Investor says Smith Electric Vehicles is near bankruptcy

This truck is from Smith Electric Vehicles.
This truck is from Smith Electric Vehicles.

Smith Electric Vehicles Corp., the troubled electric truck maker based near Kansas City International Airport, is strapped for cash and on the brink of bankruptcy, according to one of its investors.

The investor, the Tanfield Group in Great Britain, in a recent release said Smith Electric had said it needed to raise $4.5 million soon or was “likely to be forced to seek protection under U.S. bankruptcy laws or close down its operations.”

Those operations are based in a 100,000-square-foot space by the airport that is now a half million dollars behind on its rent to the Kansas City Aviation Department. No one answers the phones at Smith Electric. Repeated messages left for executives have not been returned.

Smith Electric came to Kansas City in 2009 with much fanfare. It was visited the next year by President Barack Obama, who hailed its green technology, and it got $32 million in Department of Energy grants.

Smith Electric used some of that money to subsidize truck sales, and it filled orders for a few hundred vehicles from big companies such as Frito-Lay. Employment at the plant reached 125 people at one time, and the city received more than $2.6 million in rent payments over the years.

But the company struggled to make a profit — it was hard to convince companies to buy at an unsubsidized price — and Smith Electric halted production late in 2013.

Smith Electric got cash infusions from two Chinese companies, one in 2014 and another earlier this year. But it stopped making rent payments in April. And it’s unclear whether it ever resumed production at the plant — or ever will.

Greg Hack: 816-234-4439, @GregHack