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  • Writer's pictureKartik Verma

EV Delivery vans and EV trains?

Updated: May 26, 2022

We take a brief look at the logistics delivery ecosystem covering one story on last mile delivery as well as a new take on transporting goods across the country. Also check out this take on Wordle for climate enthusiasts!

What to expect today:

FedEx takes delivery of its first EVs

Image Source: GM Media room

In December 2021, BrightDrop delivered the first five of 500 electric light commercial vehicles to FedEx. The introduction of BrightDrop’s all-electric, zero tailpipe-emissions vehicles into the FedEx fleet is an important step in the company’s goal to take its global operations carbon neutral by 2040. In Jan, FedEx placed another order of 2,000 vehicles, reserving them on priority with BrightDrop.

About BrightDrop

BrightDrop is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors (GM) focusing on producing new electric light commercial vehicles and logistics solutions for businesses. BrightDrop has also designed an electric trolley for workers to transfer goods within the distribution centre or from the delivery truck to the customers homes. In initial testing with FedEx, these have shown to improve worker productivity by 25% as they are able to carry more packages than before with minimal effort. While the trolleys are still in final stages before mass production, BrightDrop has 25,000 confirmed reservations for its electric vans including a deal with Walmart for delivering 5,000 such vehicles.

Last mile delivery space is heating up

As you can imagine, BrightDrop is not the only name in town. The increase in reservations comes as GM and others are rushing to launch new electric vehicles for corporate customers like Walmart, FedEx and Amazon that deliver directly to consumers. Amazon has a deal with EV start-up Rivian Automotive to produce 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, with 10,000 of them coming by the end of this year. The retail giant has a 20% stake in Rivian. U.K.-based start-up Arrival has a deal in place to deliver 10,000 EVs to UPS by 2024. Oshkosh will build 165,000 EVs for the U.S. Postal Service over the next decade.

Tiny electric freight train

Image Source: Parallel Systems

A new startup called Parallel Systems, co-founded by former SpaceX engineers is developing autonomous, battery-powered electric rail vehicles that can be as small as a single shipping container. Parallel Systems says its rail vehicles can carry nearly three times more capacity than a semi-truck, travel up to 500 miles between charges, and recharge in less than one hour. The start-up closed a $50 million Series A round led by Anthos Capital earlier this January.

How does it work?

Image Source: Parallel Systems

The vehicles (pictured above) work in pairs. Each pair carries one standard shipping container — the same box that goes on flatbed trucks and gets loaded in and out of ships in port cities across the globe. The cars carrying the containers are each self-powered, but the system will work best if the cars are linked together. So instead of having a long freight train powered by a few diesel locomotives, Parallel Systems envisions a “platoon” of 10 to 50 self-powered freight cars.

Is it better?

From an environmental point of view, of course; trains, even though they are the lowest emitters, still run on diesel (check out our comparison of emissions by mode of transport). However Parallel Systems is also competing with freight trucks which are far more harmful to the environment. The idea is that smaller cars means that in future, we can have more access to last mile delivery locations than regular freight trains and faster delivery as we don’t have to wait for a full freight train to load up. Are we, at the climate optimist, entirely convinced though if it’s a good idea? We are not sure as trains bring economies of scale and have minimal impact on the environment and kind of work alright. We will have to wait and watch :)

Recommendations from the team

  • Green Wordle - Check out this take on wordle for a cleaner and greener world!

  • YouTube - Check out BrightDrop’s electric trolley (5 min video)

  • YouTube - Someone made a spoof on re-inventing trains (3 min video)

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