Electric Road Trip

FedEx: 'Revolutionize' campaign presses ahead in Calif.

FedEx Corp., based in Memphis, Tenn., plans to buy or lease 1,000 battery-powered vans for its California market.

Other major shippers like United Parcel Service Inc. and DHL International GmbH are also adopting electric vans, citing the fuel savings and the rapidly falling cost of batteries.

FedEx's new vans, made by FDG Electric Vehicles Ltd. in Hangzhou, China, have a maximum range of 150 miles and can carry 6,000 pounds of cargo. They'll join more than 2,500 other electric vehicles in the FedEx operation.

Bill Cawein, FedEx's manager of technology and integration, talked with us via email about the company's California plan and its efforts to "revolutionize" its fleet.

Can you tell us about the factors that led to that decision?

Our investment in these vehicles is part of our commitment to reducing our environmental impact. We believe that wider adoption of purpose built alternative-fuel, electric and hybrid electric vehicles will play a key role in reducing our global emissions while also meeting our vehicle reliability standards.

Has FedEx incurred any additional costs for charging stations?

We don't disclose that information. I can tell you FedEx is working closely with electric utilities and governments in key markets to make sure the system can support the large-scale use of electric vehicles. We are also focused on our own facilities to make sure they are equipped to manage the demands of charging several electric vehicles at once.

Why did you pick the California market for this expansion?

Currently, California is providing incentives for electric vehicles and their charging equipment. This will allow FedEx to maximize the purchase and lease investment.

Do you see FedEx using electric vans in other parts of the U.S.?

The U.S. market will play a big part with large deployments planned in the coming years across multiple states.

Do energy policies and incentives influence your use of EVs abroad?

Outside the U.S., FedEx Express is testing electric vehicles in China and Europe, with a view to strategically scale the adoption of commercially viable models in those markets soon. Country emissions policies do drive prioritization on the deployment schedule, but does not impact our plans to move to the electric vehicle platform wherever feasible.

What can you tell us about cost differences between EVs and gasoline or diesel-powered fleets?

The utilization of electric vehicles improves operational cost per mile for the last mile of delivery. Other benefits include decreased maintenance and longer life cycle, and, of course, lower emissions from our operations since they are zero-emission vehicles.

What obstacles, if any, are keeping EVs from being more widely adopted?

While EVs have potential in the pickup and delivery space, the challenges with them are limited commercial vehicle production scale, operational battery range and initial acquisition costs. However, EVs do offer advantages in emissions reduction/elimination and operational costs.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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