Electric delivery trucks deliver more than packages

Companies including Amazon and Walmart are using the vehicles to reduce or eliminate transportation emissions

The delivery trucks that drop off online purchases might be delivering more than customers ordered. Retailers are working to ensure they also deliver cleaner air and a smaller carbon footprint, meaning the trucks will produce less air pollution and fewer of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

More than three dozen retailers have developed science-based targets to reach net-zero goals. The goals typically require them to significantly reduce or eliminate transportation emissions, including emissions from delivery trucks. Other retailers are also seeking ways to reduce their emissions and are looking to home delivery partners to support their efforts.

While there are a variety of lower-emission delivery vehicles, electric vehicles draw the most attention. Home delivery is a “sweet spot” for EV trucks and vans because home delivery routes are typically short distances within a well-defined geographic range, and they operate from a central location where the vehicles can be charged overnight.

Several retailers and third-party logistics companies are deploying EV delivery trucks:

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Transitioning to an all-electric delivery fleet is not as easy as buying EVs to replace their diesel counterparts. As discussed in a session at the recent NRF Supply Chain 360 conference, it will take at least a decade for all delivery routes to be served by EVs because there are challenges to address.

The transition to EVs requires significant investments to upgrade electrical utility connections at retail distribution centers. These warehouses are not always owned by the retailer, and some are leased by multiple retailers with different kinds of needs. It is up to the property owner to install the necessary infrastructure to support the EV transition when the financial return on investment makes sense. In addition, some landlords are reluctant to make the needed investment because the required utility easements and rights-of-way limit future potential uses for the property.

The source of the electricity used to charge the vehicles is also a concern. If an intended benefit of converting to EVs is to reduce climate impacts, the electricity used to charge the vehicles needs to come from greener energy sources. In some parts of the country, greener energy currently remains more expensive.

There are also operational challenges associated with the transition to EV delivery fleets. During the transition period, fleet managers must stock parts to repair and maintain both EV and older internal combustion engine vehicles, increasing the space needed for spare parts. The vehicles also need mechanics with different certifications because maintaining EVs requires different skillsets than older technologies.

NRF Supply Chain 360

Take a look at our 2022 event recap from Supply Chain 360 where leaders spoke about sustainable practices.

Maintenance schedules and staffing will need to be updated as the fleet transitions to EVs. ICE vehicles have more moving parts and fluids that require routine maintenance. With fewer moving parts and fluids, EVs require less maintenance. They do need more frequent tire rotations and tire replacements because their batteries make them heavier and increase tire wear. They also have less wear and tear on the brakes because the electric motors help stop the vehicle.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for EV adoption is how drivers respond to them. While some drivers experience “range anxiety” when they first begin driving an EV, fearing the battery might not last long enough to finish the route, the anxieties quickly disappear when they realize modern EVs have more than enough range to meet the needs of a typical delivery route.

After driving EVs, drivers do not want to drive the remaining ICE vehicles. EVs are quieter, have a smoother ride, come loaded with advanced safety technologies, and do not leave the drivers smelling like diesel at the end of their shift. Driver preference for the EVs can cause friction among drivers until all routes are served by EVs.

As the transition to EV delivery vehicles accelerates, look for happier drivers that are fighting climate change and delivering cleaner air with each package they deliver.

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