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November 29, 2012

Smith Electric Vehicles 'Plants Itself' in Chicago



Add one more Smith to the Chicago phone book: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Smith Electric Vehicles announced this week that the manufacturer of zero-emission commercial trucks and vans is opening a production facility in the Windy City.

The new factory will create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs and boost the rapidly growing battery and electric vehicle sector in the Chicago metropolitan area. Smith is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri; and already has manufacturing facilities there, as well as in New York City and outside of Newcastle, UK. The company produces all-electric trucks for multiple industries, with customers including PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, FedEx, Staples (News - Alert), TNT, Sainsbury’s, Coca-Cola, DHL, and the U.S. military.

“I’m proud to welcome another growing company with a great mission to Chicago. Soon hundreds of Chicagoans will be able to put their skills to use providing businesses worldwide with high-quality, zero-emission, American-made vehicles,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Smith Electric Vehicles is an innovative company in a forward-looking, essential industry that is a central part of Chicago’s economic future.”

Smith’s decision to locate a facility in Chicago was influenced by three factors: the Mayor’s innovative voucher system created to accelerate the conversion from diesel to zero-emission, all-electric commercial vehicles; the large number of fleets interested in vehicle electrification; and the development incentives made available to Smith.

Under the mayor’s leadership, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) 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 United States, this plan rewards fleets on an increasing scale for replacing vehicles that consume the most diesel fuel. The program’s initial $15 million bankroll 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 also is considering 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, Chicago has helped deploy 404 cleaner vehicles, including 159 compressed natural gas (CNG) livery/taxi vehicles; as well as 223 alternative fuel stations (17 CNG and 202 EV) —the densest network of any major American city. These vehicles and stations have displaced 200,000 barrels of oil and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,850 tons.

“A mass urban deployment of commercial electric vehicles is an important next step in catalyzing mainstream adoption,” said Smith CEO Bryan Hansel. “Chicago’s location, commitment to adoption in municipal fleets, concentration of commercial vehicles, talented workforce and importance to the global business community make it a perfect choice to grow our company and this industry. The leadership being shown with the mayor’s CDOT voucher program is a prime example of how Chicago is creating the template for a new energy city.”

The company expects to begin hiring efforts immediately and announce this new location when the incentive and development packages tied to the site are complete.

In related news, according to Digital Trends, many Chicago residents soon will no longer have to worry about being rudely awakened at dawn by loud, idling diesel-powered garbage trucks. Last week, Chi-Town has just awarded a $13.4 million contract to a San Francisco company known as Motiv Power Systems to build electric garbage trucks.

The company has developed a system called “electric Powertrain Control System” or “ePCS”, which can be installed on standard diesel truck chassis and scaled up or down to accommodate whatever role it’s needed for. Each truck will use 10 battery packs and will have a range of about 60 miles.

At 52,000 pounds, these trucks will be the biggest pure EVs on American roads. The City of Chicago also looked into hybrid and CNG garbage trucks, but ultimately concluded that the electric trucks were the most cost-effective. The electric trucks are supposed to offer a 50 percent savings in total cost of ownership over an eight year period versus an equivalent diesel model, mostly in terms of fuel saved. But maintenance costs will also be lower, and the modular ePCS design makes it relatively easy to swap out any drive train parts that need replacing.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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