Cir­cuit breaker

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - JAMES STAN­FORD james.stan­

AUSTRALIA could soon be build­ing cut­ting-edge elec­tric trucks.

The project is the brain­child of Smith Elec­tric Trucks man­ag­ing direc­tor, Bryan Hansel, who vis­ited Australia this week to check out sup­port for his lo­cal as­sem­bly plan.

Only one elec­tric Smith truck is on the road in Australia, a medium duty New­ton that has been work­ing on the Toll fleet since 2013 as part of a trial.

Smith in­tro­duced its elec­tric hauler at the Bris­bane Truck Show two years ago, but has not sold any. The US-based com­pany then stopped pro­duc­tion last year, be­cause it was los­ing money on ev­ery ve­hi­cle made.

It looked like Smith might fold but the com­pany ap­pears to be pick­ing it­self off the can­vas with some new in­vest­ment and new lower-cost com­po­nent sup­ply lines from China and Malaysia.

Pro­duc­tion of the New­ton elec­tric truck has restarted at Smith’s Kansas City plant in Mis­souri and the com­pany is due to an­nounce a new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in a key in­ter­na­tional mar­ket soon. It will also in­tro­duce an all-new elec­tric van.

Hansel says that Smith could as­sem­ble trucks in Australia if there was enough in­ter­est.

“There is a level of base de­mand here, you could man­age short-term with im­port, but re­ally the big­ger con­ver­sa­tion is whether there is sus­tain­able de­mand that would jus­tify a man­u­fac­tur­ing pres­ence, that would be the end game,” Hansel says.

“We are re­ally try­ing to get a sense of that now, to see if that is the best thing to do,” he says.

Smith sells its trucks to some big fleets in the US in­clud­ing Frito Lay, Coca Cola and Sta­ples and needs a large com­pany to com­mit to buy its trucks in Australia to make the busi­ness case stand up.

Sev­eral lo­cal com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Toll, TNT, Lin­fox and ToxFree have bought diesel- elec­tric hy­brids or trucks with diesel en­gines that are es­pe­cially clean in or­der to cut their car­bon foot­prints, de­spite there be­ing vir­tu­ally no fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives avail­able from gov­ern­ment.

In the US, it is a dif­fer­ent story. Smith ben­e­fited from a $42 mil­lion fed­eral gov­ern­ment grant, while many city coun­cils are given fed­eral funds to spend on what­ever they wish in or­der to im­prove air qual­ity. Sev­eral choose to of­fer in­cen­tives for zero emis­sion trucks.

No such sup­port is avail­able in Australia and Hansel says the fed­eral gov­ern­ment “isn’t our best friend” when it comes to zero-emis­sion prod­ucts, but feels the Smith elec­tric truck could still be picked up by pro­gres­sive com­pa­nies.

“We feel there is a real op­por­tu­nity in Australia be­cause there is a cul­ture of cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity here,” he says.

As for the price pre­mium, Hansel says the elec­tric New­ton truck would be no more ex­pen­sive than a diesel truck un­der a new pay­ment pro­gram.

The idea is the com­pany pays an up­front amount for the truck, which would not be dis­sim­i­lar to regular diesel medium duty truck. Smith would still own the bat­tery, the most ex­pen­sive part of the truck, but would lease it to the truck owner.

Hansel says the lease and elec­tric­ity cost would be sim­i­lar to the cost of diesel fuel.

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