With so many American consumers shopping online, cleaning up delivery vans has become a big business.
FedEx and UPS have both recently announced that they are expanding their fleets of electric, plug-in hybrid, and other cleaner delivery vehicles.
The biggest news comes from FedEx, which pressed its first hydrogen fuel-cell delivery truck into service on the East Coast, outside of Albany, N.Y.
UPS Modec electric truck in London
Hydrogen fueling stations have been slow to arrive in the Northeast. The large van will be refueled at the headquarters of Plug Power, in Latham, N.Y., which builds the fuel cell in the truck.
FedEx expects the van to be able to travel 160 miles on a full hydrogen charge, compared with just over 60 miles for a battery-electric truck. It has already been on the road for 3,000 miles in testing, and is expected to cover 27,000 miles in the first six months of testing.
FedEx's fuel-cell delivery van is made by Workhorse, the same company that builds plug-in hybrid and electric delivery vans for FedEx and UPS and is working on a new electric van for the U.S. Postal Service.
Electric trucks that can lower business's operating costs are likely to take off more quickly than cars, because businesses are unsentimental about other purchase considerations. That's why an announcement by UPS may have a greater long-term impact.
UPS and Workhorse have announced that they are jointly developing a custom electric delivery truck for UPS that can drive 100 miles on a charge and will cost no more than the conventional diesel trucks that UPS already buys. UPS had previously announced that it would buy 50 plug-in hybrid trucks from Workhorse that would cost no more than diesels, but a full-electric truck at cost parity brings the state of the art to a new level.
The 50 new trucks are expected to go into service around Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles later this year, joining UPS's "rolling fleet" of 7,000 various alternative-fueled trucks in service around the country.
According to a Harvard Business Review article, electric trucks that don't cost any more to buy up front can transform the freight business by up to 20 percent over the life of the vehicle in lower energy cost and reduced maintenance. They will use a cab-forward design and weigh about 1,000 pounds less than the conventional gas and diesel trucks that UPS uses.
UPS reportedly expects to be able to compound those savings with electric trucks by shortening delivery times with improved acceleration up to the speed limit, and remote telematics controls.
All this increased efficiency isn't likely to bring delivery prices down soon, but more packages may soon arrive on your doorstep in stealthy silence.