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Smith Electric Vehicles (also known as Smith's) is the world's leading manufacturers of electric commercial vehicles; battery-powered vans, and trucks Smith Electric Vehicles has always focused on the commercial vehicle market – it does not produce electric cars and has never done so.

In 2011 after its United States subsidiary bought its European parent for $15 million it is based in Kansas City, Missouri.[1]

Founded in 1920 in North East England, it now produces the largest range of commercial electric vehicles in the world, with Gross Vehicle Weights (GVWs) from 3,500 kg – 12,000 kg.

It was formerly based in Washington, Tyne and Wear, Smith produces vehicles for the UK and exports to South-East Asia, Europe and Scandinavia. It was formerly part of The Tanfield Group Plc, which trades on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange.

Tanfield established a separate company, Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp (SEV US Corp) in 2009 to penetrate the North American market. Its headquarters is in Kansas City, Missouri. The United States company in March 2010 indicated it wanted to buy out the UK company.[2]


The early years

The company was founded in 1920 as Northern Coachbuilders in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. After making a name as a producer of electric trams and trolley buses, it moved into road-going electric delivery vehicles. Smith Electric Vehicles was born.

The name comes from the Smith family that founded the business and ran it until 2004. The family remains in North East England and it still owns Ringtons Tea, engaged in the importation, blending and distribution of tea.[3]

The Smith Electric Vehicles business blossomed in the 1950s and 60s thanks to Britain’s affection for the milk float, a vehicle solely engaged in the doorstep delivery of milk and other dairy products. As the dairies phased out delivery by horse and cart, they opted for near-silent electric vehicles for their early morning deliveries, instead of the noisier ICE-powered vans and trucks.

In the mid-1960s, Smith revolutionized the milk float with the launch of the Smith Cabac, the first float to have a rear entry cab so the milkman could exit the vehicle on either side. Smith produced four series of the Cabac; the 65, 75, Jubilee 77 and 85.[4]

Into North America

The company also took its first steps into North America in 1962. Smith Delivery Vehicles Ltd, by then based in Gateshead, signed a partnership with coachbuilder Boyertown and the Exide Division of the Electric Storage Battery of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in order to produce an electric-powered route delivery truck.

The Boyertown-Smith connection had been made in the late 1950s, when the British firm’s managing director was in the United States exploring a partnership with William and James Conway, the owners of Mister Softee, whose mobile ice-cream trucks were built by Boyertown.

Smith eventually secured the United Kingdom rights to the Mister Softee brand from the Conways and started producing Mister Softee electric ice cream floats in 1959, in partnership with a J. Lyons & Co. subsidiary named Glacier Foods Ltd. The Smith family had been impressed with Boyertown’s quality and approached the firm with the Battronic proposal in 1962. At that time, Smith was the world's leader in electric vehicles, with over 14,000 Smith Electrics in service across the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

The new company was organised as the Battronic Truck Corporation. Exide’s parent company was a pioneer in motor vehicle traction batteries and Smith was a world leader in the production of electric delivery vehicles. Boyertown’s contribution was its high-strength, lightweight Multalloy body.[5] Early Battronics had a top speed of 25 mph and could carry a 2,500 lb (5,500 kg) payload up to 62 miles (99 km) on a single charge. The Potomac Edison Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, took delivery of the very first production Battronic in March 1964.

Smith withdrew from the partnership in 1966, a prescient move as ultimately Battronic produced and sold less than 200 vehicles in its entire 20 year life (1963–1983).[6]

Diversification and the death of the milk float

Back in the UK, the rise of the supermarket had a huge impact on the doorstep delivery industry – it put paid to around half of all milk rounds during the 1990s. Faced with a downturn in orders for its Cabac, Smith diversified into niche vehicles. The Smith ST range of 7.5t low-speed electric trucks were marketed at low-speed municipal operations[7] and interior applications that mandated heavy duty vehicles with zero exhaust emissions. Smith ST vehicles can be found working in nuclear power stations[8], large factories [9] and even former salt mines converted into records storage facilities[10].

