Electric trucks pick up speed

By Todd Woody
December 14, 2010

smith electric.JPGWhile the delivery of the first Nissan Leaf electric car to a California buyer over the weekend made headlines, there’s been relatively little attention paid to the small but growing electric truck and bus market.

As the workhorses of the economy, delivery trucks, city buses and other heavy-duty vehicles don’t carry the cachet of, say, a Tesla Roadster electric sports car. But electrifying urban fleets could go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants as well as helping wean the United States off imported oil.

It’s a huge potential market, as overseas companies have recognized. For instance, on Sunday, China’s BYD acknowledged it was in talks to supply battery-powered buses to the city of Los Angeles.  And on Monday, the U.S. licensee of the United Kingdom’s Smith Electric Vehicles announced it had sold electric trucks to the U.S. Marines.

“Diesel is great for the highway but it is not very good for efficiency or pollution in urban environments,” Robert Kanode, chief executive of battery maker Valence Technology,  said in an interview. “When you’re going down the street and stopping three times on a block, electric delivery trucks really make sense.”

Valence, based in Austin, Texas, makes lithium iron magnesium phosphate battery systems for electric trucks manufactured by Smith Electric and other companies.

“We always felt that fleets would be first as we didn’t know when electric cars would show up,” said Kanode about Valence’s decision to make truck batteries when the company started 20 years ago.

Buyers for corporate delivery fleets generally don’t suffer from range anxiety when it comes to electric delivery trucks, according to Kanode. He said the different battery systems Valence sells to Smith give trucks a range of 30 miles, 50 to 60 miles or 110 to 120 miles.

“They’re very popular with buyers like Pepsi or Frito-Lay because they only want delivery trucks with a 25- mile to 30-mile range,” Kanode said.

(Photo courtesy of Smith Electric Vehicles.)

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[...] came across two interesting news items on electric vehicles today: Growth in electric trucks and buses, and a survey on the reasons people would buy an electric car. (The first one reminded me I should [...]