Industrial Utility Efficiency

Smith Electric Trucks Complement CNG

CABP: Good afternoon. Please describe the history of Smith Electric Vehicles.

Smith: Good afternoon. Smith was originally founded in Newcastle, England. They started out by building an electric home milk-delivery truck. It was a true boutique business focused on a niche. A good friend of mine bought the company, in 2004, with the plan to broaden the scope of the business. Smith Electric Vehicles was launched in 2007, in the U.K., and incorporated here in the United States in 2009.

Smith is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of all-electric commercial vehicles, which are zero-emission and less expensive to own and operate when compared with traditional diesel trucks. The company produces trucks for multiple industries, including food & beverage, utility, telecommunications, retail, grocery, parcel and postal delivery, school transportation, military and government. Smith’s customers include many of the world’s largest fleet operators, including PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, FedEx, Staples, TNT, Sainsbury’s, Coca-Cola, DHL, and the U.S. Military.

Our two primary plants are in Newcastle (U.K.) and in Kansas City. We have committed to a new production facility, located in the Bronx area of New York City. We are currently researching the possibility of our next plant opening in Chicago.


CABP: How do EPA and local emission standards impact demand?

Smith: We now have just under 1,000 zero-emission electric trucks on the road. Fleet operators are recognizing a strong ROI without any government incentives. When “Air Quality Dollars” are available, however, the ROI just gets better.

Cities are prioritizing air quality and EPA standards on emissions are expected to keep going up in the new laws coming in 2014 and 2017. Air quality dollars are being placed in markets like California, Chicago, New York – who all have incentives in place. Taking a diesel truck off the road for ten years, scores 10 times better (to qualify for federal incentives) than any other federally-funded projects.


Coca Cola Truck

Major Fleet Operators Are Adopting Electric Trucks

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), under the Mayor Emanuel’s leadership, has announced a comprehensive, \$15 million incentive program that will encourage companies and individuals to modernize their fleets and convert to electric vehicles. The first of its kind in the US, this plan rewards fleets on an increasing scale for replacing their most diesel-consuming vehicles.

The program’s initial \$15M is funded by resources from the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program and will provide vouchers to assist companies in reducing the costs of converting their vehicles to electric. The City is also considering additional incentives such as preferential loading zones and decreased registration costs to complement the voucher program. Fleets can stack the State of Illinois’ Alternative Fuel Vehicle and EV Charging Station Rebates on top of the City’s incentive.

Through similar federally funded incentive programs, the City has helped deploy 404 cleaner vehicles, including 159 compressed natural gas (CNG) livery/taxi vehicles and 223 alternative fuel stations, including 17 CNG and 202 electric vehicle-charging stations – the densest network of any major city. These vehicles and stations have displaced 200,000 barrels of oil and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,850 tons.

Smith electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions – in fact, there is no tailpipe. This means no harmful air pollution – no particulate matter, no nitrous oxides, no carbon monoxide and of course no CO2. Even when charged with conventional grid electricity, our vehicles still deliver a substantial CO2 saving over the equivalent diesel vehicles. From a well to wheel perspective our greenhouse gas impact is thirty percent (30%) of a diesel equivalent vehicle. Charge them with renewable energy and you have a genuinely carbon-free transport solution.


CABP: How do fleet managers choose between CNG and Electric?

Smith: Electric trucks are a complement to CNG. There will be a number of technologies making up an effective fleet of the future. CNG technology is focusing on longer-length routes of up to 500 miles. A typical CNG application, in the private sector, is for trucks doing a standard route from a factory to the distribution center. Public transportation, doing a fixed route of up to 300 miles per day, is the other early adopter of CNG. With longer routes, you consume enough fuel to justify the CNG infrastructure investments required (for even the first truck). CNG ROI’s work well when there are a large number of trucks doing many miles on a fixed route.


CABP: What does the electric truck ROI look like vs. diesel trucks?

Smith: Electric trucks have physics are on their side. We are comparing a ninety percent (90%) efficient electric motor vs. a combustion energy that is thirty percent (30%) efficient. It’s like what one sees with LED lights – you get the same amount of work done for a fraction of the energy cost. Smith Electric trucks are approximately eighty percent (80%) less expensive per mile driven when comparing kWh to diesel costs. Major companies making asset decisions are aware of this. The typical Smith MPG equivalent is well over 30 MPGe as opposed to 8-10 MPG for an equivalent diesel.

