First Look: FedEx Express All-Electric Delivery Truck
Package Delivery Giant Dips Toe in Green Water
These days, seemingly every company on the planet is looking to apply an environmentally friendly sheen to its operations, and FedEx is no different. Although emissions-free cargo planes are still a faraway dream, FedEx has begun to assess how to green up its delivery vehicle fleet, and not surprisingly, an all-electric truck is part of its evolving plan.
As FedEx Express vice president John Formisano puts it, the electric truck represents a huge investment in the package delivery giant's future. The truck's original concept and design was championed by Modec, a U.K. outfit specializing in zero-emissions commercial vehicles. While Modec built 10 pilot vehicles for FedEx Express use in London last year, Navistar has supplied the first few models on this side of the pond. The first formal U.S. test bed is Los Angeles, where we were recently on hand to scope out FedEx's project.
Out on city streets, you get used to the one-and-done design of today's urban delivery trucks. But FedEx's new EV truck is decidedly different. It features a distinctive cab design that looks modern, clean, and more compact than the standard FedEx truck. The smoothed front end offers generous amounts of forward and all-around visibility. The driver enters and exits through a side door located directly behind the passenger seat, more akin to a bus than the delivery vehicles we know today.
Inside, the simple appointments remind us of the still evolving nature of the electric-vehicle segment. The steering wheel is accompanied by little more than a gear selector, a center-mounted graphical gauge cluster on the dashboard, and a no-frills center stack. All lighting is converted to LED to reduce power consumption while air conditioning -- an extraneous burden on full-electric vehicles -- is left off the features list (we bet FedEx's L.A. test crew was thrilled to hear that). The seats are in an advantageous, high position and not at all uncomfortable. Surprisingly, the two side windows are power-assisted and a rearview-camera monitor is mounted just above the windshield. The cargo hold, albeit cluttered during our visit, is fitted with full-length shelving running from the cab to the aft doors.
During the ride-along with FedEx Express chief engineer Keshav Sondhi, we found the power delivery to be straight out of the electric-vehicle playbook: copious amounts of low-end torque, a top speed of 50 mph, and the omnipresent EV whine. The electric motor is powered by an 80-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is reportedly capable of traveling 100 miles with regenerative braking. Full recharge time is pegged at eight hours and recharging would take place during off-peak hours to minimize the burden on the electric grid. FedEx will be installing special recharging stations on-site to accommodate the four upcoming trucks.
We asked Patrick, a local driver with 21 years of experience under his belt, for his thoughts on the new BEV. After succinctly describing his own experience as being "like butter," he praised the excellent visibility, citing drivers' general preference to avoid reversing unless absolutely necessary during deliveries. Steering and handling were also high points as a tight turning circle is a must for busy urban settings.
If you're a FedEx shareholder, you might be worried about the costs associated with the still-developing technology. Without releasing exact figures, Formisano deftly disclosed its new truck costs "multiples" of a conventionally powered vehicle with comparable capacity. The higher price is mainly attributed to the liquid-cooled battery pack, which costs roughly the same as a "large import luxury sedan." Battery replacement cycles have not been determined and supplier A123 Systems will be responsible for determining the appropriate lifespan further down the road.
In order to further evaluate its investment, four production trucks are on the way to L.A. in May. Five trucks are also headed to Paris and if FedEx is to understand the strength of its EV technology, we can be assured it will continue looking for new ways to advance its already impressive step towards an emissions-free and fuel-efficient future.