Boulder Electric Seeks $21M in VC Funding for Electric Vans



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.


Stan Wellaway

Smith’s (Kansas City, Missouri) plant comes on stream within the next few weeks – with the likes of AT&T and Pacific Gas & Electric among the big-name customers lined up to take some of the first Smith Newton trucks, several hundred of which already operate on UK streets. Check out their US website and also the Case Studies page of their UK website

Smith has also been chosen to partner Ford in producing the all-electric version of the Ford Transit Connect, which Ford will be marketing across the US next year, and which is already marketed as the Smith Ampere in Europe.

Potential customers of Boulder Electric Vehicles will want to trial them for 6-12 months before placing fleet orders, which could mean that Smith have a 1-2 year lead. But as Smith have already demonstrated, Boulder are right in believing there is a market for EVs among depot-based delivery fleets.

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Couple of small corrections. Smith Electric Vehicles is producing both trucks (Newtons) and vans from its Kansas facility – with the first vehicles due to roll-out this autumn and with orders from companies such as Frito-lay and Pepsico. It is a wholly-US owned subsidiary of the Tanfield Group (LSE:TAN) based in the North East of England, not Ireland, though it does sell vehicles in Ireland too. It is the world’s biggest producer of electric vehicles and has been doing so for over 80 years.

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