Delivery vans are nearly invisible to ordinary people, yet millions of them crisscross the nations of the world every day. They are the blood in the veins of commerce, distributing the goods, products, and services that are at the heart of each nation’s economy. And each one adds up to 20 tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere every year.
We here at CleanTechnica are as guilty of overlooking the importance of delivery vans in the battle to limit emissions from the transportation sector as anyone else. We focus on cars, especially those from Tesla. Why? Because vans aren’t sexy in the way a Tesla Model 3 is.
Few individuals actually own a delivery van. They tend to be purchased by large fleet operators like FedEx, UPS, or DHL. They are parked every night at giant transportation hubs and forgotten about. Out of sight, out of mind. Yet behind the scenes, there is a great deal of work going on by companies like DHL, Workhorse, Chanje, and Mercedes to transition to electric vehicles for package and freight delivery. Elon Musk tweeted yesterday that Tesla is considering getting into the electric delivery van market.
CleanTechnica has learned that FedEx has ordered 1,000 Chanje V8100 electric delivery vans for use in California. The company will own 100 of them and lease the other 900 from Ryder Systems. “FedEx continually seeks new ways to maximize operational efficiency, minimize impacts and find innovative solutions through the company’s Reduce, Replace, Revolutionize approach to sustainability,” says Mitch Jackson, chief sustainability officer for the company. “Our investment in these vehicles is part of our commitment to that approach of serving our customers and connecting the world responsibly and resourcefully.”
The electric delivery vans from Chanje are manufactured in China. They will have a range of 150 miles and a maximum capacity of 6,000 pounds. Each will save 2,000 gallons of fuel every year while keeping 20 tons of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. Social responsibility is all well and good and should be applauded, but FedEx wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t believe the total cost of ownership for these vans will be significantly lower than it is for similar vans with gasoline or diesel engines.
Will Tesla Link Up With Mercedes?
Yesterday, Elon Musk tweeted about a possible linkage between Tesla and Mercedes to create an electric delivery van. Unlike private cars, which are highly individual, a delivery van is little more than a box car on wheels. Styling is secondary. Utility is everything. Because they tend to sit fairly high off the ground, there is plenty of room underneath for installing battery packs. As important to the electric vehicle revolution as they are, does Tesla really need to design its own delivery van and create a factory to build it? Elon doesn’t seem to think so.
He then suggested Tesla is battery constrained when it comes to how many vehicles it can produce so it needs to pick its spots. Are batteries for tractor trailers more important than batteries for delivery vans? Are pickup trucks a higher priority? The answer may depend more on profitability than other considerations.
Mercedes has just completed a new US factory in North Charleston, South Carolina. A new cooperative agreement between the two companies would be an interesting loop back to Tesla’s origins when Daimler made a significant investment in the then fledgling company, an investment that may have been instrumental in helping Tesla to establish itself as an auto manufacturer.
Mercedes Bringing Electric Sprinter Vans To Market
Regardless what Elon and Tesla decide to do, Mercedes is not waiting around. It may be slow to build compelling electric cars of its own — a fact noted by Germany’s economics minister Peter Altmaier this week — but it is well along in its quest to bring all electric versions of its popular Sprinter van to market. The eSprinter models will have a range of between 70 and 100 miles, depending on configuration. There is no word yet on whether the South Carolina plant will build eSprinters as well as conventional vans.
Earlier this year, Amazon announced it intends to purchase 20,000 Sprinter vans to deliver its packages, a move that could have a significant impact on UPS and the US postal service, both of which deliver millions of packages for Amazon each year. Sadly, Amazon has not shown any official interest in electric versions of those vans, a glaring omission for a company that says it is focused on sustainability. Adding 20,000 new gasoline or diesel powered vans to America’s road seems to be a direct contradiction of the companies green economy policies.
Workhorse NGEN Electric Delivery Van
Workhorse has started production of its NGEN electric delivery van at its factory in Indiana. The NGEN comes in several sizes and configurations, the largest of which has a payload of 6,000 pounds and cavernous 1,000 cubic feet of room for cargo. Like Chanje, Workhorse has also struck a deal with Ryder Systems to supply all warranty and maintenance services for its vans. It has about 1,000 orders waiting to be filled.
One feature of the NGEN that no one else is offering (yet) is standard all wheel drive capability thanks to an electric motor for both the front and rear wheels. Workhorse has also devoted a significant amount of effort to make the interior of the NGEN fit the needs of the drivers who will be using it. It features low step-up height and cargo floors to reduce the amount of lifting and bending needed to get packages into and out of its vehicles.
The NGEN weighs roughly half as much as other conventional delivery vans at a featherlight 4,000 pounds. That helps it score an impressive fuel economy rating of 50 MPGe — many times that of a conventional delivery van. That efficiency means the NGEN can go farther with a smaller battery, making it more affordable. CEO Steve Burns says the NGEN is price competitive with a conventional vehicle today, something that should appeal strongly to fleet managers.
“For as long as I can remember, we’ve been discussing what the future of delivery looks like and what role electric vehicles will play in that,” Burns says. “We are proud to say the future is here. With an off-the-lot cost on par with traditional fuel delivery vehicles, and substantial savings from there, we believe the NGEN will forever change the business of delivery as we know it.”
DHL Opens Second Factory, Partners With Ford
DHL, known in Europe as Deutsche Post, is busy making its own electric delivery vehicles. Two years ago it started designing its own vehicles to deliver packages using electric power but when it went looking for someone to manufacture them, no one was interested. So it built its own factory. Then other companies started asking about buying some for themselves. Now DHL has two factories turning out small to medium size electric trucks.
It has also struck a deal with Ford of Europe to produce its largest electric delivery van at the Ford truck assembly plant outside Munich. The Work XL will be built on a Ford Transit chassis manufactured at a Ford plant in Turkey.
Will Electric Delivery Vans Take Over The Market?
Is Workhorse CEO Burns right? Will electric delivery vans “change the business of delivery as we know it?” Quite possibly. There is actually more innovation going on in the world of delivering stuff to people using electric vehicles than there is in the world of passenger cars.
Electric school buses, electric tractor trailers, electric trash hauling trucks — all are essential to the EV revolution. Arguably, they may be more important that electric cars when it comes to keeping carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. 5 years ago, there weren’t any. Now they seem to be everywhere with more coming every day. That’s good news for people who like to breathe clean air.