Last week, FedEx announced the addition of 24 new all-electric vehicles to its fleet, bringing its total of all-electric vehicles up to 43. That number sounds disappointingly small given the size of FedEx's global fleet, but this small group of electric vehicles could play an outsized role in preparing the U.S. to support a mass market for new automotive technology. The new EVs will be used as "rolling laboratories" to study two key areas. One is the performance of commercial electric vehicles under real working conditions in different parts of the U.S. The other is to get a better grasp on how electric vehicles will impact the energy grid.
The 24 new EVs are just part of an ambitious overhaul announced last week by FedEx, which will upgrade more than ten percent of its fleet with 4,000 new energy efficient vehicles. The aim is to achieve quick results by using proven technologies that are already at hand, while working on long term solutions that require more study and trial periods.
FedEx and All-Electric Vehicles for Urban Areas
The EVs will be deployed to New York, Chicago, and Memphis. The company already has its 19 existing EVs working in Los Angeles, London and Paris. Some of them are dedicated EVs, and some are gas-to-electric conversions using a flexible drive technology from Enova Systems. FedEx officials expect the best results from these vehicles in urban areas, where delivery routes are tightly crowded with starts and stops. The vehicles will use technology that captures energy from braking, which enhances efficiency. As noted elsewhere in TriplePundit, the brightly identified vehicles can also provide good green PR, as the quiet, zero-emission vehicles make much better neighbors than conventional trucks and vans.
Efficient Vehicles for Suburban and Rural Areas
One of the basic principles of energy efficient fleet management is to match appropriate technologies with different route conditions, so FedEx has something different planned for its highway-based routes. The company expects to achieve significant fuel savings by upgrading to BlueTEC Sprinter vans from Mercedes-Benz, which run on "clean" diesel. FedEx has already saved more than 66 million gallons of fuel since 200o by replacing older vehicles with Sprinters.
A Test Run for Composite Materials
FedEx is also putting vehicles to the test that rely partly on smaller energy efficient engines and lightweight composite materials to save fuel. It will send five composite vehicles called "The Reach" from the company Utilimaster to Detroit, Memphis, Jackson (TN) and Jonesboro (AK). In addition to fuel efficiency, standing up to traffic and weather will be the subject of study. The vehicles use recycled rubber, resin, and fiberglass instead of conventional aluminum parts.
FedEx and U.S. Energy Policy
Fuel efficiency is essentially a bottom line benefit for any individual company but it can also dovetail with national goals, specifically with the Obama administration's goal of transitioning the U.S. out of fossil fuels and into safer, less risky forms of energy. To that end, FedEx has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy as a charter member of the agency's National Clean Fleets program, which has the dual goal of cutting petroleum use by large fleets and helping to improve air quality in cities and other at-risk areas. The company is also investing in two other areas of national focus, solar power and energy-efficient data centers.
Image Credit: FedEx logo by Mykl Roventine on flickr.com.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.