Thursday, April 14, 2011

Freight Delivery Firms Have Hybrid And Electric Vans And Trucks In Their Sights

CV Show Gives Manufacturers a Chance to Shine
Shipping News Feature

UK – Two companies which appeared at this weeks Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC in Birmingham offer differing solutions to the same problem. With more and more freight haulage companies and other light commercial vehicle users concentrating on increased fuel costs and better emissions much attention is being focused on the state of play regarding all electric and hybrid power vans and trucks.

Both Smith Electric Vehicles and Ashwood Automotive, which produces both hybrid vehicles and a system to inform drivers how to maximise performance, shape up with vehicles that, outwardly, are virtually identical. The Smith Edison is a transit based all electric van and is the UK’s best-selling electric light commercial vehicle. It has a top speed of 50mph, range of up to 110 miles on a single charge and the battery can be fully recharged in as little as four hours. Edison is available as a chassis cab, minibus and panel van, in 24 configurations.

Ashwoods Hybrid Transit recovers energy lost during deceleration and turns it into power, through an electric torque assist. The engine therefore does not have to work as hard, resulting in fuel consumption savings of up to 25%. Ashwoods Hybrid Transit in its turn is officially the UK’s best-selling hybrid van. Recaptured energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery and transmitted to an electric motor/generator attached to the rear differential via belt drive.

Obviously at the moment the all electric model is suitable only for urban use but rapid strides are being made in battery technology and Smith’s also produce a larger truck, the Newton, available in 16 different wheelbase, GVW and battery configurations with similar top speed to the Edison but an improved 150 mile range and chassis cabs providing payloads from 2753kg to 7508kgs. Ashwoods meanwhile also produce the EcoDrive system, offering environmental improvements in the form of reduced fuel consumption and even possible to fit retrospectively to a suitable vehicle.

From 3 January 2012, vans and minibuses entering the London LEZ must comply with Euro 3 standard for exhaust emissions; meaning vehicles over 10 years old that enter the zone face fines of up to £100 per day. According to Transport for London, more than 70,000 vans and minibuses will be affected and, whilst the Smith’s models clearly have no concerns, Ashwood has been working with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to offer owner-drivers the chance to trade in their non-compliant vehicles for a brand new Ford Transit fitted with Ashwoods’ innovative EcoDrive technology.

Ashwoods says the Mayor has negotiated a significant discount for Londoners, with prices starting at just £11,995, plus £500 cash back for their non-compliant vehicle and because EcoDrive cuts fuel use by up to 10%, the company points out buyers are also partially protected against rising pump prices.

Mark Roberts, Managing Director of Ashwoods Automotive points out almost all of the 72,000 vans and minibuses impacted by this change belong to small businesses and comments:

“With prices starting from less than £12,000, Ashwoods Transit EcoDrive offers them an easy and cost-effective way to be LEZ-compliant, while also making fuel savings from the moment they drive off in a new vehicle. And because we can take care of all other requirements like racking and vehicle outfitting, the owner suffers minimal disruption to their business.”

In turn Smith’s say that since their acquisition by Smith Electric Vehicles US Corporation the group have been able to leverage a stronger supply chain in order to improve overall vehicle quality and lower the cost of key vehicle components, such as batteries with consequent savings for customers. The company has also been able to improve the payload of the Edison models on average by 150 kg on chassis cabs and in excess of 250 kg on panel vans. Geoff Allison, Managing Director of Smith Electric says:

“These increases provide up to 15% extra payload on a chassis cab on average and 35% more carrying capacity in a panel van. As a result of our combination with Smith US, we are able to offer our customers electric trucks, vans and minibuses that combine lower up-front capital costs with our vehicles’ existing low operating costs. This combination delivers real cost savings compared to their existing diesel vehicles, plus all of the environmental benefits of switching to EVs.”

In fact the companies are not really in direct competition at this moment in time. Smith Electric designs electric vehicles for depot-based, predictable route, multi-drop applications. Quiet and clean, these vehicles are ideal for deliveries in residential areas, emit no air pollutants and reduce CO2 emissions from transport.

Ashwoods utilise a variant on current technology by using their own systems to improve a vehicles overall performance and are better suited to the unpredictability of a light haulage situation where each days run differs from the next with unknown loads and mileages.

Whatever the business however any modern transport manager in Birmingham this week will no doubt have looked hard at the rapid spread of new techniques and technologies that so often make commercial vehicles today’s proving ground for tomorrows standards.

Photo: Note the outward similarity between the Smith EdisonTransit and Ashwood Hybrid Transit with, inset, the Ashwood hybrid drive system.