The company rebranded itself as SEV Group Ltd and diversified into fleet management, mobile vehicle repair and the sale, hire and maintenance of fork lift trucks and materials handling equipment.[11]

The Tanfield Group Plc, an engineering company also based in North East England, acquired SEV Group Ltd in October 2004, for £2.2m and 1 million new ordinary shares[12]. Tanfield immediately restored the historic Smith Electric Vehicles brand name and initiated R&D work to develop a new generation of better electric delivery vehicles.

2005: Faraday

The Smith Faraday proof of concept vehicle was launched in October 2005[13], with a top speed of 50 mph, a range of up to 60 miles in urban operations and payload capabilities of up to 2,000 kg[14].

Built on Smith’s own all-steel chassis, Faraday had a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) in excess of 5,000 kg. Early adopters such as TNT N.V. and Sainsbury’s liked Faraday’s efficiency and its operational capabilities, but wanted an electric vehicle that better matched UK driving licence restrictions. In the UK, anyone with a valid licence can drive a light commercial vehicle up to 3,500 kg GVW. For vehicles between 3,500 kg and 12,000 kg, the driver requires a C1 commercial vehicle licence.[15]

2006: Newton

Based on this feedback, Smith launched the Newton 7.5t truck in 2006, which housed the electric drive line technology in an established truck chassis from Avia [16] in the Czech Republic. Leading express and mail operator TNT N.V. took the first Newton, for assessment in its London fleet.[17]

2007: Edison and first fleet orders

A few months later, in February 2007, Prime Minister Tony Blair officially opened the new Smith Electric Vehicles production facility in Washington, Tyne & Wear. He said: “This will be a company that will really make its presence felt not just in the North East, but actually throughout the world.” [18]

In April the same year, Smith Electric Vehicles unveiled the Smith Edison. Based on the Ford Transit, this was the first electric light commercial vehicle to have a GVW of less than 3,500 kg – meeting the “everyman” driving licence requirement of UK fleet operators[19]. First movers to deploy Edison included the retailer Sainsbury’s and utility company Scottish & Southern Energy [20].

Also in April, TNT N.V. ordered a fleet of 50 Smith Newton trucks, following its successful trial of the first Smith Newton [21]

Recognising the company’s key role in this emerging sector, Smith was one of several electric commercial vehicle companies invited to the Department for Transport (DfT) in London, for discussions on how the UK Government could help stimulate the market for commercial electric vehicles. This led to the announcement of the Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme, in the Government’s Energy White Paper of May 2007[22].

During the summer, Smith produced its first vehicles for export, which were delivered to TNT.NV in the Netherlands.[23]

In December, the company also showcased its Newton truck in North America and announced ambitious plans to establish a US production facility [24].

2008: The recession bites

2008 began brightly, with Smith appointing its first full-service distributor, Electric Vehicles Ireland.[25] And in April, Smith and Ford of Europe announced an “official collaboration” on the future development of commercial electric vehicles, starting with the Smith Ampere, a pure electric version of the Ford Transit Connect[26].

However, by the end of June 2008 the recession had started to bite; Smith’s parent company, Tanfield, reported the cancellation and postponement of customer orders. In November, Smith Electric was shortlisted for the DfT’s Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme [27], a subsidy scheme that offered select public sector bodies the opportunity to buy electric and low carbon vans for the same price as the equivalent diesel vehicle[28]. The economic downturn interrupted the company’s fast growth; electric vehicle sales for 2008 were relatively flat at £25.1m (2007: £26.1m), reflecting a positive start to the year followed by a difficult second half. Smith’s parent company, Tanfield, cited a combination of supply chain constrains and fleet operators reducing spend in line with their own decline in sales, plus the lack of available credit facilities for those who did want to purchase [29]. Furthermore, the recession also impacted on the company’s plans to open a production facility in the USA.

2009: Recession, expansion and transformation

After restructuring its operations in line with the downturn in demand, the company once more set its sights on North America.