The ROI math, for electric trucks, works on route distances of less than 100 miles. Depot-based logistic companies, making local deliveries, are our market niche. Any local delivery is our niche. The average FedEx truck averages 70 miles per day. The average Frito Lay urban delivery truck averages 50 miles per day.

Reduced maintenance costs also help the ROI calculation. There are over 1,000 moving parts in an internal combustion engine and only four in an electric motor. With very few moving parts, the annual service and maintenance expense is much lower, and the practical operating life is longer than conventional diesel trucks. The Smith vehicle maintenance regime is simple; two daily fluid level checks on the electric motor and cab heater, plus an annual check on the batteries. The vehicle’s standard service schedule applies for everything else – running gear, brakes, suspension & steering components.

Aside from ROI, customers get much hire driver satisfaction. Electric trucks are “whisper-quiet” and there are no fumes. It’s like driving a completely normal truck – except it’s so silent and you don’t have to go to the gas station. Drivers like it!


CABP: Can you comment on the individual adoption phases by some customers?

Smith: For the most part, our client base has a multi-year commitment to Sustainability and fleets are a big part of this. Fleet managers are introducing the next generation of non-diesel fuels to support corporate sustainability plans while increasing the ROI of their fleets. We can estimate our impact on this plan. We can help map the impact electric trucks will have on all elements of the business.

Smith Electric Vehicles field personnel do a feasibility study to evaluate the duty cycle of a vehicle and a fleet. We come in and do driver assessment and training. If a client is looking for a broader strategy, this does require an assessment. It’s more about choosing a strategy. Electrification is worth studying and we have the knowledge to assess whether this is viable. Let’s lay out a plan to get it done - it’s not just about buying trucks.


Frito Lay Truck

The Newton Box Truck by Smith Electric

Fleets want to trial a new technology in the adoption process. Our large strategic relationships have a replacement cycle - each year a certain percentage of the fleet is replaced. Some fleets have set their goal at fifty percent (50%) of their fleet going electric over a period of years. The Smith Electric truck has delivered reliability and financial viability. We are past 3 million miles in the marketplace. The concept is now validated. We are now at the tipping point to go to scale.


CABP: Any company-specific success stories?

Smith: Sure. Frito Lay is moving towards electric trucks for local store deliveries and CNG for longer-run trucks running hundreds of miles from factories to distribution centers. Frito-Lay deploys North America’s largest fleet of all-electric trucks. Frito-Lay has invested in 176 Smith Newton trucks, which it operates in the U.S. cities of New York; Columbus, Ohio; and Ft Worth, Texas. The company, which is part of PepsiCo, has also deployed Newton trucks in Canada.

FedEx Express has also initiated the deployment of 100 Smith vehicles in the U.S., adding to the electric vehicles already in service throughout the company’s global fleet.

Based on current fuel prices, Smith trucks offer fuel costs that are as much as seventy-five percent (75%) lower than diesel, along with virtually silent operations, eliminating noise and pollution. The Newton all-electric truck delivers a top speed of 60 mph (97km/h), offers a range of up to 150 miles (65-190km) on a single charge and a payload of over 16,000 pounds (7,250kg). Flexibility in battery configurations allows customers to customize vehicle range based on duty cycles of their routes. The Newton operates at peak effectiveness in urban applications that demand heavy ‘stop-and-go’ driving. A single overnight charge provides more than enough range for most urban delivery routes.


CABP: Please describe the re-charging process.

Smith: Ninety-nine percent (99%) of our clients are single shift operations. This means the energy consumption from battery re-charging occurs during off-peak hours. Overnight charging is ideal as it occurs when the grid demand is down and has excess capacity.

A short-term challenge can be to bring more load to one parking lot. If a depot charges 20 trucks, in phase 1 of their electric-vehicle adoption program, it’s usually a simple installation. When they expand electrification to 150 vehicles, at that address, they might not have enough load. They now have to look at how to bring in more electric power to the site.

