• Nov 26, 2012
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.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 10 Comments
      Smith Jim
      • 10 Hours Ago
      @Marco Polo Conservatives in the US tend to be xenophobic. I'll never forget a conversation I once had about immigration with a conservative woman. Immigration from Mexico is an especially controversial subject in the US. I tried to get her to understand an important concept. I said that indigenous Mexicans are an underclass in Mexico and Mexicans of Spanish descent are the ruling class. A similar situation exists in the US with Native Americans as an underclass and Americans of European descent are the ruling class. The main difference is the language and a border created by people of European descent. I tried to emphasize that Native Americans and indigenous Mexicans are of the same race because their ancestors are from the same continent. Her response was, "Ewww, continent! That's a big word!"
      Spec
      • 10 Hours Ago
      Meh. It is all about low cost & mass manufacturing. If there is going to be successful small electrified delivery van it will likely be the electric NV200 from Nissan, whatever that Renault electric delivery van is, or some GM van based upon the Voltec technology, or a Ford Van using their new Energi technology. Nothing wrong with this Emerald van but I can't see how they can start from nothing and expect to compete with the big boys. You need existing assembly lines that can be shared with other vehicles, sharing of parts with other vehicles, supplier relationships, a distribution network, etc.
      Marcopolo
      • 10 Hours Ago
      @ Smith Jim Yeah, I hear what you say ! The term conservative outside the US, has a very different meaning from the US. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is a conservative politician, but his record on environmental issues is second to none. Reagan was a conservative, but still managed to appeal to a broad base of support. US politics seems to have deteriorated into groups of people ranting about what they are against, rather than defining what they believe will benefit their fellow Americans.
      raktmn
      • 10 Hours Ago
      If you want British EV companies to make money, pay for loans for them out of your own tax dollars in England. Go get your own government to give them loans. Spend your own tax dollars out of your own pocket if you believe in Emerald so much.
      Giza Plateau
      • 10 Hours Ago
      The latest contender in the how do we waste a few hundred million dollars with no good plan competition.
      raktmn
      • 10 Hours Ago
      Moving to the US just to get US gov't backed loans should be enough to disqualify them from getting any loans.
        Marco Polo
        • 10 Hours Ago
        @raktmn
        @rakmn Why ? That's exactly what the loans were designed to do, attract and develop new technology !
      Marcopolo
      • 10 Hours Ago
      @raktmn Let's see if I've got you right ? You don't think that UK (or other) companies should move to the US and apply for loans to develop technology and manufacture in the US ? Is that what you are saying ? Because if so, the US should pay back the Billions of Dollars other countries taxpayers (including the UK) have paid the subsidiaries of US companies ! Or are you just one of those ultra-right Americans who believes that the US government should not assist industry ?
      Smith Jim
      • 10 Hours Ago
      The success of Emerald is probably a long shot but I hope they succeed because St. Louis could use more jobs.
      Marco Polo
      • 10 Hours Ago
      There have been many suggested methods of marketing Electric Vehicles over the years. The most obvious, Electric delivery vans have usually failed due to the extremely low profitability of light commercial manufacture. Even in Europe where some light commercial EV are successfully marketed, small diesels dominate the market. Many UK manufacturers have attempted to enter the market, and each has failed. The best of these was Smith and Modec. Modec failed due to a deliberate lack of support from the UK Labour Government , and after 80 years of UK struggle, Smith moved to the USA. In 1965 Ford introduced the brilliant Ford Transit. This vehicle not only proved to be one of Fords most successful products, it changed the way this class of automobile was designed for every manufacturer. The 'Step Van' is a configuration unique to the USA. Light commercial vehicles (especially Step Vans) should be a natural market for EV and EREV development. Many of hese vehicles travel relatively low mileages, travel at relatively low speeds, on fairly predetermined routes with easy access to three phase charging facilities. Since most of these vehicles are not used on highways, aero-dynamics are not important. If the US government can mandate the use of ethanol, it sees surprising that US cities can't mandate the use of EV/EREV delivery vehicles for urban use. I have built/converted a number of light commercials over the years (although the sophisticated engineering required to build EREV's is beyond my resources). My own theory of why EV vans haven't proved successful, is that designs by would be EV manufactures have all been too ambitious. Delivery vehicles, are the exact opposite of car design. Looks and comfort are of secondary consideration. The vehicles is basically a box on wheels. Utilitarian in the extreme. The exceptions are small vans built from small sedans, are popular with owner-drivers, ( Renault's Kangoo is a great example) and variations of larger vans (mini-vans, campers etc) trying to add value and profitability to van production. But the basic van, (especially the US step-van) used within an urban delivery fleet, needs only two features to guarantee sales success. Ease of maintenance and economy of operating life. Features such as zero-emissions, greater load capacity, driver health, are all bonuses, but the vehicles main selling point should be it's economy. Oh, and EV favorable municipal regulations would be nice....