FedEx Express announced this week that its entire vehicle feet is becoming more energy efficient at a faster rate than the company had originally planned. While the logistic giant’s diesel trucks have improved their overall mileage and emissions performance, FedEx has added more electric vehicles while experimenting with new engines, more sustainable transportation options and composite materials.
The slow but steady shift towards more fuel efficient vehicles is important because despite all the calls to “buy” local, the truth is that Americans are buying online: over $200 billion annually and growing. With more consumers spending more time on eBay, Amazon, and even Etsy than at the local shopping mall or farmers’ market, the pressure is on the logistic companies to demonstrate that they are doing more to ameliorate the effects their business has on the environment.
So how is FedEx trying to be less brown and more green?
While electric vehicle mavens dream about FedEx plugging in instead of filling up, the reality is that with such a massive fleet, change will be slow, and EVs are far from offering the range that the average FedEx truck requires. So the company is starting under the hood. More fuel efficient vans with higher-performance engines manufactured by Mercedes-Benz will number 11,000 by the end of the company’s 2013 fiscal year. The Sprinter vans, according to the company, are up to twice as fuel efficient as the average truck currently in operation.
Next comes a lighter truck. Composite manufactured by Indiana-based Utilimaster will make its way into the body of 114 trucks. The change in materials should reduce fuel usage on average by 35 percent.
Finally, electric vehicles are slowly but surely making their way into FedEx’s fleet. The company has procured 87 new all-electric vehicles, boosting that count to 130. Most of those trucks will run in larger California metropolitan areas, the east coast and Texas. FedEx is partnering with GE and Columbia University to test the efficacy of charging vehicles overnight in New York City. Such a rollout could be ideal across the country, as the trucks could recharge overnight while the nation’s grid operates at a much lower capacity.
With energy prices going no where but up and consumers blanching at the thought of paying for shipping, FedEx and its competitors really do not have much of a choice but to reduce dependence on fossil fuel prices to avoid the impact of volatile prices. Watch for these initiatives, tiny and token at first glance, to scale over the next several years. If the demand for electric or hybrid vehicles by logistics companies increases with the result that the technologies become more efficient and offer longer ranges, transportation in a decade could look very different than it does now.
Photo courtesy FedEx.