Smith Electric Vehicles is scouting locations in the Bay Area and Sacramento for a facility that would assemble, sell and service their plug-in trucks, used by such companies as Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Smith sees the move as a way to reach more potential customers. Right now, if one of the company’s trucks has a serious breakdown, Smith has to send a mechanic from its U.S. base in Kansas. The company plans to open facilities in 10 urban markets nationwide that would be capable of assembling and fixing the trucks.
“You could see it, touch it, see the technology, and you’d also have the confidence that you could service it,” said Bryan Hansel, chief executive officer of Smith Electric Vehicles U.S. Corp. “It opens up an entire new class of customers for us.”
The proposed facility would employ about 40 full-time workers, Hansel said. For possible locations, Smith is looking at closed big-box stores or large, shuttered car dealerships. The company plans to pick a location by June.
PG&E, based in San Francisco, has been testing one of Smith’s trucks since last year, said Kory Raftery, a spokesman for the utility. The company has since ordered 12 more, to be delivered this spring. The trucks will be scattered throughout PG&E’s vast territory in Northern and Central California.
“We’re going to try to check the truck’s performance in all kinds of conditions,” Raftery said.
To date, most of the excitement surrounding electric vehicles has focused on cars, not trucks. Tesla Motors of Palo Alto has grabbed the public’s attention with a sleek and pricey electric sports car, while large automakers such as Ford Motor Co. are developing mass-market, plug-in sedans.
But Smith argues that electric trucks, in some ways, make more sense than electric cars, at least right now. Commercial trucks often run predictable routes, so there’s no worry about their batteries running out of juice. They can easily be recharged at a central facility each night.
“It’s depot-based logistics,” Hansel said. “You’ve got a central warehouse. You come back and park in the same space every night for 10 years. You drive the same route every day.”
A typical Smith truck can go about 100 miles on a charge, another reason the company wants to locate its assembly and sales offices close to potential customers. The trucks’ window-sticker price ranges between $130,000 and $150,000. But starting in March, California customers will be able to take advantage of a state rebate program for zero-emission vehicles, worth up to $20,000 for commercial trucks.