Quiet, clean and connected: electric delivery vans

Feb 25, 2021

The booming online retail has major impacts on the logistics sector and our cities. Electric delivery vans are quiet, clean, and, in combination with last-mile-solutions, a smart option for reducing traffic volumes.

Whether food, books, clothes or furniture – a few clicks on the internet, and just a few days later the order is there. Online retail is booming. Something which for us, sitting on our sofas, is a comfortable alternative to a town centre shopping trip (and currently, in fact, the only opportunity to do so), has major effects on the logistics sector. In Germany, 3.65 billion courier and parcel delivery shipments were transported in 2019 alone, and in the first six months of 2020 the parcels sector grew by 8.9 per cent. The German transport ministry is forecasting further growth even for the time beyond coronavirus.

Consequences for urban delivery traffic

Our towns are becoming ever bigger, fuller and noisier – so new solutions are being sought for urban logistics too. For many experts, electric delivery vans are an important component in this. Quiet and clean, they travel the roads and, in combination with last-mile solutions, they are a smart option for reducing traffic volumes for the long term. 

 
General Motors launched BrightDrop for electric and connected logistics solutions. FedEx will receive the first vehicles at the end of the year. © BrightDrop

E-mobility as the key to sustainability

In past years, several manufacturers have already been engaged in developing new solutions. One of the trailblazers in this was the Deutsche Post's StreetScooter. The company's first e-delivery vehicle reached our streets in 2014. With the emerging mass production of key components such as batteries and e-motors, the costs for electric vans have lowered significantly. Practically all van manufacturers, such as Mercedes, Volkswagen, MAN, Fiat, Opel, Citroën, Renault or Ford, now have electric options in their product ranges.

The interest from logistics companies is similarly huge: Amazon is looking to use 100,000 Rivian-manufactured vans by 2030. To that end, the online giant has even taken a stake in the start-up. The vehicles should start to be supplied this year. UPS ordered 10,000 e-delivery vans from Arrival at the start of 2020, and GLS and the Otto Group are similarly looking to take e-mobility forward.

Canoo: edgy, electric, futuristic

One of the newest players in the market is the Californian e-car start-up Canoo, which unveiled an edgy and flexible delivery vehicle with 200 hp and a starting price of around EUR 27,000 at the end of last year. At first sight, the futuristic vehicle looks like a strongroom on wheels.

Canoo promises high cargo volume and high practicality, with low running costs. The basis for this is the in-house developed "skateboard" platform: the battery and drivetrain are located flat in the floor, meaning that the interior offers plenty of room for parcels and other freight. A low boarding height, high roof and storage lockers, sliding door and extendable ramp are designed to make life easier when making deliveries. The vans are, naturally, connected: updates via internet and optional logistics software are intended to ensure that the drivers are on the move with maximum efficiency.

Lower cost of maintenance, intelligent route planning

Electric delivery vans need less maintenance and, over the medium term, can be operated more cost-favourably than comparable diesel vehicles. In addition, at the national and Federal state level in Germany, a raft of programmes offers subsidies not only for purchasing the vehicles, but also for expanding the charging infrastructure.

With the progressive advances in connectivity, the options move beyond integrating possible charging stops intelligently into route planning. Telematics systems calculate the best route in each case, depending on the traffic flows, with the result that queuing times are minimized and delivery windows can be scheduled even better. To that end, the vehicle architecture of e-vehicles, as seen in the Canoo example, facilitates more ergonomic solutions for the delivery agents.

Smart combinations, for less stress in cities

So does the future belong entirely to large electric delivery vans? Probably not. The jury for the highly-regarded "International Van of the Year" award is proposing to combine e-vans with micro-mobility. This is being trialled in various funded projects around Germany, such as the Micro Hub in Berlin-Tempelhof: here, shipments are taken to a warehousing and distribution point and then forwarded to their destinations in the surrounding area using last-mile transporters. You can see what these vehicles look like here. This solution has several advantages: cargo bikes are also allowed to use cycle paths, they can be parked anywhere – and no driving licence is required for electrically-assisted vehicles up to 25 km/h.

Connected, electric, quiet and clean: electrification is creating new opportunities for urban delivery transport. Sensibly used in combination, e-vans are a meaningful element in times of growing demand for solutions to the pressing transport problems of our big cities.

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