EVI Exits T. Boone Territory, Gets a New Home to Keep on Plug-in Truckin'

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evi-truckEnergy baron T. Boone Pickens wants to see delivery trucks and just about any other vehicle that “returns to the ‘barn’ each night” running on natural gas. A relative newcomer to the U.S. market, Electric Vehicles International, has just moved to Stockton, Calif., from its former Toluca, Mexico, headquarters and office in Texas (T. Boone’s stomping grounds), and it has another plan: convert medium-duty delivery trucks and vans to run on electricity.

The scheme itself is not new for EVI, but the company has some new friends in California. As the LA Times’ Up to Speed blog reports, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other politicians were on hand yesterday for the unveiling of EVI’s new headquarters — the latest addition to the electric vehicle manufacturing industry in which California hopes to have a growing role.

In all, EVI expects to employ some 150 people at the Stockton site and create another 300 jobs indirectly — a boon for an area that will lose more than 1,000 auto parts production jobs with the closure of the NUMMI plant in Fremont next year.

The newly transplanted company is one of California’s less sexy coups compared to startup Aptera, which aims to make its electric three-wheeler in Vista, Calif., or electric sports car maker Tesla Motors. Tesla plans to build vehicles in Southern California, since Schwarzenegger wooed the business back from New Mexico with a hefty tax break and other incentives. Rather than high performance or futuristic-looking consumer vehicles, EVI plans to provide conversions at the new Stockton facility in partnership with a truck manufacturer owned by Germany’s Daimler (s DAI), making electric trucks, vans and light-duty fleet vehicles with standard chassis and cabs, and lithium phosphate batteries from Valence Technologies (s VLNC).

What EVI lacks in slickness, however, it does not lack in opportunity, as municipalities and companies increasingly invest in lower-emission fleets. But EVI is not the only company trying to cash in on that transition. And while it expects to deliver 1,000 converted trucks by year’s end, EVI has yet to land a single order for the service, according to Up to Speed. Among others, EVI faces competition from Smith Electric Vehicles, a company that won a stimulus grant earlier this year and called it quits on a deal with Ford (s F) last week in order to focus on the medium-duty truck market. According to Smith CEO Byan Hansel, that’s “the real sweet spot for electric commercial vehicles.”

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