Vans of the Year

Date: Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Smith Edison

Pressure to cut air pollution and reduce CO2 output in particular looks set to have a massive long-term impact on light commercial design. Tougher legislation at a local, national and EU level, possibly accompanied by a re-jigging of the tax system, may prompt more and more operators to switch to battery-powered or diesel/electric hybrid vans, assuming that they can do so without compromising operational efficiency. It is with these thoughts in mind that we’ve decided to present this year’s ECO award to the Edison from Smith Electric Vehicles.

If it looks familiar, then that is because the Edison is based on Ford’s Transit; a tried and tested product familiar to hundreds of thousands of van drivers and a point very much in Edison’s favour.

Fitted with lithium-ion iron phosphate batteries and a 90kW electric motor, it’s available as a chassis cab and a minibus as well as in van guise. It offers a top speed of up to 50mph and a 100-mile range between recharges. Opt for a 4.6-tonne gross van and you can achieve a gross payload of 1,800kg. Models grossing at 3.5 and 4.25 tonnes are also on offer.

With no internal combustion engine, Edison produces no exhaust emissions at all. It runs quietly, which makes it ideal for early morning or late night deliveries and it’s extraordinarily cheap to operate.

The fuel cost is measured in coppers rather than pounds. The batteries are sealed, the lack of a diesel engine means that there’s no need to change the oil and filter every so often, and Smith says that it’s worth noting that there are only four moving parts in an electric motor. As a consequence there is little that can go wrong. Electric light commercials are zero-rated so far as Vehicle Excise Duty is concerned and they’re exempt from the London congestion tax.
Set off in an Edison and you’ll quickly discover that there’s no lack of acceleration and that the ride and handling are pretty much the same as that of an ordinary Transit. So is the cab interior.

There’s a lot to be said in favour of the rest of the Smith Electric range. Also on offer is the Newton. A chassis cab grossing at 7.5, 10, or 12 tonnes, it employs a cab sourced from Czech truck maker Avia, now part of the Indian-owned Hinduja Group. It offers a 150-mile range.

Smith was founded as Northern Coachbuilders back in 1920, and the company used to build trolley buses. Based in Washington, Tyne and Wear, it has established a UK-wide network of 15 depots and 130 mobile engineers. While the technology it employs is basically reliable, it is not something that local garages deal with regularly; so it’s reassuring to see this level of support in place.

Our Highly Commended award in this category goes to Modec. Its distinctively-styled, Coventry-built ,big capacity battery-powered vans have found homes with a number of household-name fleet operators, including Tesco and UPS.


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