Recharging is simple. A standard recharge from 0% – 100% takes 6 to 8 hours on the Smith Newton and the Smith Edison truck models. A fast charge system is available on the Smith Edison panel van and minibus, completely refilling the battery in about 4 hours.

Smith vehicles come equipped with a fully integrated on-board charging system that optimizes charging efficiency and monitors re-charge state to maximize battery performance and longevity. The Smith on-board charger is a fully automatic, 208-240 volt, single or three phase, line to line, 60 Amp, 12/18kW charger, utilizing a standard J-1772 connection in the US and a standard 32A single or three phase socket in Europe and Asia.


CABP: Please describe the battery technology.

   Smith Electric refrigerated truck
 The Newton Refrigerated/Cold Plate Truck by Smith Electric

Smith: Smith vehicles feature the latest in lithium ion battery cell technology, power management and direct drive trains. A cornerstone of our strategy is to look at the battery as a commodity. We have flexibility to source batteries as it makes the most sense. In just the past three years, we have seen a fifty percent reduction in battery costs.

Our battery management system works on bricks of 20 kWh. We have 40, 60, 80, and 120 kWh trucks. Most clients seem to prefer the 80 kWh truck. We size the battery to the route. The sizing is roughly one kWh per mile-plus or minus. A thirty-mile route would use a 40 kWh pack. We have sizing software that takes into account route specifics. We will analyze average temperatures, hills, and highway use to calculate the battery size.


CABP: Why did you choose rotary vane air compressors for your trucks?

Smith: Our core technology is in power management and in the direct-drive train. We manage all the energy (coming in and going out). We are innovating around the electrification of the vehicle. The Smith Drive is our proprietary vehicle drive and control system, which features a configurable drive controller with integrated inverters for the management of auxiliary systems-like the Mattei rotary vane air compressor.

The air compressor is supporting our air brake system. We followed the SAE1455 Standard to test automotive commercial components. We tested the rotary vane air compressor in a chamber for vibration, temperature and humidity variances - all at the same time while it was running under brakes pressure loads. The testing discovered some small packaging issues which were resolved. The overall unit passed our tests.


Cab & Chassis Rotary Vane Mattei
The Cab & Chassis in the Testing Area
The Mattei Rotary Vane Air Compressor System

The temperature specification, for our trucks, is for -30 C to 55 C ambient temperatures. The air compressor has to run in this temperature range as well. A main challenge was in a high humid ambient, we can see condensation occur around 10 C in the air compressor. This condition caused some failures, on our previous compressor, and found a large amount of water in the oil.

Working with Mattei, we modified the thermostat of the compressor so it can heat up faster than most and was able to achieve the nominal temperature within the vehicle drivecycle operation . The compressor now warms up the oil very quickly so it can operate in quick vehicle starts stops and under these low temperatures with high ambient humidity.

After testing, we found the rotary vane to be a very quiet and durable air compressor for this application. Since our electric truck is very quiet, we wanted to keep sound down. The main thing a driver hears is the radiator fans in our trucks. We also appreciate how durable the rotary vane compressor is and it’s wide range of operating temperatures.


CABP: Can you describe your air brake system?

Smith: Absolutely. We have a regenerative air brake system. An electric motor receives power from the battery and driven by the SMITH drive. The electric motor then powers the air-cooled rotary vane air compressor. The air compressor is located between the rails in the middle of the truck. We use one air compressor size for all the air brake trucks. Mattei supplies an inlet air filter. There is an air dryer - the Wabco vertical air dryer system. The air compressor delivers to 120 psig compressed air to cylinders where you store the air that is provided to the brakes. A Wabco regulator system maintains 120 psig pressure. The air compressor has unloads at 130 psig.

This electric vehicle compression concept is more efficient than the traditional diesel engine-coupled air compressor. The regular diesel air compressor would consume up to 4.0 kW depending on the speed of the engine. Our system consumes a maximum power of 1.5 kW at the end of the compression cycle with a constant speed independent of the driveline speed. We are able to achieve all FMVSS regulations. By the way, the air brake system also supports our comfortable air-cushioned driver seats!


CABP: Thank you for your insights.


For more information contact Smith Electric Vehicles, tel: 816-464-0508,

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