Making the Connection

Mr. Smith’s electric vehicles are now a reality in Australia

The sudden interest in electric vehicles over the past decade is really rather fascinating, especially if you’ve ever studied how what is being proclaimed as “new and innovative” has actually been around for a long time.

This year marks the launch into Australia of Smith Electric Vehicles, the first fully electrically-powered commercial vehicles on our market.

But before describing specifications, payload capabilities and weight, it’s interesting to delve back in time to look at just where the development started.

Samuel Smith was born in Leeds in the United Kingdom in 1872. With an initial investment of £250, Samuel and his partner William Titterington started Rington’s Tea.

In 1920, the Smith family had founded Northern Coachbuilders to make electric trams and trolley buses, and this business gradually expanded to make road-going electric delivery vehicles.

With an eye on distribution, Smith’s expanded its Rington Tea business to include other provisions and delivered these products through a fleet of electric delivery vans.

In the 1950s and 60s, Smith Electric Vehicles focused on the milk float, and, with these replacing the familiar milkman’s horse and cart, they became a regular sight in every suburb in the country.Smith-Electric-Vehicles_2

These near silent vehicles delivered milk in the early hours direct to houses, gradually expanding the products sold to include dairy items, bread and preserves.

In the mid 1960s, Smith launched the CABAC, the first float to have a rear cab exit, enabling the milkman to choose which side of the float he exited onto an adjacent pavement.

As supermarkets took over food supply, the market for home deliveries of milk and dairy products dwindled, forcing Smith to diversify into delivery vehicles where zero emissions levels were being mandated, such as when working inside factory buildings or industrial complexes.

The Smith family ceased its involvement in the business in 2004, but the company continued under the Tanfield Group, again diversifying, but this time into the North American market.

By 2005, the Smith Faraday model was offering a range of up to 100 km at speeds of up to 80 km/h. One year later, it launched the Smith Newton, a 7.5 tonnes light truck that housed the electric drive technology in an established truck chassis from Avia, in the Czech Republic.

Hopefully, the history lesson now takes on greater significance. With the launch of Avia trucks into the Australian market we will be benefiting from the synergy already established between Avia and Smith Electric Vehicles. The company will launch its range of fully-electric vehicles branded as Smith into our market, but distributed by Avia Oceania.

The point of all the background information is to highlight that the development of Smith Electric Vehicles is not a recent, almost overnight affair. The company, now branded Smith US, and based in Kansas City, Missouri, has an impeccable reputation as America’s leading manufacturer of electric vehicles.

In the global market, Smith Electric Vehicles offers a range of electrically-powered commercial vehicles ranging from an electrified Ford Transit, called the Smith Edison, to the Newton electric light truck, based on the Avia, and the TX4E, an electric version of the traditional black London Taxi.

Smith-Electric-Vehicles_4As its first foray into the Australian market, Smith is launching two models: the Smith Newton and the Smith Edison. Both vehicles can be configured for multiple applications, with wheelbase, charging options and battery capacity usually being the main decision points.

A traditional diesel-powered truck will use approximately $150,000 (100,000 litres) of fuel over seven years. By comparison, Smith claims an electric truck will cost only $30,000 to recharge, saving its operator $120,000.

A reduction in maintenance costs is also a major drawcard, with a claim that service and maintenance charges can be reduced by 50 percent, due to the low maintenance requirements of the electric driveline. This corresponds to a reduction of running costs by 70 percent over 7 and 10 years.

The claimed operational savings make interesting reading. Over the first 10 years, the saving per truck can exceed $200,000 over a diesel-powered vehicle.

Switching from a conventionally-powered truck to an electric truck has the potential to save 130,000 kg of CO2 (over seven years), in metropolitan areas and with a cut in fuel consumption of 100,000 litres of diesel fuel.

Waste fluids, parts and toxic material generated during the servicing process for a diesel truck are eliminated, and operating noise in a working environment is reduced by 70dB.

The drive system uses lithium-ion battery technology to provide a range of up to 240 km, with regenerative braking to maximise energy recovery. Recharge times are up to eight hours using a 63-ampere three-phase supply, together with the alternative of a four-hour rapid charge also being available for Edison models.

