A plug-in hybrid delivery van sure seems like a good idea for commercial fleet customers looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and better manage volatile gasoline prices, right? Some companies, FedEx and Frito-Lay, are already buying green vehicles, and there are many other companies making a lot of short hauls in crowded urban areas where people would notice a reduction in diesel fumes. So why is this nut so difficult to crack?
Things didn't go so well for no-longer-in-business Bright Automotive. While it didn't offer a plug-in hybrid, Azure Dynamics did offer an electrified Ford Transit Connect to a similar client base, and things didn't go well for them, either. Even if the path to success is in no way guaranteed, the UK-based Emerald Automotive is going to give it a shot.
Emerald Automotive recently moved its office to St. Louis, MO, and is staffed by a team of five ex-Lotus Engineering employees from the UK. The initial idea was to get a loan from the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, and that meant moving to America. The company withdrew its request after it looked like the process would be drawn out until 2013. These loans are not guaranteed to work and can be delayed, as Bright Automotive found out. On that point, Emerald CEO Andy Tempest said: "[Bright] relied on getting the DOE loan for far too long, and their break-evens were too high. It's not realistic to expect to sell 50,000 vehicles in a brand-new market."
Emerald started out by marketing its t-001 extended-range concept vehicle in Europe. The Emerald brand came from a joint venture between UK-based Intelligent Energy and Revolve Technologies, which morphed into Emerald Automotive. Emerald is still marketing in Europe and is in discussions with Royal Mail, British Telecom, DHL, Deutsche Post and others.
The t-001 is getting attention from fleets for its capacity – 66 miles on battery power through its 25-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a total of 463 miles with its extended range internal combustion engine, powered by gasoline in the US and diesel in Europe. It's got a 75-kW electric motor driving the rear axle, allowing the van to make it up to 80 miles per hour.
Tempest claims that the monetary payback for the alt-power price premium compared to a similar-sized ICE will take 17 months in Europe, with its higher fuel prices, and 48 months in the US. Overall, the economics for Emerald look very good in the US and it appears to be worth the relocation. The company won't know for sure until 2015, when the t-001 finally goes into production.
One advantage the company has gained in going the plug-in hybrid route was taking out the huge battery pack needed in a battery-electric version. This lightened the load by 900 pounds; using a lightweight aluminum structure and thermal plastic composite body panels helps, too.
Editor's note: When you click the link to Emerald Automotive in PluginCars.com or from a Google search, it automatically routes you to a website for UK-based saxophonist AndySax. Emerald's CEO is named Andy Tempest and he's British. Very strange. Click on the video link below to learn more about Emerald's plug-in hybrid van.