Electric Vehicles

What Staples Expects from All-Electric Medium-Duty Work Trucks

February 2011, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

Manufactured by Smith Electric Vehicles, the Newton all-electric ­medium-duty chassis ­offers a range up to 100 miles, top speed of 50 mph, and a payload capacity up to 16,000 lb., ideal for short-range ­urban delivery applications.
Manufactured by Smith Electric Vehicles, the Newton all-electric ­medium-duty chassis ­offers a range up to 100 miles, top speed of 50 mph, and a payload capacity up to 16,000 lb., ideal for short-range ­urban delivery applications.

Last November, office supply giant Staples, Inc., of Framingham, Mass., added 41 new all-electric Class 6 Smith Newton delivery trucks to its fleet of 2,000 vehicles in North America.

The purchase is part of Staples' ongoing fuel-efficiency initiative, started in 2006, to achieve a 40-percent improvement in fleet fuel economy by 2015 and significantly reduce its carbon footprint.

Manufactured by Smith Electric Vehicles, based in Kansas City, Mo., the Newton all-electric medium-duty chassis offers a range up to 100 miles, top speed of 50 mph, and a payload capacity up to 16,000 lbs., ideal for short-range urban delivery applications that demand heavy stop-and-go driving.

In what instances do medium-duty electric trucks make financial sense for fleets? What are realistic fuel savings expectations? How long should it take to recoup the higher initial cost? What impact do electric trucks make on day-to-day fleet operations, including driver training and maintenance schedules?

Work Truck magazine spoke with Mike Payette, manager of fleet equipment at Staples, who spearheaded the company's electric truck initiative, to get his real-world perspective on these questions and more.

WT: When do medium-duty electric trucks make sense for a fleet? What's the
ideal application?

PAYETTE: What's not a good fit is if you have to take the truck out on the freeway and drive 20 miles at 55 mph. That will drain your battery too quickly.

The ideal setup is to be able to pull out of a terminal and make the first delivery within a mile of where the vehicle left. We have several of those situations at Staples.

In Los Angeles, for example, 180 of our routes operate between 35-70 miles per day. That's why electric vehicles are perfect for the L.A. market, as well as many other inner city ­metropolitan-type markets.

The shorter routes are actually more harmful for the diesels. We found that with some of our diesels in the L.A. market, we'll pull a download off the engine control module (ECM) and find the ECM called for a regeneration of the diesel particulate filter (DPF) 119 times, but was only able to complete the re-gen three times because the vehicle was not running long enough for the 20 minutes required to clean that filter out.

If we're making 50-60 deliveries per day, the truck is running about eight minutes between stops. The driver must pull the truck over to the side of the road, put it in park, hit the exhaust re-gen button, and let it go through a 20-minute re-gen.

By pulling those diesels out of the short-mileage routes and incorporating electric trucks, you're helping the diesel vehicles run cleaner and putting the electric in its optimal operating environment.

WT: What is the upgrade cost going to the all-electric versus diesel power?

PAYETTE: When you factor available federal and state funds, the cost of these electric trucks is roughly two times the cost of a conventional-powered diesel truck.

WT: How long do you anticipate it will take for you to recoup that investment?

PAYETTE: Understand that over the life of the vehicle, the equation in place today will change. Fuel prices will change; the electric rate I'm paying is likely to change. However, if you use today's numbers, here's what you're looking at:

If you're going to run a diesel truck on a 100-mile route at 10 miles per gallon, that's roughly $35 in diesel fuel to cover the route. In California, by charging electric trucks during off-peak hours, we're paying $9 in electricity to run the same 100-mile route. So that's about $8,900 per year for fuel and $2,300 in electricity.

Since we plan to keep these units in service at least 10 years, the overall differential is $66,000 per truck - if fuel remained $3.50 per gallon or $0.10-$0.12 per kilowatt hour. That alone offsets the incremental cost of the electric vehicle over 10 years without even talking maintenance.


  1. 1. C.J. Arasim [ April 18, 2015 @ 03:42PM ]

    I work for a company that has 4 of these trucks an they are not reliable to get your route done everyday. They do not get 100 miles it is only 50 miles an you get even less in winter when you run the heater because you drain the battery. These trucks are only 5 years old an two of them are having transmissions replaced with only 30,000 miles on them. Anybody who purchases these better do some homework because you are going to have a lot of down time with these trucks.


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