Fuel Smarts

Smith Electric Still Alive, CEO Says, But Phones Go Unanswered

April 22, 2014

By Tom Berg

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Reports of Smith Electric Vehicles’ death may have been exaggerated.

Published news stories quote the company’s president as saying it will restart operations in a few months with new financial backing, more efficient manufacturing and a revised line of battery-electric trucks.

Bryan Hansel, Smith’s CEO, told the Kansas City Business Journal that he suspended production because the company was losing money. He said no assembly or support people were laid off, and the plant will resume assembling improved versions of Newton and Edison trucks by mid-summer.

While the company’s website remains active, the phones at its Kansas City, Mo., headquarters go unanswered and a spokesperson has been difficult to contact.

A report in the Canada Free Press said that Smith lost $127.6 million in 2009 through June 2012, and that it used most of a $32 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a total of 439 electric trucks by the end of 2013. That’s when the plant shut down, according to a disclosure to federal officials.

According to published reports, Hansel said Smith remains committed to its Kansas City plant as well as new assembly operations promised for Chicago and New York City under previously announced municipally backed electric-truck programs. Smith also has operations in Europe and Asia, and their status is not clear.

As the Journal of Commerce points out in an article, the problems don't seem to be the quality of the trucks; customers give them high marks. Smith’s Newton medium-duty battery-electric trucks are being operated by Staples, Frito-Lay and other commercial firms, as well as U.S. Government agencies.

It's not even the high price, JOC notes, as Smith claims fuel and maintenance savings of up to 70% over the lifetime of one of its vehicles.

The real problems, JOC reports, are its scale and its supply chain costs.

"We started out building 10 trucks a month,” Hansel told the JOC in 2012. “You can only attract certain providers at that volume,” he said. To reduce manufacturing costs, “you have to move from boutique to more mainstream suppliers."

We will continue to try to reach a Smith Electric Vehicles spokesperson and report more details as they become available.

(See followup story here.)

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