The adoption of electric vehicles in the United States is progressing slowly. Is this because of the infrastructure challenge with chargers or the perception/need about the technology itself? Either way, conversations about EVs can be highly charged. Do we really need to fully adopt EV technology, or are there alternatives to current thinking?
Electric vehicles are part of President Biden’s effort to address climate change. Gas-powered vehicles are the biggest single source of greenhouse gasses in the U.S., producing more than a quarter of the country’s total emissions. About two years ago, the president set an ambitious goal that half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 would be electric.
Is the 50% EV sales goal by 2030 too ambitious? Is it enough? I am not going to get into the science of climate change or debate current government policies. I’ll let the people who get paid to make those decisions hash it out. While climate change is a key reason for an alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles, dependence on foreign oil is also a concern.
Let’s assume that we need to move toward an alternative energy future. Are there other options, or is the whole idea full of manure?
Speaking of Manure
The auto industry has been at the front of many societal changes, and has oftentimes been the solution to our problems. From an historical viewpoint, the invention of the first cars was born from an environmental concern. In the early 1900s, the primary mode of transportation was the horse drawn carriage. While they were relatively cheap to produce and operate, they exhibited a major problem for large cities.
Manure. In New York City alone, horses were responsible for two million pounds of manure. Per day. This was a problem in Europe as well. As a result, the automobile was developed as a cure for this problem. Now, the solution seems to be the problem.
New EPA Proposal
The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week two proposed rules designed to ensure that 67% of new passenger cars and 25% of heavy trucks sold in the U.S. are all-electric by 2032, in the latest push from the Biden Administration to reduce planet-warming emissions by pivoting to electric vehicles.
The agency is not mandating a certain number of electric cars be sold, but is setting tighter pollution standards for new cars and trucks with model years between 2027 and 2032. In essence, this pushes carmakers to sell a lot more electric vehicles in order to meet the new emissions standards.
The standards for emissions are based on the size and type of vehicle being built, and the EPA says most companies will have to produce 67% all-electric cars to follow the new rules, but the standards also allow automakers to find other ways to meet the emissions rules.
This is not a done deal and will likely see many legal challenges. It does seem a little more realistic than just a blanket all-EV goal, and deserves more discussion on a targeted approach to the reduction of greenhouse gasses.
Focus on Local Delivery Vehicles
In addition to buyers who actively seek to buy and use EVs in their daily lives, it seems to me that some big emissions wins can come from the use of EVs for local delivery services. With the increase in online purchases, local deliveries are on the rise. These vehicles are constantly idling, stopping and starting–all events that produce high emissions and fuel consumption.
Take a look at the size of the bigger delivery fleets: UPS (119,000 vans), FedEx (87,000) and the US Postal Service (235,000). All of these fleets have similar operations: set routes within a defined radius with overnight vehicle storage at a central hub. What does this mean?
- The set route means EVs can be purchased knowing a defined range requirement. In this case, the buyers don’t need to buy more range than they need.
- Recharging can take place at one location (the overnight hub), with no concern for available charging stations around town.
- Eliminates the tailpipe emissions from traditional delivery vehicles and the petroleum needed to run these low fuel economy trucks.
It’s fair to say that nearly every household makes online purchases through Amazon. It makes sense that Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge in 2019 and made a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon by 2040.
As part of that pledge, Amazon also announced a partnership with Rivian to bring 100,000 electric delivery vehicles on the road by 2030. To date, they have over 5,000 Rivian electric vans delivering packages within the U.S.
Even though Amazon has a network of delivery services, they still rely on other third parties to transport their goods. Of course, other sellers like Walmart also rely on local delivery services. Enter General Motors.
In 2021, GM created BrightDrop, a business subsidiary offering a system of connected products targeting first- and last-mile delivery customers. This will include light commercial electric vehicles, ePallets, and cloud-based software. Think of the BrightDrop vehicle as the first electric Step Van.
BrightDrop already counts FedEx and Walmart as key customers, with Ryder Truck Rental as its newest customer. This is a great start and seems destined to succeed.
US Postal Service
The post office is moving toward electric vehicle adoption, but in a more controlled fashion. Their current fleet of Grumman LLV (Long LIfe Vehicles) are more than 30 years old, and have exceeded their predicted 24 year life. Those LLV mail trucks have aluminum bodies made by Grumman mounted on a 1980s Chevrolet S-10 Blazer chassis. It’s time for an update, guys!
The USPS says its preferred plan is to purchase more than 106,000 new vehicles over the next six-to-eight years, to replace aging vehicles still on the road — and that 62% of those vehicles will be electric.
It really seems the post office is the ideal candidate to adopt an EV strategy. Their routes are typically under 70 miles per day and return to a central hub at night.
Final Thoughts & Questions
As I mentioned earlier, I am not starting a debate on climate change or government policies. I do want to start a discussion on smarter solutions. Electric propulsion has many advantages over gas powertains, but forcing it on everyone does not seem reasonable.
I have seen some really interesting vehicles that also happen to be electric. The Tesla Cybertruck is not one of them, but some new ones have surfaced that look fun and unique. That is my kind of topic and I will explore it soon.