Smith Electric Vehicles

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Smith Electric Vehicles
Industry Battery electric vehicle
Founded Washington, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom.
(1920; 97 years ago (1920))
Headquarters Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Area served
Key people
John Dixon (CEO)
Products The Smith Newton
Website Smith Electric
Smith Electric United States headquarters and factory in the Kansas City Overhaul Base

Smith Electric Vehicles (also known as Smith's) is a manufacturer of zero emission commercial electric vehicles. The company was founded in 1920 in the North of England but in 2011 moved its headquarters to Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

Smith manufactures the largest range of zero-emission 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 European Canadian, European, South-East Asia and US markets. 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. A Delaware corporation.[1] Its headquarters is in Kansas City, Missouri. The United States company in March 2010 indicated it wanted to buy out the UK company.[2]

After many years of poor trading history[3] the UK arms of Smith were shut down. This included Smith Electric Vehicles (Europe) Ltd[4] which was put into administration and Smith Technologies Ltd[5] which was put into liquidation.


Early years[edit]

A SEV milk float, the most popular type of Smith Electric Vehicle from the 1950s to 1980s

The company was founded in 1920 as Northern Coachbuilders (NCB) 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. In 1949, electric vehicle and bus production were separated, with buses continuing to carry the Northern Coachbuilders marque, and all NCB electric vehicles being manufactured by Smith Electric Vehicles, which was based in Gateshead. Overall ownership of the group remained unchanged. The directors of the electric vehicle business were Mr Douglas Smith Snr, Mr Douglas Smith Jnr and Mr H W Heyman.[6]

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.[7]

The Smith Electric Vehicles' business in the 1950s and 60s focussed on 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 launched 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.[8]

In 1989 the company acquired Wales & Edwards.

North America[edit]

The company 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 Conway's 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 approached the firm with the Battronic proposal in 1962. At that time there were more than 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 producer of motor vehicle traction batteries and Smith was a producer of electric delivery vehicles. Boyertown’s contribution was its high-strength, lightweight multalloy body.[9]

Early Battronics had a top speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) and could carry a 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) payload up to 62 miles (100 km) on a single charge. The Potomac Edison Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, took delivery of the first production Battronic in March 1964.

Smith withdrew from the partnership in 1966, and Battronic ultimately produced and sold fewer than 200 vehicles in its entire 20 year life (1963–1983).[10]


A SEV hospital utility vehicle in England

Back in the UK, the rise of the supermarket coincided with the end of around half of all milk rounds during the 1990s.[citation needed] 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 municipal operations and interior applications that mandated heavy duty vehicles with zero exhaust emissions. Smith ST vehicles are used in nuclear power stations,[11] large factories[12] and former salt mines converted into records storage facilities.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15] Tanfield immediately restored the historic Smith Electric Vehicles brand name and initiated R&D work to develop new electric delivery vehicles.


A proof of concept vehicle called the Faraday was launched in October 2005,[16] with a top speed of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), a range of up to 60 miles (100 km) in urban operations and payload capabilities of up to 2,000 kg.[17] Built on Smith’s own all-steel chassis, the Faraday had a gross vehicle weight (GVW) in excess of 5,000 kg. Early adopters such as TNT NV and Sainsbury’s 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.[18]

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 in the Czech Republic.[19] Leading express and mail operator TNT N.V. took the first Newton for assessment in its London fleet.[20] A new production facility for Smith Electric Vehicles was built in Washington, Tyne & Wear, and was officially opened by Prime Minister Tony Blair in February 2007. 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."[21]

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.[22] First movers to deploy the Edison included the retailer Sainsbury’s and utility company Scottish & Southern Energy.[23] Also in April, TNT NV ordered a fleet of 50 Smith Newton trucks, following its successful trial of the first vehicle in 2006.[24]

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 might 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.[25]

During the summer of 2007, Smith produced its first vehicles for export, which were delivered to TNT NV in the Netherlands.[26] In December it also showed its Newton truck in North America and announced plans to establish a US production facility.[27]


In 2008 Smith appointed its first full-service distributor, Electric Vehicles Ireland,[28] 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.[29]

However, by the end of June 2008 Smith’s parent company, Tanfield, reported the cancellation and postponement of customer orders. In November, Smith Electric was shortlisted for the Department for Transport's Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme,[30] a subsidy scheme that allowed public sector bodies to buy electric and low carbon vans for the same price as the equivalent diesel vehicle.[31] Electric vehicle sales for 2008 were £25.1m (2007: £26.1m). Smith’s parent company, Tanfield, cited a combination of supply chain constraints 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.[32] Furthermore, the recession also impacted on the company’s plans to open a production facility in the USA.


After restructuring its operations in line with the downturn in demand, 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.[33]

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 incentives for EVs. The company defines a "full-service distributor" as one who can sell products and also has the technical expertise to provide 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.[34]

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

At the Geneva Motor Show, Ford displayed a concept pure electric people-carrier called Ford Tourneo Connect Electric, a version of the Ford Transit Connect.[35] This prototype was produced by Smith Electric Vehicles.