In February 2009, Tanfield announced the formation of Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp (Smith US), a joint venture that is 49% owned by Tanfield, with the 51% majority share owned by private investors and Smith US management [30]. A full description of Smith US is given below.

Along with establishing an associate company in the USA, Smith adopted a policy of appointing full-service distributors in all foreign markets that were offering attractive incentives for EVs. The company defines a “full-service distributor” as one who can sell products and also has the technical expertise to provide the right level of after-sales service and spare parts.

In March 2009, Smith delivered its first Newton electric truck to Electric Vehicles Ireland, its official distributor for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The 10,000 kg vehicle was purchased by building materials retailer Grange Builders Providers, of Dublin[31].

This was followed by the appointment of AllGreenVehicles in The Netherlands as the full-service distributor for the Benelux region.

Meanwhile, the relationship with Ford of Europe blossomed. At the Geneva Motor Show, Ford unveiled a concept pure electric people-carrier version of the Ford Transit Connect.[32] This prototype was produced by Smith Electric Vehicles.

2009 was also the year that the UK Government finally came good on its promise of funding for electric vehicles.

In June, Smith announced that it was one of the successful bidders into the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme (ULCVDP), administered by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).[33] This programme provided match funding for the development of demonstrator electric passenger vehicles. Smith announced it would produce a seven-seat, executive minibus; 10 London taxis based on LTI’s TX4 chassis; and five people carriers, similar to the concept Ford Tourneo Connect that Ford exhibited in Geneva.

The same month, the UK Government confirmed that Smith had made the final shortlist of suppliers into the Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme. Smith was one of three electric van manufacturers to make the shortlist [34].

However, in November, Tanfield announced it was terminating its involvement in the electric Ford Transit Connect project in both North America and Europe, by mutual consent with Ford[35]. Smith cited the unexpected early success of its Newton all-electric truck in the US market; Smith US already had an order book for 255 units and therefore decided to focus its resources on the Newton product. In Europe, Tanfield felt the market for smaller vans was becoming too competitive.

Meanwhile, Smith UK appointed Sime Darby Motors as its distributor for Hong Kong and Macau[36].

The year ended on a high, with Smith UK securing repeat business from Sainsbury’s, which ordered an additional 50 Smith Edison electric vans. When added to Sainsbury’s existing 20 electric vans, this created the largest fleet of new technology electric commercial vehicles in the world [37].

Both the Smith Edison and Smith Newton vehicles took part in a parade of low carbon vehicles as part of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

And the company celebrated on December 10 when its three-year campaign for tax breaks on electric vans finally succeeded - the UK Government announced Enhanced Capital Allowances for electric vans[38].

The ongoing recession saw sales of electric vehicles decline in 2009 to £15.1m (2008: £25.1m)[39]. However, Smith Electric Vehicles grew its customer base over the year and significantly increased export sales, from less than 1% of sales in 2008 to more than 15% of sales in 2009.

2010: The promise of a bright future

2010 saw the company continue the upward curve that began in late 2009. Smith enjoyed early success, supplying 10 Smith Edison vans to Ford of Europe for the colognE-mobil project in Cologne, Germany. The first phase of the project will examine the potential benefits of electric commercial vehicles in Cologne, then forecast how they could impact on Germany's plans to deploy 1million zero emission vehicles by 2020[40].

In March, the company made further inroads into Europe, appointing ElecTruckCity as its distributor in France [41].

In the UK, April saw the initiation of Phase One of the Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme. Smith won 67% of the orders for electric vans; more than double the combined number of orders won by the other two electric van suppliers in the programme, (Modec and Allied Electric[42])[43].

At the Commercial Vehicle Operator Show in the UK, Smith celebrated its 90th anniversary. The company also unveiled Smith Telemetry [44], the first ever telematics system dedicated to electric commercial vehicles using software supplied by StormMQ[45]. Along with providing customers with real-time data on battery state-of-charge and vehicle location, the system accommodates the extensive data-monitoring required for government-funded projects such as the DOE programme in the USA and the DfT programme in the UK.

