If the Tesla Roadster is the sultry movie star of electric vehicles, Boulder Electric Vehicle’s delivery vans are the character actors. But for good reason. The boxy, all-electric vehicles are meant to haul loads of up to 11,000 lbs, not shuttle the well-heeled between social events or overtake Porches on the freeway. Boulder Electric CEO and founder Carter Brown believes he’s spotted a business opportunity in electric-powered cargo vehicles, and he’s now shopping his idea among venture capitalists to raise $21 million.
“The economics work out much better if you’re working with fleets,” Carter said. “It’s easier if you can work with someone who can buy 10 or 100 or 1,000 vehicles at a time.” With the funding, the year-old startup could manufacture a small run of about 100 vehicles by the end of 2011, the CEO said. Potential customers include delivery outfits, such as UPS and FedEx, government agencies, electric utilities, school districts and shuttle companies.
The electric vans, designed to go up to 100 miles on a single charge, will be powered by small-cell lithium-ion batteries supplied by an unnamed vendor. Carter said part of the company’s secret sauce is the lightweight-composite materials used to build the vehicle frames — less weight reduces stress on the electric drivetrain.
The Boulder, Colo.-based company estimates the vans will initially sell for about $100,000, or about $40,000 more than a conventional diesel-powered truck. But Carter claimed that even at current low fuel prices, companies will make up the difference in about six or seven years through lower fuel and maintenance costs. According to the Boulder Electric web site, the cost of operating the electric vehicles will range from 3-8 cents per mile.
But Boulder Electric isn’t the only company targeting the electric fleet vehicle market, and others are already shipping trucks. The startup faces competition from Austin, Texas-based Electric Vehicles International, which entered the U.S. fleet vehicle market in March. And Smith Electric Vehicles, based in Ireland and serving the European market, is partnering with Ford Motors and plans to introduce an electric version of Ford’s Transit Connect, a cargo van, in North America by 2010.