Office supply giant Staples just became the latest customer of the enterprising Smith Electric Vehicles, which has already placed its battery-powered delivery trucks in fleets run by Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, PG&E and AT&T. Smith's British parent company is currently delivering a fleet to Iceland.

Staples is buying 41 trucks, 30 of which will go into service in southern California (where Staples has a huge fleet), and the rest in Ohio (where there's a big push on electric vehicles, including possibly Coda Automotive’s battery plant) and Missouri (where Smith is based). “Staples was one of our original launch partners,” said Bryan Hansel, president and CEO of Smith Electric, which is headquartered in Kansas City. “We’ve been working with them for over a year, making sure we understand their needs and they understand our technology.”

The combination of capacity and needs resulted in a unique version of the medium-duty Newton truck, with both rear and side access, as well as a top speed of 55 mph and the ability to carry more than 16,000 pounds. The trucks have lithium-ion iron phosphate battery packs and, typically, 100 miles of range. Smith claims a 75 percent reduction in fuel costs for its customers when compared to diesel, but the trucks are more expensive, so it takes some years to recoup the investment.  

As someone who frequently totes around Staples reams bought on sale, I can say with authority that paper is really heavy. That means heavy loads for the Newton trucks, to complement the relatively long 70- to 80-mile routes the company’s trucks take. “They’re taking the trucks to their weight and range limits, and that’s great,” Hansel said. “The trucks typically carry one or two skids of paper, and, as you said, that’s really heavy.”  

The Staples trucks will be delivered and in service before the end of the year. Smith is on a roll, and announced its Frito-Lay contract last September. That deal will put 176 electric battery trucks on the road in New York City, Fort Worth and Columbus, Ohio, next year. Smith's production in the U.S. is sold out until the second quarter of 2011.

According to Mike O’Connell, a national fleet director at Frito-Lay (a division of PepsiCo), the Smith trucks offer “a reduced carbon footprint while also achieving business results.”  

Despite the business from Staples, Hansel doesn’t see big-box stores as his biggest target: He’s going after package delivery and food service. They’d love to sign up the grocery delivery company Peapod, which oddly enough was founded by two of my cousins (and is now owned by Stop & Shop). Are you listening, Peapod? Imagine the impression you’d make with silent electric delivery trucks!

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