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UPS Rolls Out Lightweight Composite Trucks In a Move Towards Energy Efficiency

Words by Leon Kaye


UPS announced the results of a year long experiment to test five pilot vehicles and gauge whether they could meet the demands of the company’s operating and delivery needs. The results were an impressive reduction in fuel consumption, easier repairs and greater durability. Explained during a conference call yesterday, UPS’ exploration of composite vehicles is another chapter in the company’s quest to become as sustainable and responsible as possible.

The trucks were the CV-23, manufactured with an Isuzu engine and a body by Utilimaster. They ran on traditional fuels, but had a more lightweight body due to the body’s makeup of a far lighter plastic resin material instead of the standard steel that comprise your local UPS truck. With a payload capacity of 630 feet, 10 percent less than the standard P70 that delivers your goods from Amazon and other companies, the 150-horsepower trucks ran on an Isuzu four-cylinder diesel engine and a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission. And to ensure that the performance could meet UPS daily needs, the logistics giant tested the trucks in areas of extreme climates.

UPS selected five locations to evaluate the CV-23’s ability to perform in various weather conditions. Lincoln, Nebraska offered tough back roads on which these trucks had to traipse. Albany, New York had the Hudson Valley’s tough winter conditions. Harsh summers tested a truck in Tucson, Arizona. Flint, Michigan, and Acworth, Georgia featured long urban and high mileage routes.

The results was a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency between the truck’s 10 percent weight reduction, the advanced powertrain technology and a more aerodynamic design. The trucks’ composite body also led to easier maintenance. The bodies’ modular design was easier to assemble and the mold-injected composite body eliminated any need for paint and expensive and timely body repairs. As a result UPS has ordered 150 of these trucks to run on high-mileage routes, and their delivery is expected by the end of this year.

The takeaways UPS and other companies that run massive fleets can take from this experiment is that while “alternative” fuels sound attractive and have their place, the reality is that diesel is still the most abundant and cost-effective fuel available. Using the fuels on hand more efficiently is not only better for the environment, but can save companies money--and help buy time as alternative methods to fuel delivery trucks, from biofuels to electric vehicles, can scale and become even more cost competitive.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photos and infographic courtesy UPS.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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