Rolf Lockwood

December 5, 2007 Vol. 3, No. 25

Most of you probably think that pure battery power is best left to shuffling tiny little cars around cities, odd looking cars that no self-respecting man would sit in, let alone drive. You probably think that electric vehicles for the commercial market above the size of a small van are a pipe dream. Well, think again.

No, there’s no way that an all-electric tractor is going to be pulling a B-train of cut lumber up the Coquihalla and through the mountains any time soon. Not even close. But if you’re doing urban delivery work and looking for a clean and quiet way to do it in a class 5 to 7 straight truck, an answer is at hand.

Enter Smith Electric Vehicles and its zero-emissions Newton truck, introduced earlier this year in Europe and soon to be built in California (see Claimed to be the world’s largest electric truck, with a payload up to 15,800 lb, the class 6 version is powered by a rack of suitcase-sized, 278-volt batteries and a 120-kilowatt motor that propel the vehicle — and quickly, by all accounts, since there’s no torque curve — up to its top speed of 50 mph. Smith says the Newton can accelerate from 0 to 30 mph faster than the equivalent diesel-powered truck.

Smith has a 70,000-sq-ft facility in Fresno, Ca. which will open next year to manufacture U.S.-specific vehicles for North America. Its capacity will only be about 1000 trucks, but it will be followed by a larger 500,000-sq-ft factory capable of 10,000 vehicles a year, expected to open in 2010. The search is on for that location. The company says there is an “addressable market of 200,000 units” for its electric trucks in North America.

The truck was shown at the EVS23 electric vehicle show in Anaheim, Ca. this past week, and company spokesman Dan Jenkins says it drew interest from Canadian fleet operators there.

“Our early focus will be on major fleets in California and east coast U.S. cities such as New York and Boston. However, the vehicle undoubtedly offers the same benefits to urban fleet operators in Canada,” Jenkins tells me. “Canada would be approached in the same way as the rest of North America, with a dealer network to provide sales and servicing.”

That network has yet to be established.

BACK TO THE HARDWARE, the class 6 truck has a range of up to 150 miles when fully charged by a simple plug-in, with its regenerative braking system returning power to the
batteries every time the vehicle slows or stops. It does all this silently, of course, and with no emissions at all. Ironically, as with any electric vehicle, its silence can be a problem for pedestrians who simply won’t hear it coming in many noisy urban situations. So the company has considered adding noise in some way. A unique problem.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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