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UPS looks to paint brown trucks green

Posted: March 5, 2019 by John G. Smith

Carleton Rose of UPS sees a future in electric vehicles. The fleet has 1,000 electric or hybrid-electric vehicles on the road today. (Photo: John G. Smith)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – UPS has long been known for its brown delivery vehicles, but the fleet is clearly focused on finding greener options when it comes to the underlying powertrains.

“The way of the future is electric,” UPS president – global fleet maintenance and engineering, Carleton Rose, told the annual Green Truck Summit in Indianapolis. “All-electric drive by wire, I believe that’s the way.”

The fleet has about 1,000 electric and hybrid-electric vehicles on the road today, part of a rolling laboratory that’s experimenting with an array of propulsion systems.

But the vehicles are not perfect. Not yet. Rose calls electric trucks a “work in progress” even though maintenance costs are lower than those linked to internal combustion engines. As for an electric semi that could run 950 km between charges, he doesn’t expect that to come in the near future.

“Range has certainly been an issue. We’ve had range anxiety,” Rose added, describing the early experience.

The concerns don’t end there. The fleet is also looking for upgraded electrical infrastructure that will be able to drive conveyor belts and charge batteries alike. “Fleets need to know how much electricity is going to cost all the time,” he said, referring to demand-related pricing.

“Would you buy a car if you couldn’t find a gas station, or if the price of gas doubled or tripled depending on the time of day?” Rose asked. “Utilities should be playing offence. This is a golden opportunity for them to secure customers.”

For its part, UPS is participating in a consortium based in the United Kingdom that’s exploring smart grid technologies. Such changes are expected to help fleets charge a large number of vehicles at the same time, without requiring significant upgrades to facilities or electric grids.

“When Tesla entered, other OEMs came in”

While UPS has reserved 125 Tesla Semis, Rose clearly sounded skeptical about promises that these trucks will enter production next year. “We hope,” he said when repeating the manufacturer’s promise, adding a chuckle both times the timeline was referenced.

But he did give Tesla credit for generating broader interest in electric trucks.

“When Tesla entered, other OEMs came in.”

From a global perspective, the broader interest in electric vehicles is driven by a focus on reducing or even eliminating emissions in urban areas. About 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, Rose said, referring to the related challenges of pollution, crowding, and congestion. To compound matters, medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for 23% of the transportation-related greenhouse gases generated in the U.S.

“To remain liveable, cities must be safe for people to walk and breathe,” he said.

With 340,000 pieces of equipment, the fleet clearly has a say in the form such vehicles will take. About 6% of all goods manufactured in the U.S., and 3% of the goods made in the world, will touch the UPS network at some point.

But the fleet is not focused on electric powertrains alone. The rolling laboratory also includes about 6,000 natural gas vehicles that run about 1.6 million km per day.

“We have everything – and we do that on purpose,” Rose said of the broader experiments in alternative fuels.

“I’m optimistic that electric propulsion will be a significant part of the UPS fleet in the coming years.”

 

 

 

 

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