Electric delivery vehicles now key battleground for auto industry

Amazon gets its first electric vans as Bollinger Motors shows off its futuristic Deliver-E

An Amazon Prime van making a delivery on a street in central London, UK.

An Amazon Prime van making a delivery on a street in central London, UK.

 

While the rest of us wait for the electric transport revolution to begin, and for battery cars to become affordable enough (or for charging points to become numerous enough) the real EV revolution seems to be taking place in the world of delivery vans.

The EU reckons that vans account for around 12 per cent of ‘light-duty’ vehicle emissions, and as much as 2.5 per cent of total CO2 emissions, so switching deliveries to batteries would clearly be of great benefit.

Add to that the fact that many more of us are now doing our shopping – of all sorts – online, and you can see that the number of liveried vans driving up and down your street is likely to only grow in the coming years.

Amazon was first out of the blocks, ordering 100,000 electric delivery vans from startup electric car maker Rivian. The first of those vans has now been delivered, and Amazon is going to start running trials and tests with it, before putting it into normal service in 2021. By 2022, the US retail giant wants to have the first 10,000 Rivian vans on the road.

It’s the first working, saleable, vehicle that Rivian – an electric startup, with pickup and SUV designs in the offing, and investment from both Ford and Amazon to underline its potential – has delivered.

“The vehicle we’ve developed with Amazon is not just electric. We prioritised safety and functionality to create a vehicle that’s optimised for package delivery,” said Rivian chief executive RJ Scaringe. “We thought through how drivers get in and out of the van, what the work space feels like and what the work flow is for delivering packages.”

This is an interesting point. Amazon has been accused of putting so much pressure on its delivery drivers that many have said that they ignore stop signs, and even use bottles and jars for bathroom breaks in order to stick to schedules. Amazon says that it works breaks for lunch and bathroom stops into its schedules.

Amazon also needs electric vans to start trimming its carbon emissions. Its emissions grew by 15 per ceant last year, in spite of promises that it would be running entirely on renewable energy by 2025. To speed up that process, and while it waits for the bulk of its Rivian order to be delivered, the American retail giant has ordered 1,800 electric vans, for European use, from a company that already has such a thing in production – Mercedes-Benz.

Some 600 e-Vito vans, and 1,200 larger e-Sprinter models will be used to deliver Amazon packages, and possibly more importantly it aligns Mercedes to an Amazon-led ‘climate pledge’ that wants all of its signatories to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reductions ahead of schedule, and to become CO2-neutral by 2040.

‘Ambitious target’

Ola Källenius, Mercedes’ chairman, said: “At Mercedes-Benz, we have set ourselves the ambitious target to make the transformation of mobility a success story. By joining the climate pledge we are building on our goal to consistently pursue emission-free mobility and sustainable vehicle production. We stand with Amazon, Global Optimism and the other signatories of the climate pledge, in a commitment to being net zero carbon by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. I am pleased that we will be able to gain even more momentum on our sustainability offensive with this step.”

The electric vans can haul as much as 3,500kg of cargo, and while most will come with compact 42kWh batteries for short, around-town deliveries, there is the option of an e-Vito with a much larger, 95kWh battery and a range of up to 420km for longer-haul deliveries.

Mercedes and Rivian are far from alone in developing such electric vans, as car makers both established and new are gearing up to provide rivals. At opposite ends of the new/old scale, we find Volkswagen and Bollinger.

Volkswagen is already working on electric versions of both the existing Transporter van, and the next-generation model, which will be co-developed with the new Ford Transit.

The German giant is also going to build what will arguably be the most emotive electric van of all – the ID.Buzz Cargo. Based on the gorgeous, retro, electric Buzz concept, the production van will look like a classic 1950s T2 Transporter, but will be able to travel for between 330km and 550km on a full charge of its batteries, depending upon which model you choose. It’ll have a maximum cargo weight of 1,750kg.

Thomas Sedran, chairman of VW’s van-making arm, said: “With the ID.Buzz Cargo, we are ultimately launching Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles into the new age of electric mobility and autonomous driving. This car has great potential for global success as a zero-emission transporter. This design icon is also giving electric mobility an unmistakable face. The world is in motion. But what remains constant is the need for safe, efficient and convenient transportation of people and goods. That is what we want to provide.”

While VW has 70 years of van-making expertise to call upon, Bollinger Motors is all-new. Like Rivian, it’s an American-based electric car startup, and like Rivian it’s getting off the ground with a rugged SUV model. Unlike Rivian’s smooth-looking pickup and SUV, though, Bollinger’s B1 and B2 models look as if you asked a five-year old to draw you a Land Rover Defender, using only a ruler and a heavy marker. They’re not, really, recreational vehicles but instead hard-working trucks in the mould of the original Series 1 Land Rover.

Revealed this week, the Deliver-E electric van is a curvy, almost space-age, pod with a front end that looks like the glass cockpit of a helicopter, and a vast, boxy, cargo area slung behind. Thus far, the Deliver-E exists only as a set of drawings and some early prototype parts, but it will offer much more variety of performance than any other electric delivery van thus far.

In fact, Bollinger says that it will offer the Deliver-E with a choice of 70kWh, 105kWH, 140kWh, 175kWh, and 210kWh battery packs, and a variety of wheelbases. That should give the Deliver-E one-charge ranges varying from around 250-300km to as much as 1,000km. Bollinger hasn’t given us payload weights yet, but points out that the Deliver-E has the lowest cargo floor of any model, just 18-inches off the deck, making it easier to step in and pull out whatever it is you’re delivering.

‘Million times better’

Speaking to The Irish Times, Robert Bollinger said: “In comparison to burning fossil fuels in vehicles, everything about going electric is a million times better. And if your original electric source is generated through renewables, there’s no comparison to how more eco-friendly any EV is to any gas or diesel vehicle. And most states in the US are nearing or passing 50 per cent green energy production. As for getting the vehicle from the drawing board into production, until we have trucks on the road it’s going to be endlessly difficult. We just have to keep working and aiming for our goal.”

Bollinger also confirmed that the company is looking at making right-hand drive models of its vehicles for the UK and Irish market, as “the design allows for this to be done easily”.

Of course, the downside is that you might not hear the delivery van pulling up outside anymore, which could lead to a few more missed packages. Continental Group, which makes electronic and electric components as well as tyres, has a solution to that though. Take your electric van and fill it with delivery robots. No, seriously.

The German technology giant has presented a vision of the future that posits autonomous delivery vans that roam our cities and towns, stopping to unleash a pack of robotic, intelligent, delivery drones that bear more than a passing resemblance to Snoopy the dog.

“With the help of robot delivery, Continental’s vision for seamless mobility can extend right to your doorstep. Our vision of cascaded robot delivery leverages a driverless vehicle to carry delivery robots, creating an efficient transport team,” said Ralph Lauxmann, head of systems and technology, chassis and safety division at Continental. “Both are electrified, both are autonomous and, in principle, both can be based on the same scalable technology portfolio.”

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