Electric-vehicle maker gets $22M federal grant to produce zero-emission trucks at KC plant

By Heather Hollingsworth, AP
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mo. electric-vehicle maker gets $22M federal grant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. Department of Energy is awarding a Kansas City maker of electric vehicles an additional $22 million to help with the development of zero-emission trucks and research their effectiveness.

After announcing the grant during a news conference Wednesday at Smith Electric Vehicles Corp.’s assembly plant, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the research — one of several such efforts under way nationally — could help “grease the skids for a major government contract.”

The grant, which comes from stimulus funds set aside for the advancement of next-generation batteries and electric vehicles, increases the total the U.S.-British partnership has received from the Energy Department to $32 million. The company previously received a $10 million federal grant.

A large chunk of the latest grant will be used to provide customers that purchase Smith’s vehicles incentives to participate in a commercial electric vehicle demonstration project. Data will be gathered from vehicles operating in places throughout the county and provided to the Energy Department.

“I think what you will see,” McCaskill said, “is this data will be analyzed not just by the Department of Energy but across the federal government, state governments and obviously across the private sector because this really could be a huge cost savings to taxpayers and to private businesses.”

Several major auto companies, including Nissan, Ford, Chevrolet and Daimler, plan to introduce all-electric passenger models within the next few years. Other companies have started retrofitting commercial vehicles to all-electric models, and Ford plans to begin selling a small all-electric commercial van later this year.

McCaskill said she saw the potential for agencies like the U.S. Postal Service as well as the U.S. Department of Defense to invest in Smith’s electric vehicles.

Kevin Kelly, the company’s CFO, said he anticipated the backlog of orders would grow as Smith rolls out the demonstration project in coming months. He said fleet managers are excited about the prospect of an electric vehicle option.

“It helps to significantly reduce their operating costs and remove the impact of the volatile fuel prices on their fleet costs,” he said.

The company began production at the Kansas City plant in October and now has about 50 workers making about two vehicles per week. By year’s end, it plans to ramp up its work force to about 150 workers producing 25 vehicles per week.

Eventually, the company wants to open 20 regional assembly plants across the country. Its customers include Coca-Cola Co., Kansas City Power & Light and Staples.

Smith U.S., headquartered in Kansas City, is privately held company owned by private investors, senior management and Tanfield Group PLC. Tanfield is the British parent company of the Smith U.K. division. Smith U.S. is seeking to buy the Smith U.K. division from Tanfield.

On the Net:

—Smith Electric Vehicles U.S.: www.sev-us.com/

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