In New York City, it seems like every time you look up, you’re standing next to a Duane Reade store. That’s not quite true, but the local drug store chain does have some 200 outlets spread among its five boroughs and the surrounding metro area, making it almost as common a sight in the Big Apple as a hot dog cart.

;Duane Reade Electric truck

Keeping that many stores stocked in such a densely populated environment presents a number of challenges. First, the high cost of square footage means there are few, if any, loading docks and most deliveries are curbside affairs. The combination of difficult parking with traffic congestion during business hours makes late-day and nighttime deliveries the only productive choice. Finally, the high density of New York means retail operations like drug stores are situated below apartments and in residential neighborhoods, making an idling diesel a nuisance for the large number of people living within earshot of a store. And they’re probably not too happy with the smoke and smell of the exhaust, either.

Emissions and noise are an issue when making deliveries to neighborhood stores, admits Charles Hayward, Duane Reade’s fleet operations manager, which is one reason the 56-truck fleet decided to give plug-in electric trucks a try. “We do business in New York, and we need to respect the city,” he says.

So in July 2011, it put four Smith Newton electric trucks into service delivering goods from its Maspeth, Queens, warehouse to city stores. With GVWs of 26,000 lbs., the trucks were leased from Milea Truck Group and fitted with 24-ft. dry van bodies and rail lifts by Milea subsidiary Continental Truck Body Building. Power comes from a 180-hp. electric motor with a peak torque of 480 lbs.-ft. running on a 120 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

With routes only averaging 30 to 40 mi., the fleet found it was able to run the EVs in two back-to-back shifts on a single charge, plugging them in when they return to the warehouse at around 5 a.m. for an eight-hour recharge.

It was quickly apparent that the plug-ins not only made neighbors happy, “but they also make sense on the business side,” says Hayward. So much sense that the fleet put another 10 Smith trucks into service this past summer.

“We have not had a single problem with range,&rdquohe says, even sending the EVs on routes as long as 70 mi. In fact, the switch to battery power has delivered an unexpected reliability bonus. The battery-operated liftgates would occasionally run out of juice on the fleet’s diesel-powered trucks, but with the EVs being plugged in every night, the liftgates are always fully charged.

Hayward has found that electricity costs are running about 25% of diesel fuel costs. Given the total cost of ownership, which includes lease payments and maintenance as well as the operating costs, he estimates it’s a breakeven proposition with diesel at $4/gal. “So we actually have a potential upside as diesel prices increase,” he points out.

In the future, Duane Reade may fit the trucks with a methanol fuel cell system currently used to keep pallet jacks charged, according to Milea vice president Steven Dorn. “That would double the range,” he says.

While Duane Reade signs its electric trucks to trumpet its good neighbor delivery operation, Hayward adds there’s another, not so obvious local benefit that appeals to the company. “Continental is the last body builder in New York City, and now that Smith is opening an assembly plant in the Bronx, that makes them all-New York trucks,” he says. “We like that.”