20100614 big green electric food truck 23
An electric-powered truck on display in the Bronx. Food transporters at Hunts Point, NY will use the zero-emissions vehicles to deliver goods from the city's food hub. - 


Stacey Vanek-Smith: President Obama visits an electric vehicle plant in Kansas City today. Smith Electric Vehicles has gotten $32 million in stimulus money for research and development of zero-emission trucks. As Laura Ziegler reports from Kansas City, Smith has some big-name corporate clients to boast about when the president shows up.

Laura Ziegler: Smith Electric Vehicles is one of the few manufacturers selling electric trucks to corporations. Among its clientele: Staples office supplies, Coca-Cola and Frito Lay.

Mike O'Connell: Well we see a strategy to get the cost competitive with traditional combustible engines.

Mike O'Connell is Director of Fleets for North America for Frito Lay. Electric vehicles are still limited to a hundred-mile range, but O'Connell says that't not a problem for his company.

O'Connell: We have engineered routes. A lot of our routes go less than 100 miles a day, so we kind of know how many miles we're going to go, how long we're going to be out there. And when they get back to their distribution center, we have charging points. So very consist works well in our delivery system.

The technology is still new. Aside from their cost, batteries can emit hazardous chemicals and require electric grids most cities don't yet have.

Missouri Senator Clair McCaskill visited Smith Electric this spring. She was there to announce a $22 million Department of Energy grant for research and development. Senator McCaskill envisions a much wider use of electrified in trucks.

Clair McCaskill: It's a natural for things like the post office, this is exactly the kind of post office needs for mail delivery. In the military, there are many delivery needs on various bases in the United States for delivery vehicles.

Executives at Smith Electric hope to up production from two trucks a week to 25 and double their work force by the end of this year.

In Kansas City, I'm Laura Ziegler for Marketplace.