Diesel-Killing Electric Delivery Vans To Help Clean Up E-Commerce Mess

The explosive growth of e-commerce has propelled invading fleets of delivery vans and trucks into local neighborhoods, clogging streets and spewing diesel and gasoline fumes into the air. Zero emission automotive technology can’t do much about the clogging of the streets, but the nation’s leading shipping stakeholders are beginning to convert their fleets to electric vehicles, so at least that’s something. Now, if somebody could just do something about the US Postal Service fleet…

GM + FedEx: Electric Vans Actually Might Help Unclog The Streets

Electric passenger cars usually grab most of the media spotlight, but GM managed to direct attention to the humble world of delivery vans when it launched its new BrightDrop subsidiary last January.

BrightDrop’s EV600 electric van was an instant hit, helped along by a quick hookup with the leading fleet management firm Merchants Fleet. A general boost from a wacky EV ad by GM during Superbowl last year probably helped, too.

A zero emission ride is just part of the BrightDrop business model. The company promises a fully electrified, software-enabled delivery system from warehouse to door.

FedEx was in on BrightDrop from the start, and our friends over at GreenBiz.com report that the company credits the streamlined Brightdrop system with reducing the time a vehicle spends waiting at the curb, which should help with the street-clogging problem.

FedEx started out with an order for 500 electric vans last year and recently boosted that up to 2,000 more, with plans in the works for up to 20,000.

Earlier this month, BrightDrop also let word slip that Walmart is ordering 5,000 of the zero emission vans to support the growth of its e-commerce business.

For those of you keeping score at home, the EV600 is sporting GM’s Ultium EV battery platform. The Ultium is not one of those new solid-state batteries that everyone is talking about, but last fall GM dropped a couple of hints that it could be taking a closer look at solid-state technology in the coming years.

Also, GM is having lots of fun touting EV600 as the quickest concept-to-market turnaround in its history. That could be a dig at UPS, which took a similar route in 2020 when it decided to put up stakes in the EV startup Arrival for dibs on 10,000 electrified delivery vans. That hookup has been moving along at a decent clip, but GM still beat it to the punch.

Stellantis Steps On The Electric Delivery Van Gas

Not to be caught sleeping at the wheel, on January 5, Stellantis and Amazon let this word slip:

” … Amazon will be the first commercial customer for Stellantis’ new Ram ProMaster Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) launching in 2023. Stellantis, with input from Amazon, designed the vehicle with unique last mile delivery features and Amazon will deploy the vehicles to routes across the United States. Building on the current relationship and as part of the long-term agreement, Stellantis and Amazon will be putting thousands of BEV ProMasters on the road every year.”

The agreement is concurrent with, but separate from, a broad software, IT, connectivity, and workforce training initiative undertaken by the two companies.

Just last week, Stellantis also participated in a $200 million series D funding round for the startup solid-state energy storage company Factorial Energy, so it looks like next-generation EV batteries could be in the works there, too.

Ford Transit Transitions To EV World

Rounding out the Big 3 picture is Ford, which has been garnering all sorts of rave reviews for all-electric versions of its iconic Mustang car and F-150 pickup truck. Another iconic Ford brand is the much less talked about Transit van, because let’s face it, vans are not sexy.

Nevertheless, the Transit has been a big seller for Ford, so was big news last November when the company announced that it is prepping an electrified iteration to hit the market in 2022.

“Penske Truck Leasing and National Grid are among the first companies adding preproduction E-Transit vans to their fleets for a variety of uses, including testing the BlueOval™ Charge Network, America’s largest public charging network, plus depot fleet charging tools that monitor and help manage energy usage,” Ford explained.

Maybe The US Postal Service Will Electrify After All

That brings us to the US Postal Service, owner of a fleet of 231,541 vehicles of various types. USPS expects to roll up to 165,000 new vehicles into the fleet under a 10-year contract signed last spring with the firm Oshkosh Defense, a subsidiary of Oshkosh Corporation.

News of the new contract sparked a flurry of outrage from EV fans, who pointed out that the contract leaves plenty of wiggle room for fossil-powered vehicles, and that Oshkosh Defense has limited experience in the EV world.

That’s not quite fair, since Oskhosh actually has been active in the vehicle electrification field. That includes partnering with the leading heavy duty vehicle electrifier Proterra to introduce an electric fire truck last year.

More to the point, Oshkosh Defense is in the catbird seat for fleet-wide vehicle electrification, due to its status as a longtime Department of Defense contractor.

The electric mobility revolution has yet to hit the US military, but last December an electrification hint popped up in plans for a new fleet of 100,000 light tactical vehicles for the Department of Defense. It’s possible that some chunked-out pieces of the ill-fated Build Back Better climate bill could support additional vehicle electrification initiatives for the DOD.

Supporting Our Troops With Better EV Batteries

That military connection could benefit defense contractors like Oshkosh, which have a window on the latest EV battery breakthroughs through public-private partnerships and in-house research initiatives hosted by various branches of the Armed Services, particularly the US Army.

The DOD also provides financial support for EV battery research, spearheaded by the US Department of Energy. One example is a national energy storage research consortium headquartered at the University of Maryland, for which the Army chipped in a cool $7.2 million. Solid-state battery technology is on the menu, too. The Georgia Institute of Technology has also partnered with the US Army on advanced battery research.

Of course, batteries are not the only pathway to fleet electrification. The field of fuel cell electric vehicles continues to grow, despite the skeptics. The passenger car sector has been struggling, but interest is growing in other vehicles. That could give GM the inside edge on military fuel cell electric vehicles, considering the company’s long history with the Army’s fuel cell initiatives. GM also formed a relationship with Honda’s fuel cell program a while back, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: The GM subsidiary Brightdrop delivered the first of many all-electric delivery vans to FedEx last December (photo courtesy of GM).


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