Smith Electric Vehicles has announced the start of production of a new electric walk-in delivery van developed in collaboration with Indiana-based Utilimaster. Incorporating Smith's proprietary drive and control, battery management and remote system monitoring technologies, the zero-emission Newton Step Van is said to offer a range of around 100 miles (160 km) on a single charge of its Lithium-ion batteries. The first company to deploy the new vehicle in the U.S. will be FedEx Express, the world's largest express transportation company.

Based on Smith's Newton chassis platform and featuring an integrated walk-in van design courtesy of Utilimaster (a subsidiary of Spartan Motors), the Newton Step Van is available in gross vehicle weight configurations of between 14,000 pounds and 26,000 pounds (6,350 - 11,793 kg), with between 650 to 1,200 cubic feet (18.4 - 33.9 cubic meters) of cargo capacity and up to 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) of payload.

The vehicle features the company's Smith Drive, a 134kW/180bhp brushless, permanent magnet electric motor delivering 650Nm of torque and a vector-controlled AC system with regenerative braking. There's an onboard charger, and battery management is taken care of by Smith Power technology, a system that's said to be capable of using batteries of varying sizes from different manufacturers, although Smith's current preferred partners are Valence and A123. The built-in Smith Link system enables vital vehicle information to be monitored and transmitted to a central server via GPRS. Power-assisted steering and ABS brakes also feature.

Smith EV - whose customers include the U.S. Marine Corps, Staples, TNT and Coca-Cola - says that the new vehicle will be deployed in select U.S. markets during the coming year. Businesses opting for electric vehicles like the Newton Step Van could well find that they start to pay for themselves in a relatively short time. A recent study by researchers at MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics suggests that businesses choosing electric vehicles for city deliveries save between nine and 12 percent in operational costs compared to those using trucks powered by diesel engines.