The CV Operator Show, held in Birmingham NEC, also heralded the launch of the UK’s first all-electric, 17-seat minibus. The Smith Edison minibus is based on the Ford Transit minibus chassis[46].

2011: New ownership move to the United States

In 2011 its subsidiary in Kansas City, Missouri acquired its parent for $15 million and moved its headquarters to Kansas City International Airport. The new, united company is exploring the potential for an Initial Public Offering IPO.[47] Tanfield maintains 49% ownership in the new company. Bryan Hansel is the CEO.[48]



Launched in 2006, the Newton electric truck was the first fully productionised, new technology, electric commercial vehicle from Smith. Smith offers Newton in three GVW configurations: 7,500 kg, 10,000 kg and 12,000 kg. Each is available in short, medium or long wheelbase[49].

The truck is currently powered by a 120 kilowatt electric induction motor from Enova Systems, driven by Lithium-Ion Iron Phosphate batteries supplied by Valence Technology. Smith offers the battery pack in either 80kWh or 120kWh configurations.

Customers include TNT Express[50], TK Maxx[51], DHL[52], Balfour Beatty[53], Bunzl [54], AG Barr[55], the Office of Public Works[56] in Ireland and Celtic Linen in Dublin[57].

Newton was named Green Commercial of the Year in the electric vehicle section of Fleet Transport magazine’s Irish Truck of the Year Awards 2010, sponsored by Castrol[58].


The Smith Edison is based on the Ford Transit chassis. It is available as a panel van and minibus, as well as a chassis cab that can accommodate most body types, such as box, refrigerated, tipper, cage, flat bed and beaver tail[59]. Edison is currently powered by a 90 kW induction motor from Enova Systems and a 40kWh or 51kWh Lithium-Ion Iron Phosphate battery pack from Valence Technology.

The Edison chassis cab is available in six configurations, in GVWs of 3,500 kg – 4,600 kg. The Edison panel van is available in 12 configurations, in GVWs of 3,500 kg – 4,600 kg and a range of options on roof height and wheelbase length. The Edison minibus is available in six configurations, covering 13-17 seats and again with options on wheelbase length and roof height[60].

The Smith Edison was the world’s first electric van with a Gross Vehicle Weight of under 3,500 kg – a critical factor because vehicles over 3,500 kg require a commercial vehicle driving licence. Edison, like any normal van under 3,500 kg, can be driven by anyone with a regular UK licence.

In November 2009, Edison was named in the top five Vans of the Year by the Irish Motoring Writers Association[61]. In December 2009, Edison was named Eco Van of the Year 2010 by What Van magazine[62].

London Taxi

LTI and Smith are producing an all-electric version of LTI's TX4 black cab, branded the TX4E.

Smith is building the first 10 TX4E taxis under the UK Government’s Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme.

There has been some debate over the efficacy of an electric taxi. Bob Oddy, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association was quoted saying that "only about 40 percent of London cabbies will be able to work a full eight-hour shift on a 100-mile charge."[63]

Other vehicle development projects

Smith Electric United States headquarters and factory in the Kansas City Overhaul Base

The Smith Ampere was based on the Ford Transit Connect chassis. Smith produced a European prototype in 2008 and a US version the following year, after Smith US signed a deal with Ford Motor Company in February 2009[64].

The van was to be assembled for the North American market in the former Trans World Airlines overhaul hangar at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Missouri in the United States[65] and also in the UK for the European market.

However the company terminated this project, by mutual agreement with Ford in November 2009[35]. Smith cited the unexpected early success of its Newton all-electric truck in the US market; Smith US already had an order book for 255 units and therefore decided to focus its resources on the Newton product.

Also in February 2009, Smith US announced it was partnering with Humvee manufacturer AM General to produce a prototype electric delivery vehicle for the United States Postal Service[66].

