FedEx’s new electric delivery vans drop the gas engine, but they also add all kinds of great features for the driver.
Major cities like London, Paris, and Barcelona are committed to reducing pollution, which pretty much means that they plan to eventually get rid of gas-powered vehicles altogether. And while good public transit and bike infrastructure make a total ban on personal vehicles possible, deliveries aren’t so easy. The answer is electric delivery vehicles, which reduce noise and air pollution in cities and use less energy overall.And FedEx’s new EV (electric vehicle), from GM’s BrightDrop, shows what this future could look like. “Delivery in cities involves a short distance per day, lots of starting and stopping. It’s the perfect application for an EV van,” Willett Kempton, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Delaware, told Lifewire via email.
EVs are perfect for city deliveries. So perfect that daily house-to-house milk deliveries in the UK used electric ‘milk floats’ back in the 1960s and onward when battery technology was still in the dark ages. Electric vehicles are quiet (unless they have hundreds of empty milk bottles jangling in the back), they don’t need the engine to be stopped and started just to move another fifty feet down the street, and they emit no pollution. “EVs accelerate quicker at low speeds than gas vehicles, which is ideal for delivery vans that may need to stop and accelerate often,” Norway-based electrical engineer Bjorn Kvaale told Lifewire via email. And dense city deliveries routes are particularly great, as they pack a lot of deliveries into relatively few miles.
The range of a modern EV is more than enough to complete a day’s work. FedEx’s BrightDrop vans have a range of 250 miles, have doors that open automatically when the driver shifts into park, and the lack of an engine and central transmission tunnel means more space inside and a lower step up for the driver. This could be a model for all EVs, not just delivery vans. Why should an electric car mimic a multi-ton gas-powered vehicle? A private city car might be smaller, only carry two people, and favor lightness, ease-of-parking, and fuel efficiency over speed, size, and wasted seating capacity.
CleanerNow, all that electricity has to come from somewhere. Preferably it comes from a renewable source like solar or wind. Still, even when power is generated in the bad old ways, EVs aren’t just about moving the pollution out of cities and into another spot.”Even in regions powered by fossil fuels, EVs are still more efficient than gasoline vehicles because an electric power plant is more efficient at transforming fossil fuels into electricity than a car engine,” says Kvaale. But what about the next step? If we can ditch gas-powered vans, why not ditch vans altogether? Depending on where you live, you may have seen the next stage already: Electric bikes and electrically-assisted pedal-powered vehicles.
Bike DeliveryBikes, and bike-adjacent vehicles, are also ideal for city deliveries, although obviously not all of them. In German cities, the mail arrives by yellow bike, loaded up with containers, and today more often with electrical assist—these run in all weathers, including below-freezing, snowed-in winters. Common elsewhere are the electric/pedal hybrids used by FedEx and others, usually with a roofed cab and often with a reclined pedaling position.
“Pedal-powered delivery is more environmentally friendly, lower in CO2, and lower in air pollution, and probably lower cost,” says Kempton.
These bikes are perfect for smaller, short-range deliveries, but they’re not going to deliver a sofa. “The reason we cannot just switch over to pedal-powered delivery vehicles is that these warehouses are often located tens of miles away from major cities, making it impractical,” says Kvaale. Home deliveries will not stop anytime soon, and with the ongoing pandemic and our taste for online shopping, they will probably get even more popular. At the same time, we need to reduce pollution in our cities. And delivery vehicles are the perfect place to experiment, partially because the operators are businesses and can prioritize efficiency over habit, and partially because drivers will drive whatever they’re required to drive, unlike private buyers who will stick with what they know, even though it’s bad for them and everyone else. Car-free cities can’t come soon enough, and this is a small step in the right direction.