2009 was also the year that the UK government began funding 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).[36] 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 Electric that Ford exhibited in Geneva.

The same month, the UK government confirmed that Smith was one of three electric van manufacturers in the final shortlist of suppliers into the Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme.[37]

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.[38] 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.[39]

Smith UK secured repeat business from Sainsbury’s, which ordered an additional 50 Smith Edison electric vans. Combined with Sainsbury’s existing 20 electric vans, this created the largest fleet of new technology electric commercial vehicles in the world.[40]

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.[citation needed]

Sales of electric vehicles declined in 2009 to £15.1m (2008: £25.1m).[41] However, Smith Electric Vehicles grew its customer base over the year and increased export sales, from less than 1% of sales in 2008 to more than 15% of sales in 2009.[citation needed]


Barack Obama visiting the Kansas City plant on July 8, 2010, to announce a $32 million grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act coupled with $36 million in private capital to build up to 500 all-electric trucks.[42]

In 2010 the company supplied 10 Smith Edison vans to Ford of Europe for the colognE-mobil project in Cologne, Germany. The first phase of the project was to examine the potential benefits of electric commercial vehicles in Cologne, then forecast how they might affect Germany's plans to deploy 1 million zero emission vehicles by 2020.[43]

In March ElecTruckCity was appointed as its distributor in France.[44]

In April Phase One was initiated of the UK's Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme. Smith received 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.[45][46]

At the Commercial Vehicle Operator Show in the UK, Smith celebrated its 90th anniversary. The company also announced SmithLink,[47] the first telematics system for electric commercial vehicles. This provided real-time data on battery state-of-charge and vehicle location, along with the data-monitoring required for government-funded projects such as the DOE programme in the USA and the Department for Transport programme in the UK.

The company also launched the UK’s first all-electric 17-seat minibus at the CV Operator Show, held in Birmingham NEC. The Smith Edison minibus was based on the Ford Transit minibus chassis.[48]


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 company announced that it was exploring the potential for an initial public offering (IPO).[49] Tanfield maintains 49% ownership in the new company. Bryan Hansel is the CEO.[50] Ultimately this initial stock offering failed to complete.[51]


In June Smith announced that it had passed 700 deployed vehicles and over 5 million miles of operation.[52]

In August Smith signed a letter of intent to form a joint venture with Taikang Technology Corp. in Taiwan. The agreement covers assembly and distribution of all-electric vehicles in Taiwan with the Smith brand.[53][54]

In September Smith deployed its first vehicle-to-grid (V2G) vehicles at Fort Carson, Colorado. The deployment is part of the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS) project.[55]

In October Smith entered into a Letter of Intent with Sinopoly, an internationally renowned battery supplier with a strategic goal to develop markets in mainland China and Taiwan.[56]


In May Smith reached an agreement with Sinopoly Battery Limited, a Hong Kong-based battery manufacturer which aims to raise $40 million for the firm.[57][58]

On 9 June, Smith launched the first all electric commercial truck in Italy. This Italian version of the Newton was delivered to Niinivirta Transport S.p.A. at a ceremony in Milan.[59]

In August 2014 Smith Electric Vehicles purchased a small, but OTCBB traded, Colorado company for $340,000 as part of a strategy to become a publicly traded company.[51]

Also in August 2014 a UK part of the company separated as SEV,[60] through a management buy out, to focus on the European maintenance and services sector.[61]


After many years of poor trading history[3] the UK arms of Smith were shut down. This included Smith Electric Vehicles (Europe) Ltd[4] which was put into administration and Smith Technologies Ltd[5] which was put into liquidation.

Current Production Vehicles[edit]

Newton Truck[edit]

Smith Newton electric truck at the Autotec exhibition in the Brno Exhibition Centre in 2010

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.[62] The truck is currently powered by a 120 kilowatt electric permanent-magnet motor and driven by lithium-ion iron phosphate batteries with A123 Systems modules . Smith offers the battery pack in either 80kWh or 120kWh configurations.

Customers in Europe include TNT Express,[63][64] TK Maxx,[65] DHL,[66] Balfour Beatty,[67][68] Bunzl,[69] AG Barr,[70] the Office of Public Works[71] in Ireland and Celtic Linen in Dublin.[72]

Smith Newton electric van operated by TNT Express in Oxford, England

In the United States, Frito-Lay is one of the main customers, with 176 Newton delivery trucks in operation by January 2011, representing about 1% of Frito-Lay's total fleet.[73][74] Other American customers include Coca-Cola,[75][76] AT&T,[77] Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Staples[78] and the U.S. Marine Corps.[79]

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.[80]

As of October 2012, the Newton is sold worldwide and available with three different payload capacities from 6,100 to 16,200 pounds (2,800 to 7,300 kg).[81] The lithium-ion battery pack is available in varying sizes that deliver a range from 40 to 100 mi (60 to 160 km)[81] and a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h).[81] Pricing starts at GB£78,400.[82]


In March 2012 Smith announced the release of the Newton Step-Van, an all-electric, zero-emission vehicle built on the versatile Newton platform that features a walk-in body produced by Indiana-based Utilimaster.[83]

Discontinued Vehicles[edit]


The Smith Edison was the world’s first electric van with a GVW 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.