Ford subsequently partnered with powertrain company Azure Dynamics to produce the electric Transit Connect. Ironically, Azure then selected AM General to facilitate the vehicle integration work on this project. However in 2010, but Ford later announced it would partner with Azure Dynamics Corporation instead.[67]

Further research and development

Smith Electric Vehicles is developing new drive line enhancements and ancillary systems for commercial electric vehicles, including heating and air conditioning[68]. The company estimates the new technology could increase electric vehicle range by up to 20%.

Smith’s parent company, Tanfield, is part of c consortium based in North East England that has secured £1.4m in matched funding towards the project, from the UK Government’s Ultra Efficient Systems programme.

In February 2010, Smith announced it was working with Proton Power Systems Plc of Germany, to incorporate a hydrogen fuel cell into its Smith Edison vehicle. The small fuel cell will act as a mini-generator, topping up the traction batteries and increasing vehicle range by up to 100%[69].

Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp

Tanfield announced the formation of Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp (Smith US) in February 2009 and the company opened for business later that year. It has since grown to become America’s leading manufacturer of electric trucks.

Corporate structure

Tanfied owns 49% of Smith US. The remaining 51% is in the hands of private investors.

Being majority-owned by US investors means that Smith US qualifies for the significant funding and incentive opportunities for electric trucks, which are available at both State and Federal level.

Smith US owns the exclusive rights to produce and market Tanfield’s commercial electric vehicles under the Smith brand. Tanfield licencese its electric vehicle technology to Smith, in exchange for a royalty fee per vehicle sold by Smith US[30].


Smith US produces the Smith Newton all-electric truck, in Classes 3 - 7[70]. The Newton has a top speed of 55 mph, a range of up to 100 miles on a single charge and is powered by lithium-ion batteries.

In July 2009, Smith US delivered its first Smith Newton trucks, at a ceremony on Capitol Hill, presided over by Missouri Senator Kit Bond. The first six customers were Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, AT&T, Staples Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric and Kansas City Power & Light.

These initial six vehicles were produced at Smith UK’s facility in Washington,Tyne & Wear and shipped to Missouri in kit form, for final assembly. However, by October, Smith US had recruited and trained the nucleus of its own workforce; Newton trucks started rolling off the production line in Kansas City[71].

Government support

In July 2009, the United States Department of Energy awarded $10m to Smith US, to facilitate a fleet of trial vehicles for major US corporations [72]. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made the grant award announcement in Kansas City, while on a visit to Smith US customer Kansas City Power & Light.

In January 2010, the Smith Newton became the first ever all-electric truck on the US General Services Administration (GSA) schedule. The schedule is a list of products approved for purchase by all Federal agencies and the US military. These agencies spend a combined $1 billion every year on GSA-approved vehicles and automotive services[73].

Right at the end of March 2010, Smith US received further validation from the Obama administration. US Senator Claire McCaskill announced that the DOE was awarding an additional $22m, allowing Smith US to increase its build programme to in excess of 500 Smith Newton trucks[74].


Smith US has its corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, in the former Trans World Airlines overhaul hangar at Kansas City International Airport.

As part of its growth strategy, Smith US announced in February 2010 that it was adopting a devolved production model. Rather than growing one giant central automotive factory, Smith intends to open approximately 10 regional production facilities, which will also function as showrooms, sales and service centres, ensuring the company is always close to its customers.

CEO Bryan Hansel identified a West Coast and East Coast centre as priorities, with more to follow in line with demand – and dependant on local grant aid and incentive support for electric trucks. Cities in the running include Atlanta, Chicago, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington DC[75].

March 2010: Smith US bids for independence

Smith US launched a bid to buy out the Smith UK operation, in order to create a totally separate company to Tanfield.

Smith US made a £37m conditional offer, equating to 50p per Tanfield share, plus a “free” share in Smith US if it subsequently undergoes an IPO and joins the stock market in the near future[76]. Tanfield granted Smith US a four-month period of exclusivity, giving the American company until July to raise the requisite funding and table a firm offer. Following Obama's visit to the Kansas City plant on July 8, the exclusivity was extended another 60 days to September 2010.[77]

Other producers of commercial electric vehicles

In Asia

In Europe

In North America

See also


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External links

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