Emerald Automotive: What Does its Plug-In Hybrid Delivery Van Have That Bright's Didn't?

By · November 19, 2012

Emerald t-001

Emerald t-001: Will delivery fleets flock to it? (Emerald photo)

It’s a really good looking plug-in hybrid delivery van, targeted at fleet customers such as Coca-Cola, FedEx, UPS, AT&T and Frito-Lay. It’s being built in the Midwest, but with a lot of international support. If you think I’m talking about the ill-fated and Indiana-based Bright Automotive, which went belly-up after failing to win a federal Department of Energy loan, you get a gold star, but you’re wrong.

From Lotus to St. Louis

The company is Emerald Automotive, and it’s staffed by no less than five ex-Lotus Engineering employees. Yes, it’s a group of Brits relocated to America, originally with the idea of grabbing a loan from that $25 billon Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) fund. Emerald withdrew that request after the process threatened to drag out into 2013, but it can always re-apply. In fact, in the wake of the election the Solyndra fear factor is probably lifted and some of that government money is likely to begin flowing again soon.

So why will Emerald succeed where Bright (which had initial backing from Alcoa, Google, Johnson Controls and others) failed? “They relied on getting the DOE loan for far too long, and their break-evens were too high,” said Emerald CEO Andy Tempest. “It’s not realistic to expect to sell 50,000 vehicles in a brand-new market.”

The Emerald from the back

The Emerald is a striking design, but is there a business case? (Emerald photo)

Emerald does have a case to make, even without federal funding. I narrowly missed meeting Emerald while in St. Louis to visit with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Enterprise—which has a huge truck rental business—is talking to and advising Emerald, so that’s how I heard about the company.

Long Electric Range

I was immediately struck by the really cutting-edge styling of the mid-sized t-001, which can travel 66 miles on its 25-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and a total of 463 miles with the internal-combustion range extender (diesel for Europe) running. The 75-kilowatt electric motor drives the rear axle, powering the vehicle to approximately 80 mph Here's a look at the British version on video:

Tempest himself comes out of European design/engineering consultancies. Despite the red state location (which has the advantage of many experienced ex-Big Three workers in the wake of some plant closings), Emerald is at least initially focused on the European market. “We originated from Europe, and are talking to the Royal Mail, as well as companies such as British Telecom, DHL, Deutsche Post and more.

“These guys really want a green van, because of economics and payback when gasoline is $10 a gallon,” Tempest said. There’s a 17-month payback in Europe, versus 48 months in the U.S. But that said, the finances are still better in the U.S. for our van than for its battery electric equivalent. By using a plug-in hybrid format without a huge battery pack, we were able to take out 900 pounds of weight.” The van has a lightweight aluminum structure and thermal plastic composite body panels, again with parallels to Bright.

Due in 2015

Emerald won’t have the t-001 in production until 2015, when it will be offered in both the U.S. and Europe. The plan is to produce 5,000 the first year, then go to 10,000. Tempest said his team, with many coming from Lotus (also Tesla and Fisker), is experienced in making profitable low-volume cars for major manufacturers. First, they have to build the St. Louis factory, which is estimated to cost $160 million. “We don’t want to be in some old shed,” Tempest said.

There’s no immediate plan to build a passenger van, though Emerald could do that easily enough. Wouldn’t it be a cool vehicle for your local van pool?


· · 5 years ago

Man, thats a lot of weight on those rear tires when fully loaded.

· · 5 years ago

That's a VERY nice looking van. Yes, Emerald, please give us a civilian version of this one, with side windows, sliding rear doors and a liftgate in back. Nobody, as far as I know, has plans to market a range extender vehicle like this to the general public.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

I don't see how a tiny start-up could compete with Nissan's NV200 electric Van (the van version of the Leaf) or Peugot's electric delivery van.

OK, this one is a PHEV . . . well if there is a market for that then GM will squash them like bug by putting the Voltec technology into a van.

· · 5 years ago

I was initially interested in the NV200, Anon, but our old minivan does get used for the occasional long range excursion. It's mostly my wife's daily urban transportation, though. We really like the functionality of our Mazda minivan, but not the ~20mpg in-town aspect of it.

If GM wants to take on Emerald and "squash them like a bug," let 'em. Just get someone - anyone - to build something like this. For our purposes, an SUV is less functional and - knowing how US automakers think - I'll be willing to bet they'll market a range extender version of an SUV before they think about vans with this sort of drivetrain.

Me? I'm still waiting for a reasonably priced and relatively gadget-free pure EV subcompact to replace my old Saturn, which I'll happily drive around town exclusively.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Just curious Ben, have you put in any extra 110 outlets, or sprung for a 220 volt EVSE in anticipation of electric driving?

· · 5 years ago

I'm several years away from getting any sort of EV, Bill. The money and available credit is simply not there right now. I also have a son who I have to worry about sending to college in another year and a half, so that takes priority over just about anything right now. My house is in need of several things in anticipation of that eventual EV, though, and I will be pursuing these projects in piecemeal and affordable chucks until that day arrives.

One of these "get ready for an EV someday" projects will consist of getting my external 120V outlets in good shape. The only decent one now (true 20 amp service on a separate breaker and terminating on a weather-resistant receptacle) is on my back patio and a good 30 feet from my carport. When borrowing the Leaf and Volt this past summer and fall, I had to run a rather long heavy duty extension cord from there for simple charging.

I'll probably take ex-EV1's advice and run wire in conduit for higher amperage and 220V service to the carport, even it it will be years before I can take full advantage of it.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Well they say you can't or shouldn't use an extension cord, but I've done it several times to get out of a bind.

If something works well for you, then it is good. And I personally hate spending money on chargers since it doesn't make the car run any better.. I put in a heavy feeder in my garage when I put in my charger, then later when I decided to get a hot tub I didn't have to do anything else really. But then as explained I've lessened that loading by avoiding use of the electric heater in the tub since I heat the water externally.

In any event, if the extension cord works, and 110 is fast enough for what you need, then by all means spend the money on more pressing issues. Ev's are fun as I think you've found with the Leaf and Volt.

· SPIKE (not verified) · 5 years ago

Using an extension cord to charge up on 120V is pertectly safe as long as it is 12AWG.

· · 5 years ago

That's what I did, Spike. It was no great hardship to run that long extension cord but, at times, a bit inconvenient. If for no other reason than having another option to operate my tablesaw before an EV shows up, I'd like to get another robust 120V outlet installed on that side of the house.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

Just curious, you have any idea the size of the electric service currently to your home, and mention some of the larger electrical appliances? 3 ton (36,000 Btu) central air conditioning I'd assume... Not sure what the laws are in Arizona, but here for the past several years they have to be a minimum of 13 EER (EER is COP , coeficient-of-performance X 3.413)

Cop means the ratio of how much heat to you have to put in compared to how much heat you extract.

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