The Smith Edison was sold worldwide except in the U.S. The Smith Edison was available as a chassis cab, delivery van and minibus, with payload capacity varying from 1,600 to 5,100 lb (730 to 2,310 kg).[81] The cargo van model started at GB£57,566 and the minibus at GB£65,629.[82] The delivery van was sold with different lithium-ion battery packs that deliver ranges from 55 to 100 mi / 90 to 160 km,[81] with a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h).[81]

The Smith Edison was based on the Ford Transit chassis and powered by a 90 kW induction motor from Enova Systems and a 40kWh or 51kWh lithium-ion iron phosphate battery pack from Valence Technology.

In November 2009, Smith Edison was named in the top five Vans of the Year by the Irish Motoring Writers Association.[84] In December 2009 Edison was named Eco Van of the Year 2010 by What Van magazine.[85]

In 2012 the Smith Edison was upgraded to use the Ford Transit Stage 5 variant. Customers span the world including Russia (Revolta), Netherlands (Spijkstaal), Taiwan (Taikang), Hong Kong (CLP, FedEx), UK, Sweden (FuelReduce) and Abu Dhabi.

The Smith Edison was discontinued in 2014.[86]

London Taxi[edit]

LTI and Smith produced an all-electric version of LTI's TX4 black cab, branded the TX4E. Smith built the first 10 TX4E taxis under the UK Government’s Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme.

The vehicles were not a commercial success. 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% of London cabbies will be able to work a full eight-hour shift on a 100-mile charge."[87]


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.[88]

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[89] and also in the UK for the European market.

However the company terminated this project, by mutual agreement with Ford in November 2009.[38] 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.[90]

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.[91]

Further research and development[edit]

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

In February 2010, Smith announced it was working with Proton Power Systems plc of Germany, to incorporate a hydrogen fuel cell into its Smith Newton vehicle. The small fuel cell will act as a mini-generator, topping up the traction batteries and increasing vehicle range by up to 100%.[92]


SmithLink was born out of a desire to understand how a fleet of all electric vehicles perform under many varying conditions (topology, temperature and driver style to name a few). In 2010 a small team was formed to design a system that would allow the collection and processing of key data to aid prognostics and continual product development.

SmithLink was established in 2009 and was rolled out to a few key UK and US fleets in 2010.

When SmithLink first started out there wasn't a secure and reliable transmission protocol for high volume data transmission over public networks (the data portions of the mobile GPRS spectrum). Smith worked with the AMQP Working Group and OASIS to define a new messaging protocol with an aim to make it the standard protocol for messaging interoperability. SmithLink was one of the first heavy users of theAMQP protocol for telemetry transmission.[93]

By 2014 this system has been installed in over 800 vehicles around the world and in March 2014 the SmithLink had recoded over of 8.5 million miles of data for all electric trucks.

Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp[edit]

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[edit]

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 licences its electric vehicle technology to Smith, in exchange for a royalty fee per vehicle sold by Smith US.[33]


Smith US produces the Smith Newton all-electric truck, in Classes 3 - 7.[94] The Newton has a top speed of 55 miles per hour (90 km/h), a range of up to 100 miles (160 km) 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, 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.[95]

Government support[edit]

In July 2009, the Department of Energy awarded $10m to Smith US, to facilitate a fleet of trial vehicles for major US corporations.[96] 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.[97]

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 program to in excess of 500 Smith Newton trucks.[98]


Smith has its corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. The company also has its engineering centre of excellence in Washington, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom[99]

March 2010: Smith US bids for independence[edit]

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.[100] 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 President Obama's visit to the Kansas City plant on July 8, the exclusivity was extended another 60 days to September 2010.[101]


Five battery-electric vehicles produced by Smith have been preserved in the collection of The Transport Museum, Wythall near Birmingham, England. There is a model S65, operated by Walsall & District Co-op, and a model SS, operated by Handsworth Dairies, both dating from 1957. A pair of 2-ton models, operated by Walsall & District Co-op and Nottingham Co-op date from 1958 and 1959, while the fifth vehicle is a Commuter mail van operated by the General Post Office and manufactured in 1969.[102] Ipswich Transport Museum has a Smiths milk float dating from 1948, which was operated by Ipswich Co-operative Society, in its collection,[103] as well as three vehicles used for door-to-door sales of vegetables. All were built in 1965 and retired in 2001, being donated to the museum by the Co-op in 2002.[104]

See also[edit]


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