Smith sets sights on US market

Smith launched its Newton electric truck in North America last week, and announced plans to build up to 10,000 zero emission commercial vehicles in the USA by 2010. The announcement was made at the 23rd International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS23) in Anaheim, California, last week. The first model to be offered to American fleets is the Newton, which is available from 7.5 to 12 tonnes. There are plans to introduce an urban artic version at a later date. The 3.5-tonne Edison will follow, but whether or not it will be based on the Ford Transit, as it is in Europe, is still unclear.

Initially American production will be based at parent company Tanfield Group’s Fresno factory, where it currently manufactures scissor lifts. But the factory is expected to struggle to cope with the anticipated high demand, and the company is on the look-out for a suitable 300-acre site somewhere in North America. Kevin Harkin, sales director for Smith Electric Vehicles, tells MT that sales are expected to reach 1,000 units next year, growing ten-fold by 2010. He anticipates the US electric market to eventually climb to 200,000 units per annum.

"The Newton is perfectly suited to the US market," he 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 vehicles." He estimates that every US fleet will be able to replace between 25% and 35% of its delivery trucks with electric vehicles, and that this figure will grow as battery technology improves.

Unlike in the UK, there are significant grants available to operators wanting to buy electric vehicles. Another incentive to switch from diesel are the plans to introduce congestion charging schemes in New York, Washington DC and San Francisco. With this in mind Harkin anticipates strongest demand to come from east and west-coast conurbations. The Newton made a big impression with show-goers, and attracted plenty of positive comments. Curiously very few of the people we spoke to asked about the Avia chassis, presumably assuming to be Smith’s own design. Plenty of people were impressed with its 150-mile range, 50mph top speed and the fact that "it really doesn’t look like an electric vehicle".

We spoke to several publicity-shy large fleet operators, all of which had only positive things to say about the Newton, and the fleet manager of a major parcels carrier has already confirmed that he plans to place an order. Modec, the other British firm to exhibit at EVS23, has also announced plans to set up a US production facility. It used the show to give its 5.5-tonne all-electric van its US premier. The Smith Newton has is likely to have a $150,000 (£75,000) price tag.