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A boost for light-duty electric trucks

Smith Electric is partnering with Proton Power to give electric "white van" delivery trucks better range.

Smith Electric estimates it will improve the range for its light-duty electric trucks from 100 miles to 300 miles with a fuel cell range extender from Proton Power. Smith Electric

Smith Electric Vehicles and Proton Power Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop long-range electric service trucks.

The partnership will allow Smith Electric to install Proton Power's fuel cell range extenders into its light-duty range of electric vans and trucks. The change is estimated to increase a Smith Electric truck's average range between charges from its current 160 km (100 miles) to up to 300 km (186 miles) with the fuel cell extender.

The first prototype is expected to be unveiled in April 2010 at the Hannover Messe trade conference, with a roll-out in Germany by the end of 2010. Smith Electric and the Germany-based Proton Power have also announced plans to offer the trucks in the near future to markets in the U.K. and North America, but no time line has yet been set for those releases.

It's unclear whether Smith Electric will brand the truck for North American release as its own, or sell it through another brand. Ford announced last year that it had plans for an all-electric version of the 2010 Transit Connect, and that it would be outfitted by Smith Electric Vehicles.

Smith Electric makes the kind of light-duty trucks commonly used for deliveries or service calls by companies and small business owners. The single cab, medium-base vans are often referred to as "white vans" in the U.K. because they're commonly bought in factory white for easy logo-painting. (The trucks are so ubiquitous they've inspired a BBC sitcom called "White Van Man.")

Smith Electric's electric vans in particular are already used by the Royal Mail service, the U.K. supermarket chain Sainsbury's, and Scottish and Southern Energy.