehicle – and the truck in particular – is perfectly suited to electric technology that is available today.”
Smith manufactures a range of highway electric vehicles, ranging from 7,000lbs vans to 25,000lbs trucks. With a top speed of 50mph, fast acceleration and a range of up to 150 miles on one battery charge, they are deployed largely in urban delivery applications, in sectors including mail and parcels, groceries, retail/distribution and utilities.
Generally electric vehicles are easy to develop. All of the electric drive and energy storage components are off-the-shelf items: no special development is necessary. However, the development of electric cars is being slowed by the development of affordable, small, light but energy-dense batteries. Most eyes are on lithium at the moment.
But that’s, cars and they’re not the only vehicles on the road. Cars share the road with trucks, and trucks can be electrified more easily than cars.
Trucks are big. They have to be. They carry big things. And they’re heavy. They’re built robustly to carry those big, often heavy, things.
Bigness allows space for large battery packs. And natural heaviness allows some of a vehicle’s gross weight capacity to be shifted from cargo to battery. A large battery pack can be installed at the expense of some carrying capacity.
Trucks, particularly those that operate in small, defined daily routes, aren’t hampered by the need for small and light batteries. Conventional and time tested lead acid batteries can be used in battery electric trucks as they are in the hundreds of hybrid electric city buses plying the streets of many urban areas to today.
Again Harkin says, “There are millions of commercial vehicles in North America that work in urban areas, within defined low mileage zones or routes. All of these machines, from light postal vehicles to heavier duty distribution trucks, can be replaced with our new technology electric vehicles.”
Darren Kell, CEO of The Tanfield Group Plc, the $1 billion company that owns Smith Electric, said: “Electric vehicles offer a next-generation automotive industry for America. Our initial research shows that there is an addressable market in the USA of around 200,000 units a year for our commercial electric vehicles.”
Smith isn’t going that far yet. The company is planning to open a facility in the US to build 10,000 electric trucks per year and is in discussions with local governments in a number of areas across the US to open the facility. It can be anywhere. Smith will make the final decision in 2008.
Before that happens Smith is ready to start producing battery electric trucks in the US. The company already has a 70,000sq ft facility in Fresno, California which has the capacity to produce 1,000 vehicles as early as next year.
At home in the UK it has a 250,000sq ft facility which has capacity to build 1,500 vehicles in 2008, but the company is also looking for a larger UK base to build up to 5,000 vehicles per year, for the UK and Europe.
The company is on track to deliver up to 250 units in 2007. Current customers in the UK are DHL, Starbucks, the Royal Mail and more.
Aside from greenness Smith’s electric trucks offer other benefits. Little noise and vibration, no shifting, no diesel exhaust reduces driver fatigue.
There’s a safety factor too. Batteries hung beneath a cargo floor can can lower the vehicle’s center of gravity, thus increase its stability and improve its handling characteristics.
For the fleet owner there are benefits as well. The electric drive has just four moving parts, compared to over one thousand in a modern diesel driveline. Fewer parts mean fewer repairs.
Again Harkin, “The major components are solid state and will still be in operation years after the rest of the vehicle has outlived its usefulness.”
Finally, electric trucks are energized by the diverse fuels powering the grid: nuclear, wood chips, natural gas, solar, coal, wind, oil, landfill gas, off peak power that is generated but not sold, you name it. Utilizing diverse fuels is good for a nation seeking more energy independence.
The industrial world is electrified, it’s ready to recharge electric vehicles. If it takes a while for electric cars to get here that’s fine. Electric trucks are ready to roll, today.
Smith Electric Vehicles
Note: Smith currently uses Sodium Nickel Chloride batteries in its electric trucks. Those batteries provide greater energy density than lead acid batteries and sacrifice only a couple of hundred pounds of net carrying capacity compared with the conventional, non-electrified vehicle. The company also says that vehicles slated for US production in 2008 will have lithium-ion batteries and still be commercially viable, even with the more expensive battery chemistry.
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