Powering the Smith Newton is a 120 kW, water-cooled, brushless, permanent-magnet motor, which increases motor efficiency, minimises size and weight, and incorporates an integrated control protocol with Smith Power that supports a common diagnostic interface.

Based on the AVIA D-Series light truck, the running gear is basically similar, with a full-air, four-wheel disc bake system with Wabco ABS. Front and rear suspension is by parabolic leaf springs and the GVM range for the first model to hit our shores is 9,990 kg.

Payloads obviously depend on the selected bodywork but are quoted for the 9900 GVM version at 5,172 kg.

The Smith Edison is based on the current model Ford Transit and is available as a panel van, chassis/cab or minibus in GVMs ranging from 3,500 kg through to 4,500 kg.

In the minibus configuration there’s a choice of seating packages that offer a capacity of 12, 13, 15 or 17 seats. The maximum range is up to 180 km and charge times are again the usual six to eight hours. Using the standard running gear of the Transit, power comes from a 90 kW electric motor with a driveline that features regenerative braking.

Smith Link is an on-board system that monitors and transmits the vehicle’s vital statistics by general packet radio service (GPRS) to a central server, allowing remote vehicle monitoring, diagnostics and reporting.Smith-Electric-Vehicles_engine

This option subsequently provides a real-time overview of vehicles and customer fleets while permitting detailed analysis and diagnostics of vehicles and their performance.

The UK adoption of zero emissions vehicles comes with considerable support from government incentives, but, nonetheless, the very positive comments originating from a selection of current operators supports the return of electrical power for urban delivery.

Customers for Smith’s electric truck solution include many of the world’s largest fleet operators, including PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, Staples, TNT, Sainsbury’s, Coca-Cola, DHL, FedEx and the US Military.

In December 2006, Smith supplied the world’s first 7.5-tonne high performance electric Newton vehicles to leading express, mail and logistics operator, TNT. Following successful trials of the Newton, TNT placed an order for another 50 vehicles in 2007.

“This is a huge step forward for our fleet. Not only is this one of the most environmentally friendly vehicles on the market, there are also potential significant cost savings in the long term. This vehicle is exempt from the London congestion charge – approximately £1,750 a year. It costs just £25 a week to recharge the battery, as opposed to £110 spent on fuel for a diesel vehicle,” said Tom Bell, managing director of TNT Express Services UK & Ireland.

Frito-Lay deploys North America’s largest fleet of all-electric trucks, and is now also a world leader in the rollout of all-electric trucks. The company has invested in 176 Smith Newton trucks, which it operates in the US cities of New York; Columbus, Ohio; and Ft Worth, Texas, and also in Canada. Based on current fuel prices, Smith trucks offer fuel costs that are as much as 75 percent lower than diesel.

“The electric vehicle program builds on a long-standing commitment by Frito-Lay North America and its parent company PepsiCo to environmental sustainability.

“With the seventh largest privately owned fleet in the US, we have set a goal of becoming the most fuel-efficient fleet in the country, and these vehicles give us an opportunity to use the latest advances in transportation technology as a significant way to reduce our environmental impact,” said Mike O’Connell, director of fleet for Frito-Lay North America.Smith-Electric-Vehicles-gearsint2

In December 2009, Sainsbury’s announced it was purchasing an additional 50 Edison electric chassis/cabs from Smith Electric Vehicles for its online grocery delivery service. Added to the existing fleet of 20 electric commercial vehicles, the supermarket now has the largest fleet of electric delivery vehicles in the UK. The vans are deployed in the London area; meaning 60 percent of central Londoners will have their groceries delivered in one of these environmentally responsible vehicles.

“We are absolutely committed to using zero emissions vehicles where possible, as they help keep inner city air clean. Also, the electricity used to power them generates around 50 percent less CO2 than diesel vans. This means that the addition of the new vans will reduce our road transport emissions by around 155 tonnes of CO2 each year,” said Neil Sachdev, Sainsbury’s commercial director.

As one who can remember the transition from horse and cart to electric milk float, the prospect of the next generation solution being developed from the past is an interesting point on which to ponder.

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