EV Vans Deliver Big Fleet Benefits

May 19, 2023

New York Times:

Not long after buying a Ford E-Transit van for his plumbing business last November, Mitch Smedley sat down with some receipts and a calculator to figure out how much the electric vehicle was saving him on fuel expenses.

A few minutes of number crunching showed he was spending about $110 to $140 a week on fuel for each of the four older, diesel Transits in his fleet. Then he worked out how much electricity he was using to charge the electric model to drive the same distance — about 300 miles a week. The cost: about $9 a week.

“I knew there was going to be some savings because our electricity here is very inexpensive,” said Mr. Smedley, whose business is based in Blue Springs, Mo., just east of Kansas City. “But I was amazed when I worked it out. It makes it really, really cheap to operate.”

In the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles, passenger vehicles have led the way. In the first quarter of 2023, sales of E.V.s were up 45 percent from a year earlier, to 259,000 cars and trucks, according to Cox Automotive, a research firm. Tesla remains the largest seller by far, while General Motors, Ford Motor, Hyundai, Volkswagen and others are selling multiple electric models. Cox expects the annual E.V. sales total in the U.S. market to top one million this year for the first time.

So far, commercial light vehicles are a small proportion of all electric cars and trucks sold, but in many ways battery-powered vehicles are well suited for work fleets. Since trucks and delivery vans often travel limited distances or established routes each day, they don’t need large and expensive battery packs. Most can get by with enough energy to travel about 100 miles before they need a recharge.

One factor that makes electric cars significantly more expensive than internal combustion models is that consumers want the ability to travel 250 or 300 miles on a single charge because they fear being stranded far from any place to plug in. Commercial vehicles are typically parked overnight in lots where they can be easily charged and ready to go with a full battery in the morning.

Electric trucks also require less maintenance than traditional vehicles. They don’t need oil changes and have no transmissions, mufflers or fuel pumps that can wear out or break down. And they don’t burn fuel when idling.

More so than consumers, commercial fleet owners look closely at the total cost of owning and operating vehicles over several years. That means they are often willing to accept a higher initial price to buy an electric truck to save money over time through lower fuel and maintenance costs.

et commercial E.V.s have had a slower start in sales, in part because of the troubles of several companies that had hoped to make them. Start-ups like Lordstown Motors, Arrival and Canoo have struggled to start or ramp up production, as has Workhorse, a small manufacturer of commercial trucks. Rivian, a start-up backed by Amazon, had hoped to sell thousands of electric vans to the online retailer by now but has fallen far short of its goals.

The delays created an opening for Ford and G.M., two of the country’s largest automakers, to bring out their own battery-powered work trucks. The E-Transit, a derivative of Ford’s Transit commercial van, is available in various sizes and can be used as a delivery van, a shuttle bus, or a work truck for contractors, repairmen, plumbers and other small businesses.

Ford sold about 6,500 E-Transits last year. In March, the United States Postal Service ordered 9,250 E-Transits that are supposed to go into service by the end of 2024.

G.M. created an independent division, BrightDrop, to make a larger vehicle tailored for package and cargo delivery. BrightDrop produced a test fleet of about 500 battery-powered vans that were delivered to customers in 2022, and started commercial production of its Zevo 600 model at a plant in Ontario this year.

Along with the truck, BrightDrop has developed an electric cart to enable drivers to haul many packages from the truck, reducing the number of trips the driver makes back and forth. One version of the cart is refrigerated for deliveries of produce and groceries.

Nelson Granados, a FedEx delivery driver in Inglewood, Calif., has been using a BrightDrop vehicle for the past year, a white van with the orange-and-purple FedEx logo next to a picture of a bright green plug and electric cord.

Mr. Granados gives the truck a thumbs-up. The truck has comforts the diesel vans lack like a stereo and heated seats, as well as a lower floor that makes entering and leaving easier.

“You’re getting in and out all day, so it pays off,” Mr. Granados said. “It’s like a luxury delivery truck.”


4 Responses to “EV Vans Deliver Big Fleet Benefits”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Again, I believe the reason Tesla has such a high price-to-earnings ratio is that it is one of the few pure EV investment options available. Nobody can invest in BrightDrop right now without investing in every GM product line and every potential stranded ICE-making asset.

  2. jimbills Says:

    As the West surges toward electric cars, here’s where the unwanted gas guzzlers go

  3. gmrmt Says:

    As an aged letter carrier for Canada Post with two arthritic knees I can attest that a lower floor that makes it easier to get in and out is pure gold.

  4. gmrmt Says:

    Not to sound like a PV fanatic but looking at the flat roof of the van I couldn’t help but wonder how many PV’s could be put up there and how much power they could generate.
    My thinking isn’t about how much money could be saved with the free electricity they would generate. I don’t imagine they could fully supply the average daily amount of charge used. Also the owners would likely schedual recharging during the cheapest nightime rates. It would eventually pay for itself but it would take several years.
    I’m thinking of how many fewer batteries the truck would need for its’ daily use. I drive a Transit for Canada Post and the average route is between 25 and 30 Km.
    You’d need a range margin for unforseen travel but if you could reduce the battery load for your estimated range what would the economics be then? Batteries have got and continue to get much cheaper but how do they compare to PV panels. And any batteries not needed saves on their weight which increases range (with rapidly diminishing returns) etc.
    I imagine you’d occasionally have to move a van a few hundred Kilometres but an add-in frame of batteries that you could latch in the cargo area and plug in for the needed range would do without having every vehicle carry around a full set of batteries that aren’t needed on a regular basis.

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