By Jay Mejia

Four electric all-purpose delivery vehicles deployed by the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District continue to roll and deliver school supplies from the district’s warehouse to schools and other facilities in the southeastern Kansas City metropolitan area..

News reports, including one from the Kansas City Star, alleged that Smith Electric Vehicles was suspending operations in Kansas City because of a “tight cash flow situation” while Internet blogs contended that the company was going out of business. A link to the Star’s online story has since been taken down.

According to school district officials and Smith Electric executives, the firm had merely implemented a planned and temporary shut down because of supply chain issues related to an overseas factory.

In fact, Smith Electric last month received a $42 million commitment from Sinopoly Battery Limited, a manufacturer and exporter of Lithium-ion batteries and related product based in Hong Kong. The first $2 million in funding closed May 12, according to Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles.

“This investment provides Smith the financial and operational flexibility to scale manufacturing, transition and strengthen our supply chain,” Hansel said.

“It’s like Ford or any other vehicle manufacturer that occasionally shut down as they await more orders,” said Ron Cox, director of purchasing and distribution for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. “They temporarily shut down the Newton line of electric vehicles as they gear up to build new, smaller vehicles. Our fleet is not affected.”

The school district purchased four all-electric Smith Newton delivery trucks in 2010 with the help from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award managed by Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition staff at the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC).

“We have all-factory certified mechanics and we have all parts in stock,” Cox said. “We do all the maintenance and repairs ourselves and have had four years to know these vehicles well. Essentially they are the same as diesel vehicles except they use electric batteries to power the trucks.”

Smith Electric’s Hansel complemented the district for its use of electric vehicles and the way it maintains and services them.

“The Lee’s Summit R-7 School District has been very proactive by choosing electric-powered vehicles,” Hansel said. “They went through a learning curve and have been extremely reasonable to work with. We’re also basically down the street if they ever need parts.”

Smith’s customers include a wide and diverse range of customers, including Coca Cola Refreshments, Frito-Lay, DHL, and the U.S. Marines. Hansel said the company wanted to work with a local customer, even though a much smaller one, to showcase to people in Kansas City up close the benefits of zero-emission vehicles that deliver operational efficiency and lower energy costs.

Cox said that since implementing the electric vehicles as part of its fuel cost-containment program in 2010, the district has displaced the use of 29,000 gallons of diesel fuel for a total of $88,904.